Through ‘epigenetic modification’ NASA wants to alter the DNA of future astronauts planning to travel to Mars in order to protect them from cosmic radiation. Using Epigenetic modification, scientists would ‘program’ the genetic code of the crew so that their bodies are resilient to the hostile space climate.
Traveling to Mars, a challenge that NASA is planning to achieve by 2030, which is also pursued by private space companies, will become the feat of the millennium. However, the great adventure is plagued by dangers, including those that involve being subjected to the very high doses of radiation from particles from the space during the journey.
Protecting astronauts from cosmic radiation is one of the most important challenges for those planning future manned missions to Mars. For this reason, NASA is considering implementing a controversial proposal.
Prolonged exposure to high-energy charged particles, such as cosmic rays that astronauts will be exposed to on flights to Mars, pose a major health risk that could range from cancer to loss of intelligence and chronic dementia.
To avoid these effects that would surely undermine the hopes of ever colonizing the Red Planet, the US space agency is considering all sorts of strategies, including one whose level of ethics and morality has been called into question: altering the genetic code of the crew so that their bodies are resilient to the hostile space climate.
“We are looking at a variety of possibilities,” said Douglas Terrier, chief technology officer at NASA, at a recent innovation summit in London. “From pharmacological therapies, which seem to be quite promising, to more extreme things, such as epigenetic modification or manipulation.”
Epigenetic modifications alter the way genes are read by the body without making changes in the underlying DNA sequences. This technique will allow scientists to reinforce or mitigate certain genetic instructions and thus prevent the development of diseases and conditions resulting from exposure to radiation.
Other proposed protection measures include the use of armored suits, reinforced shields, and electromagnetic force fields.
NASA hopes to speed up the race to the red planet after President Donald Trump promised $19.1 billion this year in funding to support the mission.
Despite the fact that the 2018 NASA budget is somewhat smaller than the one secured by Barack Obama last year, it still provides a substantial amount of funding for the space agency.