The “Fantastic” Implications Of Space Travel Altering DNA

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File this in the “good to know” department: apparently, extended time in outer space impacts the very shape of our DNA. (The Fantastic Four, of course, already understood this)

After astronaut Scott Kelly stayed for a year upon at the International Space Station, the length of his DNA changed; the telomeres at their tips longer. Normally, telomeres shorten as people age. Did time spent in in space somehow make Scott “younger?” Does just the fact of being in outer space “trigger off” something in the human DNA to make the organism more viable in this new environment?

See, Timothy Leary believed that our DNA responded to, and prepared us for, the future stages of humanity; and that we were on the precipice of a leap into colonizing space. From his book Musings On Human Metamorphoses:

The general direction of evolution is to produce a serially imprinting, multibrained creature able to decipher its own program, create the technology to leave the planet and live in post-terrestrial mini-worlds, decode the aging sectors of the DNA code—thus assuring immortality and act in harmony with stages of evolution to come.

and,

The mission of DNA is to evolve nervous systems able to escape from the doomed planet and contact manifestations of the same amino-acid seeding that have evolved in other solar-systems. The mission is the message—to escape and come home.

I believe that the closer we are as a species to significant advances in space travel, the more it “triggers” our DNA and the DNA of our children to “adapt” to the rapidly approaching post-terrestrial reality—regardless if whether we are actually in a position to enter outer space ourselves.

I mentioned the Fantastic Four earlier in jest, but actually think about it—the first FF comic book came out in 1961—the same year humans first traveled in space. And what is the Fantastic Four about? Four humans whose DNA gets altered by space travel—specifically, altered by radiation.

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Going back to the case of Scott Kelly, it should be noted that humans receive 20 times the normal amount of radiation at the International Space Station. Excess radiation is a big concern regarding what might be our first colonists to Mars, with it being assumed that the radiation might kill these travelers either en route or while on the Red Planet; it being further assumed that due to this and other reasons (such as the duration of the trip), such pioneers are basically going on a “suicide mission.”

However—it is my belief that humans are developing/will develop the alterations in DNA necessary to better survive in space. I hypothesize that the reason Scott’s telomeres lengthened was because the DNA was preparing the body to stay younger and perhaps even live longer while conducting space exploration.

There is something deep inside us, in our DNA, that “wants” us to spread out and explore space.

I leave you with this quote by Dr. Leary, also from Musings On Human Metamorphoses:

Based on all relevant facts from astronomy, genetics, and gerontology the message of DNA is simple: Get Smarter! Increase velocity and altitude! The genetic entity wants off the planet!