When can Mars be inhabited?

Man in space Colonization of Mars? It's going to be difficult!

Climate change, overpopulation, infectious diseases or even possible asteroid impacts - we will not be able to solve many problems on earth. At least that was what the famous astrophysicist Stephen Hawking was convinced of. Shortly before his death, he prophesied that we humans would be available on earth for 100 years at most.

But what will happen then in 2100? Colonization of the planet Mars is an often cited way of ensuring the survival of mankind. In the carbon dioxide-containing atmosphere, there would be enough oxygen that could be extracted, said cosmologist J. Richard Gott in an interview with Deutsche Welle. There is also water, and if you were to settle in caves, you could also protect yourself from the high levels of radiation.

Radiation is a problem in space

But is it really that simple? The latest studies now show that protection from radiation is a very important point for a possible life in space. Because the changes in gravity, radiation and other factors could destroy the so-called power plants of the human body - the mitochondria. This is shown by studies of mice and humans who have traveled into space.

The human body needs energy to survive. This is obtained from food and reaches the cells via the blood - to the mitochondria, which are also known as the body's power plants. Their main function is the production of the energy molecule ATP within the so-called respiratory chain.

"My group's research focused on the muscle tissue of mice that were in space. This has been compared with analyzes by other scientists who examined other mouse tissue," says Evagelia C. Laiakis, professor of oncology at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Georgetown. "Although we examined different tissues in each case, we all came to the same conclusion: The function of the mitochondria has been adversely affected by space travel."

By comparing their studies on mice with human data, Laiakis and her team were also able to determine that space travel led to certain metabolic effects:

  • Isolated cells were adversely affected to a greater extent than whole organs
  • Changes in the liver were more noticeable than in other organs
  • The function of the mitochondria was impaired

Impact for future astronauts

This is the result of extensive research in various scientific disciplines. More than 200 researchers from dozens of academic, government, aerospace, and industry groups published a package of 30 scientific articles concurrently in Cell, Cell Reports, Cell Systems, Patterns, and iScience on November 25th. One of the participating institutions is the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU).

The aim of this new association called "Space Omics: Towards an integrated ESA / NASA -omics database for space flight and ground facilities experiments" is, among other things, to define common standards for the collection, storage and especially the evaluation of this data. Bioinformaticians from Saxony-Anhalt bring their expertise in data analysis and visualization to the project. This examines the health effects of space travel on humans and other living beings.

According to the scientists, the studies are likely to have an impact on future space travel. In addition, the changes in metabolism caused by space travel are likely to influence medical science on earth. In this way, for example, radiation therapy for cancer patients could be fine-tuned.