Marika Tarasashvili, space biotechnologist, science teacher
What is the subject of your scientific research and what is the topic that interests you the most?
The subject of my research is astrobiology It is the interdisciplinary field of modern science that unites several disciplines such as scientific ecology, environmental technologies, biochemistry, biotechnology, space environment technologies, 3D printing and synthetic biology. Astrobiology studies the issues that remain on the verge of astronomy and biology. In this matter, the topics of my special interest are the scientific challenges connected with the research and assimilation of Planet Mars. I am more than sure that the assimilation of space, new planets, and moons is the future of mankind, since securing the future of the Earthian life is only possible through its migration and dissemination into space. Our first steps towards this direction are manned Mars missions.
The biotechnological scientific aspects of colonization and terraforming of Mars are extremely complex. My thesis touched on the microbiological transformation of Mars’s soil. It turns out that the organisms living in extreme conditions on Earth are able to transform Mars’s soil and atmosphere. It will give us the possibility to develop Martian agriculture based on the Earthian plants. It was my first serious experimental work in scientific astrobiology.
In 2008, the Georgian Scientific Foundation allocated findings thanks to which an on-paper project for a chamber simulating Mars conditions became a reality. Following this, many scientific works got elaborated and published on the Internet. Last year I had a working meeting at the German Space Agency – DLR. The subject of the meeting was the issue of using synthetic biology to develop genetically modified plants in space conditions. In May this year, at the US international conference of astrobiology, I presented work concerning the possible peculiarities of Earth plants’ photosynthesis on Mars. A special publication dedicated to these issues will soon be published.
Colonization of Mars – when and how, in your opinion?
The colonization of Mars can even be launched today. Science has everything for that. Money is the obstruction, as always. At this stage, the colonization of Mars is connected only with the expenses. It is an investment, however, the profits of which can’t be gained even for centuries. The arguments against colonization can be divided into two categories. One of them says: “there are so many problems on Earth, it is better to spend money to solve them”. It is the classic, cynical position that popularizes social parasitism. As a rule, the supporters of this argument can’t outline any kind of strategy for solving the problems they refer to. This is the category which is comprised of active consumers of modern technology, who never reject expensive cars or pay to help the poor or animals.
There is an even stronger position against Mars colonization which is mockingly referred to as the “Mars virginity defenders” in scientific circles. Surprisingly, even some scientists share this position. According to them, Mars should stay as it is and nobody owns the right to “pervert its beauty”, as placing another kind of life there is the “biggest violence of space”. I can’t speak on behalf of other people, but I can’t understand how anyone can “pervert” empty stones and sands and exert violence against nonexistent life. In the end, life in the universe is something that is the most wonderful, beautiful and precious of things. If some day Mars will have its own life it will only be welcome. In the future, Mars may be the only solution for Earth’s life to survive. Hopefully, the majority of scientists realize that similar attitudes should not obstruct the grandiose plans of Mars colonization.
In light of the history of science, I assume that the progressive part of mankind can start the colonization of Mars as soon as in this century, and successfully complete it in 2-3 hundred years. Big corporations such as SpaceX, Bigellow, Virgin Galactics and others work on the subject too. However, according to the scientists, the corporations should not be given any possibility to use scientific achievements solely for profit. One of the ideas of the corporations is a “low cost” colonization of Mars, while the main goal of science is the assurance of safety and well-being of the colonists. All financial tricks like cutting corners in cost etc. are nonsensical when it comes to space. There are no cheap items of high enough quality to be used in the field. Thus the business groups oriented towards cost efficiency will have to abandon their marketing ideas at some point. Space technology is extremely expensive, while “cheap” technology doesn’t work and, most importantly, is not safe.
The first stage of the colonization of Mars has already launched and will be finalized in 2-3 centuries. As for the first colony, it surely will be on at the end of this century. Even the boldest science fiction can’t describe the technological progress that is ahead.
The Georgian Space Agency is canceled. Is there a possibility to create a new one, is anything being done in this direction?
The Georgian Space Agency was canceled in 2006 due to the post-Soviet, unprincipled representatives of the agency, their corrupt work style, nonexistent strategic views, and resistance towards nonstandard scientific ideas. I am tremendously sorry to say this and I am not naming any names, but I had the possibility to meet and talk with the leaders of the agency. It was practically a closed group of several friends sitting on a 400 Lari monthly wage, which for me is more of a social welfare than salary. Seldom events held by the agency were mostly closed and superficial. There were no local projects, nor a readiness to take part in international pilot or joint projects. Alas, this period was the best time for participating and thinking about strategically developing of the agency. That was the time when new space agencies were being established in Poland and the Baltic countries, when important investments were being made. Today those agencies are the full-fledged and financially secured members of the Europe Space Agency – ESA. Many of them are strategic partners of NASA, while the remnants of our Space Agency were recently sold as a junk.
A group of progressive scientists with strong principles are needed for the establishment of a new agency, as well as a strategy which will be worked out on the government level, along with legislature that excludes nepotism and corruption.
Is there any possibility for an establishment of a space agency that won’t depend on the state?
Of course, there is a possibility. I even think it may happen soon. I know a group of professionals that are going to found a non-governmental organization working on space issues. Experience shows that an NGO works better than the state. Despite most of today’s globally important space agencies being state bodies, they use scientific achievements of small-scale scientific institutions. It depends in which niche we find ourselves. Unfortunately, scientific institutions working today in Georgia mostly operate in a destruction or demolition mode. Scientific work style is very specific and requires a huge deal of academic and personal freedom. A scientist must be engaged in science only, without plunging into bureaucratic book-keeping papers. Based on my own experience, I can say that NASA and ESA are kinds of paradises for scientists. They envisage all the smallest details and peculiarities of scientific work. And the results are tangible.
Today, a creepy bureaucratic machine works against scientists in Georgia. Superficial events are being held that scare the young generation away from science. The latest religious blindness that is commonplace in today’s Georgia is especially alarming. On this backdrop, the existence of a space agency as a state structure seems unrealistic to me. This is why, in my opinion, it is much better to start with the establishments of a nongovernmental agency.
Do you think that it is our destiny to become interplanetary beings? What are the consequences if it never happens?
I can’t talk about any destiny. However, it is clear that we face suffocation on this plant. We have squandered the whole planet, our use of fuel is not normal. We cut down trees that give us oxygen. The levels of carbon dioxide and the average temperature have sharply elevated. Earth will get rid of all those disasters by some terrible cataclysms. The time will come when, because of the changes of the sun, living on the Earth will become impossible. Our readiness to deal with it depends on the limits of our greed and stupidity.
Evolution is never wrong. It never favors idiots. If mankind won’t be able to switch to an interplanetary mode of life, it will face the “great extinction” that has happened on the Earth at least 5 times according to paleontology researches. All the living entities went extinct.
All those extinctions were connected to climate change and/or other space-related cataclysms after which the Earth recovered itself, while none of the species living before the extinction were given such a chance. A documentary named “Space” describes a virtual museum with six exhibition halls dedicated to six “great extinctions”. Among them, five are full of remnants of their respective destroyed epochs, while the sixth one is empty.