Six months have passed. You step off of your space ship onto Martian soil and look around at the harsh environment. You can already feel the -63ÂºC temperature through your suit. It’s not exactly hospitableyou can only stay outside of the habitat for short periods of time, your suit just isn’t up to the job. But that’s why you’re here, to make Mars somewhere people can live.
Living on Mars has been a dream of science fiction writers for generations. Now, with overpopulation becoming an increasing problem and the state of our planet worsening, isn’t it about time we take a serious look at making ourselves a new home?
Terraforming is exactly what it suggests: ‘Earth Shaping.’ It is the process of changing the character of a planet to make it suitable for human habitationthis means changing the atmosphere and temperature to bring them in line with the conditions we have here on Earth. We have seen here that it is possible for human beings to inadvertently alter the conditions on the planet what would happen if we tried to alter things deliberately?
There are two main things that need to be achieved if we want to live on the planet in a free environment: that is to say, outside specially constructed biodomes. The first is heating the planet. At present it is far too cold to support human life. Secondly, an atmosphere needs to be added so that, you’ve guessed it, we can breathe. Thankfully, the two processes are closely related. Adding an atmosphere and greenhouse gases will naturally cause a rise in the temperature of the planet. There are numerous ways to do this. Mirrors could be placed in orbit around the planet, reflecting light onto its surface. Increasing the amount of light falling on the planet will, of course, lead to a temperature rise. Another, simpler, way would be to flood the planet with hydrocarbons, trapping vast amounts of heat and warming up the planet in the same way that greenhouse gases have warmed the Earth. A more futuristic method would involve putting an array of microwave satellites in space. In the same way that your microwave oven heats food by causing water molecules to vibrate, satellites could bombard the planet, melting ice crystals near the surface. Two more drastic methods involve, firstly, a nuclear strike of the planet, and secondly, the splitting of its inner moon, Phobos. A nuclear strike at the polar caps would release vast amounts of carbon dioxide and water vapour, trapping heat. After the dust settled, less heat would be reflected back into space, again causing a rise in temperature. The crashing of the moon into the planet would generate relatively little heat, but it would remove a future danger with a thick atmosphere the moon would only be likely to remain in orbit for a few hundred years, subsequently crashing down onto the planet and endangering any settlements on the surface.
Changing the atmosphere into something suitable for human life is trickier, as the materials needed would have to be transported to the planet from Earth, involving both a huge cost and extreme difficulty. An atmosphere is important not only to enable us to breathe, but also to shield the planet from minor meteor strikes: a thick atmosphere slows down inbound objects and causes many of them to burn up. A planet without an atmosphere would be much more at risk one reason why biodomes are not the ideal solution.
One way of introducing water to the planet is to react hydrogen with carbon dioxide, which would also produce heat. Ammonia could be introduced by deliberately crashing small asteroids into Mars, but again this would require vast amounts of money and fuel. One more plausible way is to introduce organisms, such as plant life, onto the planet. This will change the environment into one that is suitable for humans. By using known plants with genetic engineering, it could be possible to allow the organisms to survive the harsh environment whilst changing it to our needs.
One final consideration is Mars’ lack of a magnetic field. This serves to deflect harmful particles from the solar wind, away from the planet. At present it is not known whether a thick atmosphere alone would be enough to protect life from solar radiation. One possibility to overcome this is to use large super conducting magnets to create localised magnetic fields around settlements, thereby deflecting harmful particles.
Who knows, maybe in a hundred years the terraforming of Mars may have begun, in two hundred years Mars may be the home to newly born humans. If we do succeed at creating a new Earth on Mars, hopefully we will have learned our lessons and will treat the planet with a little more respect than we have done here.