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Genetically Engineering Spacemen

At the International Astronautical Congress last September, in Guadalajara, Mexico, Elon Musk convinced many die-hard space engineers he could get a fleet of private rockets filled with thousands of people to Mars. Musk’s speech was long on orbits, flight plans, and fuel costs. But it was short on how any of those colonists would survive. In fact, the Mars journey would likely be a dead end. Bathed in radiation and with nothing growing on it, the Red Planet is basically a graveyard. Recently, a few scientists have started to explore whether we might be able to do a little better if we created new types of humans more fit for the travails of space travel. That’s right: genetically modified astronauts. Let’s be clear. No one is trying to grow an astronaut in a bubbling vat somewhere (that we know of). But some far-out ideas once relegated to science fiction and TED Talks have recently started to take concrete form. Experiments have begun to alter human cells in the lab. Can they be made radiation-proof? Can they be rejiggered to produce their own vitamins and amino acids? One person looking at the idea is Christopher Mason, a member of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at Weill Cornell Medicine. (READ MORE)


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