NASA aims to establish a lasting home on the moon by the end of the decade, followed by human exploration of Mars. As humans venture beyond Earth, it becomes crucial for space settlers to accompany an ecosystem that includes animals.
Animals serve essential roles. For example, insects can assist in pollination, while shrimp and fish are suitable for compact spaces, providing a sustainable food source. Additionally, water bears, small creatures, could teach us how to endure radiation, as reported by Live Science.
David Catling, an astrobiologist at the University of Washington in Seattle, said that the development of complex ecosystems in outer space is more of a concept found in science fiction than a field actively explored by scientists.
In an email to Live Science, Catling expressed that extensive research in this area is still distant. Despite the limited research, it’s evident that the primary challenge could be the dominant force in the universe.
‘The key question is the reduced gravity’
“The key question is the reduced gravity,” explained Christopher McKay, a planetary scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, in a conversation with Live Science. Mars has only about one-third of Earth’s gravity, while the moon’s gravity is merely one-sixth.
Although we can construct habitats to match familiar Earth-like conditions in terms of temperatures, pressures, and atmospheric compositions, altering gravity remains a challenge, as McKay pointed out.
📰 Which animals will be the first to live on the moon and Mars?
NASA has plans for a permanent lunar outpost by the end of the decade, with human Mars exploration to follow. But as we set up base camps beyond Earth, human settlers in space will need to bring along an ecosystem… pic.twitter.com/3iaIYP0t4x
— The Boring Mates (@theboringmates) January 16, 2024
The ideal situation would be for animals to evolve on Mars and the moon similarly to how they do on Earth, but as of now, there is no available data on this, according to McKay.
The changed gravity poses a challenge, potentially impacting the development of muscles and bones, making it difficult for Mars animals to stand or walk correctly. In such circumstances, McKay suggests that smaller creatures, perhaps mice and aquatic life, might be the most suitable candidates.
Fish and other aquatic animals may also survive
McKay suggested that the development of fish and other aquatic animals might not be significantly affected by gravitational changes due to their reliance on buoyancy.
In a 2021 review published in the journal Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Sciences, it was proposed that fish could be well-suited as space livestock because they are more efficient at feeding and produce less waste compared to their land-based counterparts.
The Lunar Hatch program, initiated in 2019, is exploring the possibility of transporting fish eggs to space for controlled hatching.
If they can endure the launch and space journey, fish could emerge as a more efficient, high-protein, and low-waste food source compared to traditional land-based livestock, as indicated in the 2021 review.