What would happen if the people going to Mars have a baby?

This question was asked by Charlotte from West Sussex, UK. 

It seems likely that in the next decade or two we will see the first humans living on Mars. This sounds like something from science fiction but the technology is now progressing at a pace that makes it possible. NASA is planning to land people on Mars in the 2030s and the privately owned Mars One mission is scheduled to land on Mars in 2025.

It’s estimated that the journey to Mars will take around 7 months, slightly longer than the time astronauts live on the International Space Station. On arrival the settlers will have to adjust to life in an environment that’s very different to that on Earth, with very limited technology and a 7 month delay if they need anything extra – and that includes medical help, although it would be sensible to assume that the settlers will have some medical training.

An artist's idea of what a Mars settlement could look like. (Image credit: Mars One).
An artist’s idea of what a Mars settlement could look like. (Image credit: Mars One).

No-one knows whether humans can even conceive on Mars; the gravity is only 38% of that here on Earth, and the planet’s reduced atmosphere means that there is more radiation from the Sun (although the radiation levels are believed to be well within safe limits). Assuming that a pregnancy occurred, we have no idea how well it would develop given these differences. However, at some point the settlers on Mars will need to begin having children in order to increase their population instead of relying on volunteers travelling from Earth. It is likely that animals will be transported to the planet and encouraged to breed first, so that scientists can examine the process before risking a human pregnancy.

If a child was born, it would have to remain inside the living quarters until it was old enough to wear a spacesuit and breathing equipment; humans can’t breathe the air on Mars. The reduced gravity may mean that it learns to crawl and walk earlier than babies on Earth, and it might also mean that the child’s muscles and bones develop differently. After all, astronauts actually grow an average of 2 inches while they’re in space because gravity isn’t exerting as much force on their vertebrae and the space between them increases.

Basically we have very little idea what would happen to a child born on Mars. But the idea does open up some more interesting questions: would the child be a Martian? Would the settlers carry illnesses with them, like colds, or would the child never experience this kind of illness while on Mars? What nationality would it be, and if it returned to Earth would it need a passport?

Hopefully in years to come we’ll discover the answers!

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