The Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) said Monday that it began a program designed to genetically modify living organisms into surviving on planet Mars and eventually terraform it.
DARPA engineers plan to turn the barren and cold world into a suitable environment for human life to thrive. Past projects of colonizing Mars involved sending robotic crafts to the Red Planet to set up bases that scientists can later use.
Yet, living and performing experiments from a closed environment or with the astronaut suit on seem to not satisfy the Pentagon. A DARPA spokesperson said that while terraforming the planet may be a lengthy and expensive process it is no longer a Sci-Fi story.
“For the first time, we have the technological toolkit to transform not just hostile places here on Earth, but to go into space not just to visit, but to stay,”
argued Alicia Jackson from the Biological Technologies Office at the Pentagon’s DARPA.
And DARPA researchers sincerely hope that current technology may allow them to transform the harsh, isolated world into a more Earth-like planet.
On the other hand, the genetically engineered organisms they plan to ship off to Mars must be different from anything we are accustomed with. They must survive extreme temperatures that can reach up to minus 100 degrees F (minus 73 degrees) at the equator, the thin atmosphere which is composed of carbon dioxide, low gravitation, and lack of liquid water.
But DARPA researchers are not easily discouraged. They said that the plants and algae they would genetically modify would be able to warm up the planet and even change its atmosphere and hydrological system.
And terraformation does just that – it deliberately modifies a planet’s harsh environment to allow humans to live on it.
Additionally, Ms. Jackson said that DARPA has access to the “Google Maps of genomes,” which is a huge database of genetic material gathered from hundreds of thousands of living organisms found on Earth. The database allows researchers to quickly find a gene and combine it with a set of other genes to create “brand new” life forms that can thrive in the Martian landscape.
But before sending those organisms to Mars, DARPA plans to first test them on Earth in locations that no human can survive. Researchers had been thinking about releasing them in places damaged by natural or human-made disasters to see if they truly are able to restore the sites to the pre-disaster conditions.
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