What would it take to survive in space? (Part 2)

Prolonged space travel takes a severe toll on the human body. As we seriously consider the human species becoming space-faring, a big question stands. Even if we break free from Earth’s orbit and embark on long-duration journeys among the stars, can we adapt to the extreme environments of space?

Variation in gravitational strength is another challenge for space travelers. Until we develop artificial gravity in a space ship or on another planet, we should assume that astronauts will spend time living in microgravity

On Earth, human bone and muscle custodial cells respond to the stress of gravity’s incessant tugging by renewing old cells in processes known as remodeling and regeneration. But in a microgravity environment like Mars, human bone and muscle cells won’t get these cues, resulting in osteoporosis and muscle atrophy. So, how could we provide an artificial signal for cells to counteract bone and muscle loss?

This is speculative, but biochemically engineered microbes inside our bodies could churn out bone and muscle remodeling signaling factors. Or humans could be genetically engineered to produce more of these signals in the absence of gravity. 

Radiation exposure and microgravity are only two of the many challenges we will encounter in the hostile conditions of space. But if we’re ethically prepared to use them, gene editing and microbial engineering are two flexible tools that could be adapted to many scenarios. In the near future, we may decide to further develop and tune these genetic tools for the harsh realities of space living.

Check out what scientists have up their sleeves in the TED-Ed Lesson Could we survive prolonged space travel? - Lisa Nip

Animation by Bassam Kurdali