If humans want to establish a long-term colony on Mars or elsewhere in space, we'll eventually need to be able to have children there.
But reproducing in the vastly different Martian environment would be extremely complicated.
All of the health effects people experience in space — exposure to radiation and changes in bone, muscle, and bodily fluids — would have effects on a developing fetus or young child.
We may someday decide to edit human DNA to give people traits that could help them thrive on Mars.
Eventually, that could lead to creating new species of humans.
This tiny blue rock upon which we hurtle through the vastness of space is the perfect home for us.
We can breathe the air and drink the water — both of which are essential to life as we know it. Our atmosphere protects us from radiation that could mutate our DNA and cut our lives short. We and the other creatures on Earth have evolved to function according to the planet's gravity, which affects our bones, muscles, and the fluids inside our body.
NASA and other space agencies — as well as individuals like Elon Musk — are actively working towards creating settlements on Mars. But before humans can attempt to establish long-term outposts on Mars or elsewhere in space, we have a lot to consider. Beyond the logistics of space travel, food, water, breathable air, and radiation, there's the question of human reproduction.
A paper newly published in the journal Futures describes just how complicated that could be.
Since Mars is the likely first location for a long-term populated outpost, the researchers behind the paper decided to analyze some physical and social problems that we'd encounter in trying to have babies on the red planet.
"A manned mission to Mars and the establishment of the first human settlement in outer space was once a mere figment of science fiction but is now being planned and expected to take place in the following 20 years," the authors wrote. "We assume that human reproduction in a Mars settlement will be necessary for the long-term success of an outer space mission.
Could there ever be new generations of Martians?
Any human settlement on Mars will be initially populated by crews from Earth. But at some point, if we truly want to have a large long-term Martian colony with a sustainable population, kids are going to need to be born there.
Whether or not it's possible to have children in the Martian environment is still unknown.