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Thread: The ethics of terraforming: the Genesis Project

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    Question The ethics of terraforming: the Genesis Project

    The shadow cast by a single Star Trek movie is long indeed, but it ties in with much older questions: Do we have a manifest destiny to terraform planets to our needs? Is there a moral imperative to using "Genesis" spacecraft? What are the ethics in terraforming?

    https://arxiv.org/abs/1901.02286

    Why planetary and exoplanetary protection differ: The case of long duration Genesis missions to habitable but sterile M-dwarf oxygen planets

    Claudius Gros (Submitted on 8 Jan 2019)

    Time is arguably the key limiting factor for interstellar exploration. At high speeds, flyby missions to nearby stars by laser propelled wafersats taking 50-100 years would be feasible. Directed energy launch systems could accelerate on the other side also crafts weighing several tons to cruising speeds of the order of 1000 km/s (c/300). At these speeds, superconducting magnetic sails would be able to decelerate the craft by transferring kinetic energy to the protons of the interstellar medium. A tantalizing perspective, which would allow interstellar probes to stop whenever time is not a limiting factor. Prime candidates are in this respect Genesis probes, that is missions aiming to offer terrestrial life new evolutionary pathways on potentially habitable but hitherto barren exoplanets.

    Genesis missions raise important ethical issues, in particular with regard to planetary protection. Here we argue that exoplanetary and planetary protection differ qualitatively as a result of the vastly different cruising times for payload delivering probes, which are of the order of millennia for interstellar probes, but only of years for solar system bodies. Furthermore we point out that our galaxy may harbor a large number of habitable exoplanets, M-dwarf planets, which could be sterile due to the presence of massive primordial oxygen atmospheres. We believe that the prospect terrestrial life has in our galaxy would shift on a fundamental level in case that the existence of this type of habitable but sterile oxygen planets will be corroborated by future research. It may also explain why our sun is not a M dwarf, the most common star type, but a medium-sized G-class star.
    There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
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    One of the core papers on the Genesis idea, though terraforming itself is an older concept (e.g., Carl Sagan's proposal to terraforming Venus with spacecraft dropping algae into the atmosphere).


    https://arxiv.org/abs/1608.06087

    Developing Ecospheres on Transiently Habitable Planets: The Genesis Project

    Claudius Gros (Submitted on 22 Aug 2016 (v1), last revised 1 Sep 2016 (this version, v2))

    It is often presumed, that life evolves relatively fast on planets with clement conditions, at least in its basic forms, and that extended periods of habitability are subsequently needed for the evolution of higher life forms. Many planets are however expected to be only transiently habitable. On a large set of otherwise suitable planets life will therefore just not have the time to develop on its own to a complexity level as it did arise on earth with the cambrian explosion. The equivalent of a cambrian explosion may however have the chance to unfold on transiently habitable planets if it would be possible to fast forward evolution by 3-4 billion years (with respect to terrestrial timescales). We argue here, that this is indeed possible when seeding the candidate planet with the microbial lifeforms, bacteria and unicellular eukaryotes alike, characterizing earth before the cambrian explosion. An interstellar mission of this kind, denoted the `Genesis project', could be carried out by a relatively low-cost robotic microcraft equipped with a on-board gene laboratory for the in situ synthesis of the microbes.

    We review here our current understanding of the processes determining the timescales shaping the geo-evolution of an earth-like planet, the prospect of finding Genesis candidate planets and selected issues regarding the mission layout. Discussing the ethical aspects connected with a Genesis mission, which would be expressively not for human benefit, we will also touch the risk that a biosphere incompatibility may arise in the wake of an eventual manned exploration of a second earth.
    There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
    Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)

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    We'll be having to do some serious drilling on mars to ensure the bacteria 2 miles below the planets surface share our genome and codon usage: Bacteria Found Nearly 2 Miles Underground.
    I'd be surprised if they are not there, or had a significantly different biochemistry, but we should check before possibly destroying something beyond price.

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    It occurs to me that part of the ethics issue might involve determining whether human colonists might be killed off by organisms on the planets we colonize, to include organisms living miles below ground. Sort of a reversed War of the worlds problem. If Mars has microbes with a biochemistry similar to ours, they could eat us alive, literally.
    There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact.
    Mark Twain, Life on the Mississippi (1883)

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    Space Plague by George O. Smith
    Unlikely though, as most human pathogens like temps of around 37C. As far as we know temps are not that high on mars. There may be some warm spots underground, or hot springs, but generally water likes to boil until it freezes on the red planet. I doubt any organism that uses uranium as an energy source would find us palatable.

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