Humans Should Intentionally Seed Life on Mars. Why We Must Start Now.

Here’s a wildly unexpected proposal that just popped into my brain: Humanity should intentionally contaminate Mars with Earth lifeforms — as soon as possible! The benefits vastly outweigh any concerns to the contrary. Indeed, it may be the smartest thing our species ever does.

The first obvious benefit is that it will get Earth life off of Earth, making it more likely that it will survive. Humans are wrecking Earth — but even if we don’t Nature may do it for us. All it would take is one big comet or meteor impact — or a supervolcano or ice-age and much of the living systems and civilization we currently take for granted would vanish in the blink of an eye. Our only insurance is to have a “planetary backup” — so why not use Mars? We back up our data — why not our DNA — why not also backup the amazing ecosystems and living organisms that have evolved so painstakingly over aeons on Earth? By moving at least some of them to Mars we can at least rest assured that no matter what happens on Earth, life in our solar system will continue in other places. But that’s just the beginning.

Another benefit of seeding Earth life on Mars is that we can jumpstart evolution on Mars by several million (or billion) years by seeding it with life from Earth. And then we can study how it evolves and adapts. Remember, many organisms contain in their DNA bits and pieces of lots of previous generations and species — and as they adapt on Mars they could even eventually re-evolve lifeforms we have (or had) on Earth. Perhaps life on Mars will revert to adaptations that existing on Earth when our climate was harsher. But over time that could slowly transform the Mars climate, enabling life to catch up again, and evolve to “higher” forms. Eventually that could even create and spread living systems and ecosystems that humans can live off of, or live within at least. Yes it could take a very long time to evolve higher lifeforms on Mars if we start by just sending microorganisms, insects, landcrabs, lizards, etc, but it could happen given that the selective pressures on Mars are similar to those on Earth. On the other hand, life could go in a completely unanticipated direction — that would be interesting too!

It’s actually a fascinating and important scientific question worthy of funding and long-term study: given the same precursor lifeforms and similar or identical conditions, will life evolve along the same evolutionary course as it has on Earth? Will Mars get dinosaurs eventually, or even primates? And what about flora and fauna? If the Bush Administration wanted to propose A Really Bold Initiative what could be better than seeding life on another planet?

Hey NASA, are you listening? — this idea is worth $100 billion in funding. We could learn more from seeding life on Mars and studying it as it adapts, spreads and evolves for the next several thousand years than almost anything else we could do with the space program. It will help us learn about ourselves, the cosmos, and ultimately about how species move to new worlds. It will even lay the groundwork for humans to eventually colonize Mars by starting to build a food-chain and life support web there. And seeding life on Mars would have a greater long-term benefit on humanity, and the solar system, than just about any other space or Earth-sciences research program we could embark on.

The Mars environment may or may not (still) harbor life — we don’t know yet. But one thing we do know: There are many forms of life on Earth that could potentially survive in the harsh Mars climate. What if we started sending drones to Mars, designed to fall to the surface and release their living contents (or even scatter seeds and spray spores, bacteria, viruses, protozoans, etc. from the upper atmosphere?). How about nitrogen fixing bacteria, for example?

How about even sending up installments of desert lifeforms, arctic lifeforms, high plateau lifeforms, etc.? We could easily keep them alive for the trip to Mars by cooling them and slowing their metabolisms, or by sending them in mini ecospheres in which they can reproduce if necessary so that even if the first lifeforms can’t survive the trip, their offspring can. We could actually send self-contained eco-bubbles with all the ingredients of mini-self-sustaining ecosystems in them. These eco-bubbles would be designed to fall to the surface and then break open, releasing their contents locally, or even injecting them into the soil. Or perhaps they would fall to the surface and only partially break open — enabling their contents to live in a warmer, protected habitat and gradually spread and adapt to survive near the edges and eventually outside and beyond.

This would plant little ecosystem colonies all over the surface of the more habitable parts of Mars. There are lots of good reasons to do this. First of all, it would get higher lifeforms onto at least one other planet — in case something terrible happens here on Earth. Who knows — if we are the only place with life (which I doubt) at least we will have protected life by spreading to one more planet.

Here’s an intriguing speculation: Perhaps the threshold that species must cross to become truly advanced is the moment when they first spread life intentionally to another world. At that point they become Creators rather than just a Creation. Perhaps long ago that’s how life started on Earth. Perhaps that’s how life is really propagated across the universe — sort of like social networking but on an evolutionary and interplanetary billion-year scale.

This really could be a pivotal stage of evolution — and we are arriving there now — we have the ability to intentionally seed life on another world today. We just have to decide to do it; Then we graduate. Maybe the height of terrestrial evolution is when a species reaches the point of starting, and managing, evolution on another world. That’s when it enters the process of evolving to the next level of scale (in space and time) — from a “terrestrial species” to a “solar species.”

In any case — Mars awaits us! A whole new world with untold hidden resources and opportunities for humanity. Because of this potential, humanity will seed life there, one way or another — perhaps by accident or perhaps intentionally. In any event, however it happens, a major benefit of seeding Mars as soon as possible is that it will speed up the transformation and terraforming of Mars’ climate — bringing us humans that much closer to someday being able to live there.

For humans (and many other mammals) to live on Mars, we need to make Mars hotter and we need to transform the atmospheric gas ratios — and that means we need to add heat-trapping gasses to the atmosphere. We also need to change the balance of gasses in the atmosphere by introducing the right organisms onto the planet to process the existing atmosphere, or release gasses that are trapped in the soil and minerals etc.

Life is great at transforming worlds. Just look at what’s happening on Earth! The more living things we can send to Mars the better. If we’re smart we will do it in logical order — introducing a chain of species, each one helping to transform the environment to support the next one. And the sooner we do it the better. I know the purists here on Earth will object to this proposal — they will appeal to The Prime Directive; they will appeal to scientific ethics; they will appeal even to religion — they will want to keep Mars as it is and not change it. But that’s impossible — if humans continue to probe Mars we will contaminate it eventually.

LIFE IS CONTAGIOUS. It’s a transmittable disease that infects planets wherever it goes. It is impossible for humans to not eventually infect Mars with life (unless we destroy ourselves before we can send manned missions to Mars). Once manned missions go to Mars, life on Mars will be a reality. At first it will be temporary — in the form of manned colonies — and eventually it will be permanent and will “break out of the bubble” and start spreading on its own. It’s unstoppable — so therefore at least let’s do it right!

We need to move Earth life — and ultimately our own species — to other worlds as soon as possible — it’s our best hope for long-term survival and evolution. Until we are no longer stuck in a single ecological niche we are at great risk as a species. And not just us, but all life on Earth. The more we spread, the more likely we survive and evolve into the distant eons ahead. But that’s just one reason we should do this. The other reasons are equally compelling: We can learn, explore, and evolve ourselves, our civilization and technologies. Eventually we may even reach the stars. It all starts by seeding life on Mars.

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12 Responses to Humans Should Intentionally Seed Life on Mars. Why We Must Start Now.

  1. Emile says:

    I wholeheartedle agree (I posted about it but can’t get my trackbacks to work correctly …).
    We don’t know what life will do on Mars, but it’ll sure be interesting. Plus we have a toolbox full of DNA adapted to very diverse environments, by choosing what to send up there we can accelerate the process many many times. We don’t have to wait for random mutations as our ancestors, bacterias in the Precambrian era, did.

  2. George Mawer says:

    There is no point in ‘seeding Mars’ as you
    put it. Earth life cant be re-developed from a few bits of DNA. Earth life is the whole of the biosphere. And sure enough, as you say we are destroying that biosphere at an accellerating rate and there seems no way of stopping. The biosphere slowly built up over bilions of years to create the rich diversity of life that probably reached maximum density at about the time we arrived on the scene. From there it was all downhill as we changed the environment to suit ourselves. At first locally and now globally. The planet will divest itself of us and a lot of other higher life forms in the comparatively near future and will then settle down to regenerate. The biosphere is founded upon solar energy stored by photosynthesizing plants and we are depleteing that storehouse by over-harvesting the planets stored recorces. The future is bleak to say the least.
    Good luck
    George Mawer
    Sydney Australia.

  3. Vita Noble says:

    Regarding seeding life on Mars: I had the same idea when I first saw the Mars photos, and I’ll bet a lot of other people have too. Hope some of them have decision-making positions with NASA…

  4. PMBjornerud says:

    Well, it won’t hurt to seed Mars… But what is all this silly stuff about watching life on another planet, or reaching another stage of evolution by dumping some life on Mars?
    Sure, bring along a few life forms if anything might survive up there. Fine. If we die, and it evolves into something smart, great.
    We’re not going to study it for thousands of years, if humans live that long, I think we’d be better off actually sending people there. Things like seeing if they get dinosaurs is silly, sorry. Put humans there, get evolved, get out of this solar system. Plenty of time for dinosaurs later, when we have more planets to play with.
    And it’s not like we’ll instantly reach another stage of development by shipping off some random spores. Sorry. Maybe when we have two self-sufficient planets, but I fear we need at least another solar system to be certain. Two planets may nuke eachother any day.
    I’ll be gone in two lines from now.
    – Anyone saying we should NOT put life on Mars is bloody stupid.
    – Nova, you’re not enlightened yet, but keep up the good work! 🙂

  5. martin g says:

    Hmmmm. Nice idea – shame it won’t work. Perhaps in the future, but for the time being, bearing in mind that we :
    a) Don’t know exactly how photosynthesis works
    b) Have no firm idea of the internal workings of the simplest cells
    c) Don’t know how DNA expresses proteins
    d) Have only cataloged a small percentage of lifeforms on earth
    e) Can’t even sensibly define what ‘life’ is yet.
    I think it might be a little premature. Oh, there is the added problem that if we can’t manage to sensibly look after this one – what makes you think we’d do any better with planet number 2 ?

  6. Jennifer says:

    Hey dreamy idea but I don’t think humans or any animals should go out of Earth and live on other planets. I mean I know humans are intelligent but what’s the point of going there when we already have a planet? You say it’ll be a great opportunity for us to study and stuff like that but I don’t think that humans need to go that far just to prove we’re intelligent. Yea i know curiosity, it’s our nature what’s going on and things like that and we can still continue to explore space but we don’t need to go and live on it. Humans are intelligent but we’re dangerous why should we go alter other planets just so we can live on it? We have already killed off so mamy animals and plants I don’t think we should go around and destroy other planets! What’s the point of investing so much money on things like that–to change the gases on mars and chuck in a few species of animals in the background. It’s so stupid. So what if our planet gets destroyed?! It’s either gona be our fault or it’s the way that nature goes, big deal!

  7. Patrick Meuser says:

    Why all this attention to life on Mars? Why not Venus?

  8. Bill says:

    “This dense atmosphere produces a run-away greenhouse effect that raises Venus’ surface temperature by about 400 degrees to over 740 K (hot enough to melt lead). Venus’ surface is actually hotter than Mercury’s despite being nearly twice as far from the Sun.”
    That is quite hot.
    Mars is much colder
    “The average recorded temperature on Mars is -63 °C (-81 °F) with a maximum temperature of 20 °C (68 °F) and a minimum of -140 °C (-220 °F).”
    Neither place is very hospitable but Mars is closer to realistic.

  9. Rohit Gupta says:

    I had the same idea a a day ago. Funny how memes travel, don’t you think. LOL!
    I was thinking that if ALL world governments were to submit 100% of their defence budgets and build a common fund to send a seed mission to Mars, it would accomplish two things:
    1. Diffuse the War On Terror, and it’s collateral damages.
    2. Instill a spirit in humanity of collaboration instead of competition.

  10. Sarah says:

    I’ not sure about “seeding” people on Mars…or any lifeform for that matter.
    Wouldn’t there be alot of complications involving travel, climate, oxygen, gravity etc.?
    I’m just not sure it’s such a great idea as it’s wound up to be. Maybe we should try to conserve the planet we have.

  11. Your comments are all quite diverse! Myself, I am of the opinion that we, as humans, and possessed with the human capacity to excel best when challenged, have this almost-complete Earth-like planet right next door to us! As we have gained enough knowledge to realize that the planet IS earth-like, we at the same time realize the potential that Mars has for supporting life…now I’m not a firm believer in coincidence…it has been my experience that everything happens for a reason. Everything. No matter if we don’t like the reasons, even if we do happen to puzzle out what those reasons are. While I don’t believe that our ‘seeding’ the planet with life will result in the re-creation of an Age of Dinosaurs, I do believe that what we have is a planet ‘next door’ to us, which is currently dead, and we have the ability to breathe life into it. The carbon dioxide ice caps need to be melted, which will raise the mean temperature to above zero, which will thaw the permafrost that lies below the regolith and thaw the freshwater caps laying under the CO. All of a sudden (ok, a handful of years or so!) there is water on the planet! Oceans! If there ever was life there, and it has managed to survive the 3.5 billion years of dormancy, it will revive…if there’s not, well, genetic research has come a lot farther than I can even fathom…there is certainly life here on Earth that can survive there now…more so if the temperature there is raised.
    There have always been people who have put the brakes on when faced with new experiences and technologies…what if Columbus said ‘ya, you’re right…maybe the world IS flat!’? What if Edison gave up after only trying 999 ways a light bulb didn’t work? Or A.B. Bell listened when the hecklers said there’d never be any use for the phone? Could you imagine the stale, stagnant world we would be living in, rather than the one we find ourselves in now? And yes, the human propensity for evil certainly has appeared to shadow things here…but look! Life requires balance! Our propensity for evil is matched by our propensity for good! We as a species have learned thousands of different ways to be morbid and horrible, and at the same time, have learned thousands of ways to better the human existance, to grow in knowledge, in spirituality, to extend the average persons life span…to the point where we actually better start looking for ways to exist elsewhere in this solar system. Or would you rather that everyone only live on Earth when there are 100 billion people sharing it? Think hard. We need to learn, grow and expand, or we will begin to forget, to live in decadence, and fade. Next door is a world that seems like it is just waiting for us to reach out and claim it! Its there, currently incapable of life, but tantalizingly close! Within our grasp! So little needs to be done to make it habitable…Not for America…not for Canada…not for the EU or Russia or China, or any other nationality, but for humanity. One thing IS for certain. The nay-sayers slow things down (just look at any government!) and the yay-sayers do it anyway. When all is said and done, who would even wish to go back and change it? Would you go back and stop the phone from being invented? The light bulb? Would you rather that air conditioning wasn’t available in August, or that you had a horse instead of that old beat up chevy?
    I not only want to see Mars happen…I want to be part of it.

  12. And by the way
    a) Don’t know exactly how photosynthesis works
    visit your nearest library and read a textbook
    b) Have no firm idea of the internal workings of the simplest cells
    Exactly where have you been hiding anyway?
    c) Don’t know how DNA expresses proteins
    We don’t know how a circuit board actually works either, but look! You’re reading this!
    d) Have only cataloged a small percentage of lifeforms on earth
    e) Can’t even sensibly define what ‘life’ is yet.
    The ability to adapt and evolve through propogation…the state of a bio-electric organism when not decomposing…and why does this need to be answered anyway? Isn’t this one of the questions we can search for an answer for by doing exactly as what is being proposed?