I swear, sometimes I feel like I'm the only one who has heeded the lessons of 1950s horror movies.
"Huh, that's odd," said the scientists. So they cut off both heads, to ship them and the middle section back to earth for further research. At which point, the middle section sprouted two brand new heads in place of the ones that had been lopped off. Congratulations, science! You took a bunch of tiny worms and worm bits, and accidentally Frankenstein'd them into a Space Hydra. Admittedly, a super small one, but come on -- you know how these things go. One of these days, an unwary researcher is going to leave his coffee near the thing, and some weird chemical reaction with lots of smoke and a 1980s light show will take place. And the next thing you know, you're hauling all your puniest scientists to the ISS in a desperate hope that the gamma rays of space will turn them into the Hulk, because that's your only shot of taking down what this multi-headed monster will inevitably mutate into.
When an institution that exists to take things to space starts dropping around terms like "thinking of life as a technology," things start to look a lot less like "Let's go put our flag on a moon" and a lot more like "We are Borg." And when said institution starts poker-facedly talking about its experiments in "synthetic biology" as the Hell Cell Project, it's time to call Will Smith or the Avengers, because there's no way robotic supervillain armies aren't going to be unleashed upon the unwary world.
W-wait. We're doing it? NASA actually has a Hell Cell project going on, aiming to research "the design and construction of new biological parts and systems and the redesign of existing ones for useful purposes"?
OK, then. Surely, this is some sort of fringe experiment, buried umpteen floors under the headquarters with a budget of zero, one merely kept alive to appease whatever mad ghost of a dead Nazi rocket scientist it's designed to keep occupied? Ha, of course not! It's a deathly serious project headed by famed NASA astrobiologist/evolutionary biologist Lynn Rothschild, and they're gunning to wreck shit with it. But don't just take my word for it -- here's Rothschild explaining their jam in her own words:
"You take an organism that maybe can normally only live up to 80 or 100 [degrees]. And you give it some extra genes that maybe could allow it to live at a higher temperature. Now, it turns out high temperature is a relatively difficult thing to do. But say you take an organism and you give it a few extra genes to allow it to live at pH zero or maybe below so in a very acidic environment. And then, you can say, well, if this planet is very acidic and cold and this and that, we can mix and match genes that would not normally be found in nature together."
There's probably a whole lot of science behind those layman's terms she's gracefully using for us non-NASA supergenius chumps, but man if that doesn't sound a lot like a bunch of space scientist motherfuckers splicin' genes, BioShock style. I'm absolutely not kidding about that, by the way. Rothschild goes on to say:
"But if you start thinking of life as a technology, there are a lot of things we can do, even something as bizarre as maybe generating electricity."
Electricity. Man, that's not preparing us for space. That's the opening speech of most of Spider-Man's villains. Still, I can't help but be kind of impressed with this sort of tenacious insanity. We, as a species, want to get off of this planet so hard, we're willing to start punching biology until either lightning comes out or it willingly hands over its lunch money. Tell me we can't fucking gentrify Mars within a couple of generations with an attitude like that.
Pauli Poisuo is a Cracked columnist and freelance editor. Here he is on Facebook and Twitter.
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