Recently there were stories about the discovery of a new earth-like planet. A scientist was quoted as saying, “It just raises public awareness that there’s a new world next door.” I think that kind of wishful thinking is misleading. By next door he means it’s only 4.2 Light Years away. If we had nuclear powered space ships, which we don’t, the journey could be accomplished in one to two hundred years. Next door? Uh-huh!

Earlier this year Astronaut Scott Kelly returned from the International Space Station having lived there 340 days. While this was a brave, record-setting accomplishment, it raised sobering issues. While in space Scott’s body changed due to micro gravity. Fluids shifted to his upper body because his legs lost their ability to re-circulate blood into the upper torso, causing dizziness and problems with balance. The backs of his eyes swelled causing poor eyesight and changes in vision. His intestinal bacteria changed and became more potent. His immune system may have been affected. NASA’s study of the effects of space on Scott’s body is still in progress.

There’s been talk of going to Mars, fueled by the recent movie The Martian. NASA indicates the roundtrip would take two to three years. But Scott’s new information has caused me to wonder if we are kidding ourselves. It’s one thing to build a nuclear powered space ship, another to reengineer the human body. Hundreds of thousands of years of evolution have fine tuned our bodies to the physical needs of living on Earth, not in space. Humans are not machines. We are biological miracles resulting from millennia of natural selection. 

In his Essay on Man, Alexander Pope wrote, “Know then thyself, presume not God to scan. The proper study of Mankind, is Man.” Perhaps we should focus on improving the lives of all Earthlings before we attempt to change our biology. NASA’s 2016 budget is about $18B. Can you imagine how much food, medicine and other assistance that would buy?