We are on the verge of creating an entirely new species of human.
The correct term for this process, the process of creating new species, is speciation. It’s what happens when a new branch of evolutionary identity starts to grow away from what’s currently known.
It happens all the time, mind you. Every form of life on Earth is evolving, always have been, always will be. In large populations – like the human population, which is somewhere near 7.3 billion people as you read this – speciation is rare.
In fact, the human population is undergoing pretty much the opposite of speciation right now.
We intermingle and breed across diverse genetic groups, and this has the effect of homogenizing our collective gene pool.
In terms of the health of our species as a whole, this is a favorable thing. It creates gene lines with diverse origins, and tends to promote the most successful genetic traits that our various races maintain.
I suspect there isn’t a single person reading this who isn’t aware that NASA and other space agencies around the world are planning a manned mission to Mars.
If you weren’t aware of that, well you are now. That mission is exciting and holds much potential for scientific advancement, as well as the sheer thrill of achieving something, as a species, that’s never been done, and was long thought completely impossible. Interplanetary travel! Incredible!
Mars One, whose mission is to “establish a human settlement on Mars”, is largely thought by experts and non-experts to be a one-way-mission.
That is, those who are selected to go will not be returning to Earth. In other words, it’s a suicide mission, albeit a scientifically fruitful one.
At this point, we don’t really know how long or how successfully those lucky (or unlucky) astronauts will be able to survive on the surface of the red planet, though I don’t think there’s anyone betting on them becoming a permanent Martian colony.
That doesn’t mean we won’t get to that point eventually, it’s just that these first pioneers of deep-space travel aren’t likely to survive beyond their own lifetimes, however long that may be.
But here’s the interesting bit; if they do manage to survive indefinitely, or more likely, when we send another crew to establish a permanent colony in the future, those people will effectively become Martians. Their home will be Mars, not Earth.
If/when those people begin to breed on the Martian surface, in what can only be described as an alien atmosphere, with drastically different values for gravity, oxygen, CO2, UV radiation, visible light radiation and a hundred other variables, their offspring will live their entire lives in an environment that applies such drastically different evolutionary selection pressures that there’s no telling how they might end up.
And given enough time, say 50 generations, perhaps more, the sons and daughters of the first Martian settlers will no longer be human.
Given the vast distance between the planets, the likelihood that physical contact between worlds will be extremely rare, and the enormous difference in selection pressures in that environment, establishing a settlement on Mars is not akin to colonizing another planet, but rather splitting humanity into two distinct, and eventually, two genetically incompatible groups… or species.
I won’t dare to tell you whether the above is a desirable outcome or not, for I’m very much undecided myself. It invokes visions of interplanetary war, exotic Martian diseases, and the emergence of new space-cultures so alien to us now that our imaginations are utterly incapable of envisioning them. Though I do wish I could look into the future and get a glimpse of our Homo martis neighbors.
The assumptions in this article are dubious. Indeed, the idea that “physical contact between worlds will be extremely rare” is frankly ridiculous.
Eighteenth-century writers could have said the same of Australia, for instance. Technological progress, especially in the field of propulsion, will make physical contact as easy as sailing across the Atlantic, which has hardly been a barrier since 1492.
Two other points: even now, it is possible to transmit genetic information over the internet, and the first synthetic bacterium has already been built from scratch. How difficult would it be to create human gametes from transmitted information?
The article also fails to take into account the impact of genetic engineering. One of the main problems with modern humans is that they are too big. The world could support a population twice the size if the average person had only half the mass.
Smaller people are better suited to a far wider range of gravitational conditions (a mouse can survive far higher accelerations than a human being), and their life-support requirements, in terms of consumables, are far smaller.