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How Do We Terraform Mars?

If we really want to live on Mars, we’re going to need to do a complete renovation. We’ll need to thicken the atmosphere, warm the planet, and get the liquid water flowing. What’ll it take?

Attn: VP in charge of Long Distance Traveler Services
c/o Olympus Mons Tourism and Hospitality Office, Mars

After researching your lovely planet as a place to summer, I’d like to request some basic changes to your environmental “services”. These will meet some fundamental safety requirements we will require upon our arrival.

Mars' thin atmosphere. Image credit: NASA

Mars’ thin atmosphere. Image credit: NASA

Our research has indicated your atmosphere is incredibly thin, as a result the beaches and quite frankly everything else is unacceptably cold. There appears to be no oxygen, and there is a conspicuous lack of a magnetosphere which those of us with meat parts will require for radiation protection.

We’ve found that your pressure at sea level is 1% of what we’re accustomed to. As we do not wish to request our guests to wear a special full body suit, please assign your operations staff to sublimating your CO2 polar ice caps immediately.

This should replenish your atmospheric density and begin resolving the frigid temperatures of your resorts and overall planet.

Mars photographed with the Mars Global Surveyor.

Mars photographed with the Mars Global Surveyor.

We will also be requiring a breathable atmosphere suitable for Terran mammals. Our surveys have shown there’s oxygen stored inside the regolith. Please find enclosed some hardy lichens and a gradual regimen of plants to grow over time to begin releasing this gas into the atmosphere.

We estimate these initial minor housekeeping requests should take only a few hundred years to get rolling. Although they may make an absolute mess of your beautiful planet we’ll be requiring them so we humans can arrive and begin making an even larger mess on our own.

We understand that making the air breathable should take tens of thousands of years, so we suggest you get started immediately.

Mars Explorer. Image credit: NASA

Mars Explorer. Image credit: NASA

Currently our outreach comfort teams have not found a solution to the lack of a magnetic field, and we may resort to local solutions such as genetically engineering our offspring to be more resistant to radiation.

Sincerely,
Fraser Cain,
Tour Coordinator, Universe Today Planetary Expeditions.

PS: What do you think? Is it ethical to completely change the environment of a planet to suit our needs, or are we really just as Agent Smith describes us? A horrible smelly virus.

And if you like what you see, come check out our Patreon page and find out how you can get these videos early while helping us bring you more great content!

About 

Fraser Cain is the publisher of Universe Today. He's also the co-host of Astronomy Cast with Dr. Pamela Gay.

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Homonymous Anonymous July 21, 2014, 11:40 AM

    It’s dead, so I don’t see any problem trying to modify it.

  • Kawarthajon July 21, 2014, 12:05 PM

    We don’t seem to have any problems dramatically altering the Earth’s atmosphere and biosphere, so why not Mars’ as well?

    How big would generators have to be to manage a large-scale magnetosphere? Could we put them in orbit such that they are always on the sunward side of the planet to protect it from radiation, providing a protective shield from the sun, or are cosmic rays of equal concern?

  • FarAwayLongAgo July 21, 2014, 12:06 PM

    @Homonymous Anonymous
    I agree with you. But environmentalists don’t. Most religions worship death as the best of all things. They imagine that death is eternal life in paradise, and that it therefor is profitable to sacrifice all real life to achieve holy death.

  • TedH July 21, 2014, 5:27 PM

    If, and only if, we find no other liveform we should start transforming Mars to suit our needs. But as I see it… no one really cares. “Why should we stop the change to save some microbes? See the huge potential, the riches this planet offers!” And so any potential and undiscovered live will be doomed… if you like it or not.

  • Tim Reyes July 21, 2014, 7:22 PM

    This is a bit of a tongue and cheek video. Call it “Just add Water”. Wait, plenty of that so let’s call it “Hold the Salt”. I doubt if any idea offered here, at least by me, hasn’t been tossed out in some symposium, paper or now web page. As for the ethics, if there is life subsisting underground, under rocks then its unlikely terraforming will happen any time soon, i.e. in the next couple hundred years. Even then, most of the planet is likely to remain as is, for virtue of its aesthetics and nature while colony zones are permitted that utilize huge thin film graphene inflatable domes to enclose Earthly environments. Even at present, its unlikely that bio contamination can be contained and if Martian life exists, measures will be necessary to save samples that could reseed some protected environments on Mars. If life exists, hiding away somewhere on Mars, its likely that our technology will advance sooner to find such life than it will to undertake terraforming.

    However, if we ultimately conclude that no life ever developed on Mars, then if you get past the wrecking ball of a unique environment in our Solar System, then there are brute force methods for kick starting terraforming. Take from the “almost” playbook of the Siding Spring Comet now just 90 days from a close flyby of Mars. Humans could nudge a comet to impact the South Polar Cap to 1) shatter and release more CO2 to thicken the atmosphere, 2) deliver some cometary organic material for the heck of it, 3) enshroud the planet in dust for some years. Its not clear to me that one would get the warming effect one would want but besides using a comet, the atmosphere could be seeded with something extra that would lead to a warmup. The warmup would melt the water ice deposits. I suspect that if you do not increase the heat capacity of the atmosphere, one won’t be able to passively sublimate CO2 from the Poles.

    One might also carefully select the choice of impactor. For example, a Kuiper belt object rich in volatile hydrocarbons as well as water ice might make an interesting impactor. As for a magnetic field, enclosing the whole planet in an artificial field is many centuries away, localized fields not unlike the natural ones embedded in ferrous deposits in the near surface of Mars could protect large domed habitats. Tethers linked to a synchronized Phobos could hold super-conducting rings generating a field atop the atmosphere and over the colonial habitats.

    That’s my 5 cents. Excuse me while I go restock at my local 420 apothecary.

  • Aqua4U July 21, 2014, 7:52 PM

    I say we start small. Find an appropriately sized (100 meter?) and shaped crater on Mars to seal, cover and pressurize. The steep crater walls will be deep enough to provide modest rad. shielding. The green house goes over there…

    Establishing self containing habitats will be key to Mars development. Eventually, larger and larger craters will be spanned. Instead of Terra forming all of Mars, lets start small then eventually build a dome over the entire Hellas Planetia basin? To become the 51st Sate?

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