If I would have been alive in 1490, I would probably say today that I’m having a deja vu. For those of you not knowing, Columbus set sail to what would have been named, a few years later, America, around that year, more precisely in 1492.
And these days I’m feeling like the same vibe, the same goals, the same thrills are popping over .
Only this time it’s not about sailing, but about space travel.
We’re not discovering a new continent, but trying to colonize Mars. We’re not sending wooden ships across the oceans, but strange rockets, punching through Earth’s atmosphere and launching into hundreds of millions of kilometers long trips. We’re not plunging into a thick unknown, like Columbus, because now we have probes that are circling the planet for some time, sending back loads of information. Our remote eyes and hands are already there, we just have to transport ourselves to the place.
As strange as it may sound, we really are very close to colonize Mars.
And that made me think of a weird question: who’s going to be Mars’ Columbus? And by “Columbus” I don’t mean merely the discoverer, but mostly the colonizer. There are also other questions, like: “How this will work out? How many years are we from actually traveling safely to Mars and back? How many years are we from actually living there?”.
But for now I think the most important is the Colmbus one. Here’s why:
The Human Species Are Led On A Completely Different Habitat, For The First Time Ever
When the actual Columbus set sail to the Americas, we were still on the same planet. We encountered on the other side human beings and we continued to live on the same parameters: same gravity, naturally occurring oxygen for breathing, naturally occurring water and food for drinking and feeding. We didn’t need permanent costumes when out in the wild, nor heavily insulated buildings when inside. It was pretty much the same.
This time is going to be completely different and it will be for the first time since we record history for our species. The extent of this change may trigger adaptations that we may not even be aware of at this moment. Different gravity, prolonged exposure to unbalanced electromagnetic fields, artificial food, all these could potentially alter the genome of Homo Sapiens very fast, and in directions we may not even imagine.
To the point that a new species may emerge out of it.
In genetic vocabulary, the distance between monkeys and humans is very small. Humans and chimps are sharing 98.8% of their genetic information. Which is a little over 1%. Try thinking about this from two angles: first, how small is this 1% compared with the remaining 99%, and then how big is the perceived difference between the two species: humans and monkeys.
Colonizing a new planet is the pinnacle of a “black swan” event. We have no idea how our genome will be altered, or if it will be altered at all. We have no idea in which directions and how fast. Although we may know the destination, something that Columbus didn’t know, the destination is, this time around, so different, that its impact on our species is unknown. And that is something that we never experienced in our history. We never had to face such a big change in our environment. Especially without being forced to – us going to Mars is a voluntary action, it’s not like we have to run for our lives (although I reckon this might change rather sooner than later).
The colonizer of Mars might be a person much more important than we think right now. If the “species switch” will really happen as a result of Mars colonization, and if the new species will be just as different as humans and monkeys, we may see history tracking down the origin of this new species to this colonizer. He or she will be the “number one post-human” member of the new species, just like the African woman to which the entire Earth genome points to, historically, is the first Homo Sapiens.
It makes little sense now to talk from the position of a monkey, because we are already human. We are at the top of the food chain and we know it.
But this historic event could throw us into the second place.