I often get asked the question why we are investing in agriculture for space and Mars applications and not for Earth. Otherwise, I am approached with, whether I really believe that one day we will live on Mars. The short answer to the first question is that we are investing in research for both Earth and Mars applications, with emphasis towards the latter. There have been very few attempts by businesses worldwide in bringing agricultural solutions to the space sector, with some universities in the United States collaborating with NASA and now more influence from the European Space Agency into growing plants in space. And I believe that there is a lot of potential in the science we can conduct and discoveries we can accomplish by bringing together more universities and individuals who share the interest in terraforming other planets.
Do I believe that we will one day move to Mars? Yes, but perhaps not for the reason you may think. Settlement in Mars represents a multinational scientific accomplishment, much like the International Space Station, rather than the planet that will provide support for future human settlements. Perhaps most of us view these settlements as an escape from a deteriorating planet; but ask yourself the question of how many resources we must mine in Mars for us to solely rely on that planet. The reality is that we are very far from being self-sustainable, most of us probably don’t live like that on Earth. We depend on physical space for manufacturing, for growing crops and pretty much for living healthy lifestyles. If one day we truly want to live on planets whose surfaces are inhabitable unless we employ specially manufactured living modules, we need to be able to live in confined environments and thus maximise the use of physical space.
Our immediate resources—those that we require to live—will need to be close to ‘home’. No longer would we need vehicles to travel to shops or markets to get supplies; if anything, it could take months to re-supply a community. The only solution would be to have the capacity to survive in a confined physical space. And we would do that by learning to be self-sustainable, starting by using our ability to grow our own food supply. It’s really like going back thousands of years to when early humans emerged. And we must build the communities on Mars like we built communities on Earth, through reliance on agriculture and knowledge on how to grow crops.
So, where does that put us now? When I envisioned the Seanasol initiative back in 2017, I focused on solely research that would bring plants to space. That has been the central focus of the Company since its inauguration, but it doesn’t benefit real-world problems we come across now. We wanted to expand on those who will benefit from our research and focus our research mainly of applications for Earth; we consider these small, but sturdy steppingstones on the long path to terraforming Mars. We build these fundamentals which can be designed, tested and used on Earth before we apply that technology to other applications. I want to create a framework where individuals from different scientific disciplines, but who share our core values, come together and share ideas for ways of improving our planet and envision the best ways of moving forward, while minimising our impact on the environment. I do believe one day we will move to Mars, but that doesn’t mean that Earth will be forgotten. We might not be able to stop Earth from changing much over time, but we surely can slow down that rate at which is does, so that it will always be the planet that can sustain life. We mustn’t use the excuse of having the knowledge and technology to build communities on other planets to diminish the importance of Earth and how it came to be the host of life.
The Future of Space Science & Its Impact
For a long time, space projects have seen funding through several government and private ventures, and most of these applications are in the space and defense industries. Before rocket technology was used to propel spacecraft into orbit, these were aimed at the purpose or rather in preparation for warfare. We have the same technology for two very different applications. On one hand we can push the boundaries of the human presence and explore space and on the other we see as a method of protection. For example, we can have manufacturers of commercial and military aircraft—The Boeing Company and Airbus—and it is their commitment to both applications that what expedites the evolution of aircraft technology.
We mustn’t think that innovation that suits creation will also promote destruction. It is more about what space and defense industries have in common, and that the space sector hasn’t yet solely become independent from the other major industries. It’s not only about defense and rocket technology, it’s everything ranging from material science to telecommunication—that’s the impact of space research—that in every career there is an application for space. For now, that has been focused on engineering, but as we explore the possibilities of terraforming other planets, we suddenly open the spectrum of sciences that can contribute to the space segment.
Seanasol Research was founded to become one of the first companies worldwide that focuses on creating the niche for space expansion scientists and plants biologists and offer the gateway to low-gravity farming. It is the mutual connection between these two very different scientific fields that we want to nurture, to help individuals strengthen their professional network and create new opportunities for researchers. Terraforming Mars, for example, is not only about developing the technology that allows to send humans and supplies there. It is about developing the right tools, using the best materials, learning to adapt to different environmental conditions and re-programming bodies to a myriad of new stimuli, to new diets, and how these new adaptations would affect the physical and mental health of individuals and how long it would take to completely re-adapt. The same goes for the biology of plants for instance; will crops grow the same as on Earth or will they also need to go through an adaptation phase, for how long and can we still comfortably rely on them and their seeds as suppliers of our food.
For us, our contributions to science are of most importance; giving scientists the opportunity to access our research, apply our findings, but more important is allowing them to build upon our findings such that we move developments forward. We are committed in bringing back this knowledge into our communities and create opportunities for the next generation of researchers. I firmly believe that the strength to develop better countries starts by working closely with local communities, giving people of all ages and backgrounds an opportunity to learn and feel as part of a wider community by providing them with a medium by which they can voice their opinions and ideas.
Agriculture, Health & Space
In emerging communities, the ability to grow plants represents a step forward to self-sustainability. When agriculture first evolved, we saw this transition in behaviour in early humans, as they spent less time moving across the plains in hunt for food and developed a sedimentary lifestyle. Though what we call a sedimentary lifestyle today, would be very different to what it was 5,000 years ago. Agriculture was a fire in its own right; an element that helped early humans expand and establish themselves onto new lands, gave way to a more diversified diet and brought forward more options for trade and communication with far-away communities. Movement and trade would have introduced more people to various conditions and diseases, and this would continue to occur in our present day. And there is currently little attention being paid to how diseases can be managed in emerging settlements. We perhaps do not have the understanding as a global community on how to manage a health crisis, such a disease outbreak, as there is no universal code of conduct. We also see our response across several nations being more of a political strategy rather than something to help the good of the population. And there are also those who do not yet understand the severity diseases pose to us, from the most documented pathogens in the media to those which we hardly have heard about in regions of the world that we have little connection to.
We think that building a community in Space will be different than starting new on Earth, probably because there are very little places on Earth that remain untouched. We think that we can take our understanding of Earth and apply it to Space or to the Moon or Mars. We even think that our success in Space is about bringing resources from Earth. In reality, we still know very little about how to manage developing communities and as humans we usually tend to give responsibility to a single representative early on. We mustn’t forget that everyone within that community still shares an equal responsibility. I imagine that at the start of these settlements everyone will be civil, work together on projects, and build the infrastructure for the community. Stability would come from uncertainty. These initial settlers, the older and more experienced, might even, one day, become the leaders of the community, a common mentality of tribal rule. The question remains whether we have the mental power to create newer and better communities when only reflection we have of this is how we have come to develop Earth.
And here lies the main issue with this. We are looking towards the future in Space from the mindset that we have perfected our presence on Earth. We suffer from political instability, prejudice against races, cultures and ideologies, problems with being self-sustainable, pollution and not to mention a plethora of diseases which still have no cure. And powerful nations and organisations will repeatedly push the idea that going to Space will be a solution to some of our problems, and that Space represents new commerce opportunities, tourism, improved surgery techniques in microgravity, and while these may be true, we mustn’t allow ourselves to see only the build-up of Space as an independent industry. Many powerful nations, in this regard, see Space development as a political and military strategy, like it was in the 1960s. In 2019 we signed an alliance with Space Renaissance International (SRI), a Space advocacy association, which aimed to create a protocol to protect civilians in Space, affirming that Space is being built by powerful nations for political and military campaigns. Space advocates, like SRI, crave for the support of big corporations, and while they claim to be representatives of civilians, they involve very few in discussions, even the most notable NASA retirees. That is why we will review our alliances at the end of this year to ensure that they still align with our values.
Everything we do to try to create Space settlements should be applied to benefit Earth. This might be developing plants that can sustain microgravity or different atmospheric conditions better and over longer generations, and perhaps we can expand altitudes where more crop varieties are grown here on Earth. We could build technologies which would allow plants to grow in low-cost growth chambers so that these can be implemented into living spaces–the gardens of the future. We might also learn more about how diseases can be monitored, controlled and tracked using something other than high-tech equipment. What tools might we need in an ordinary day in Space, which we could benefit of now? We want to continue working for the benefit for Earth in the first instance, and with modern understanding and appreciation of the resources that we, as a population develop, take that new knowledge to Space. We stand firm on Space being built through the vision of the general population, to be governed under a democratic system that benefits from equal rights, understands the importance of protecting the new environment and will unite settlers when there is threat of diseases and uncertainty. That is why our attention at the moment cannot solely be aimed at developing Space, if we are still continuing to create a better Earth.
Message from Dr Emmanuel G Escobar Chairman and Co-Founder of Seanasol Research, C.I.C.