Terraforming Mars

By: Nick Swafford

Many, if not all, current space programs are looking to Mars as the next colonization frontier. There are plenty of ways humans could colonize Mars; however, because I am a huge sci-fi fan, I enjoy the terraforming method. Terraforming literally means “earth shaping,” so, as you can infer, it’s the process of shaping other planets or large moons into habitable and more Earth-like planets.

At the moment, Mars can’t support life or liquid water, but that can be changed. Currently, Mars’ atmosphere is 95% carbon dioxide, 1.9% argon, 2.7% nitrogen, and about 2% is a mix of oxygen, carbon monoxide, water, methane, and other gasses. Almost all of these range from toxic to super toxic for humans, resulting in certain death. The atmosphere itself is about 100 times thinner than Earth’s, thus allowing more intake from space’s harmful radiation. This could be a major factor why the atmosphere is so thin. There are many theories as to how we can make the atmosphere more Earth-like. If we find a way to survive there for long enough to establish buildings, we could create factories, which would increase greenhouse gas production. This, in turn, would thicken the atmosphere. Or we could put large mirrors into space that will reflect large portions of intense sunlight, which over hundreds of years, would naturally cause greenhouse gasses to emerge and seep into the atmosphere. If these strategies don’t sound adequate, there’s also the theory that we could connect rockets to ammonia-heavy asteroids and drive them to Mars’s surface.  Ammonia could cause enough greenhouse gasses to impact Mars’s atmosphere and thicken it, making it warmer.

Mars actually has dry ice caps at its poles. Dry ice is frozen carbon dioxide, so as the temperature increases and the dry ice melts,  lots of carbon dioxide would be released into the atmosphere, increasing temperatures even more. Underneath the dry ice is regular ice, and with the dry ice gone, the regular ice would begin to melt and release something crucial to human survival: water. Hopefully, this water would evaporate, as water vapor is an even stronger greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. With this, the temperature could increase. With enough ammonia and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, a possible ozone layer could be created.

An ozone layer is a planet’s shield against the violent solar radiation in space. With enough time, Mars could create one that is strong enough to allow humans to walk and live on the surface without needing special space suits, however, we still need breathable air to live without a spacesuit. There’s actually a prototype machine, the Mars In-Situ Propellant Production Precursor, in the works today that converts carbon dioxide to pure oxygen. Of course, we would need to let the oxygen accumulate in the atmosphere before we can even think about breathing without a spacesuit, and this can’t happen without plants.

As most people know, plants absorb carbon dioxide and produce oxygen, much like the Mars In-Situ Propellant Production Precursor. But it isn’t as easy as just taking a tree to Mars and calling it good. For the plants to grow successfully, scientists need to start lower down on the evolutionary ladder with ammonia producing microbes. These microbes would take the nitrogen from the atmosphere and put it into the ground. With nitrogen-infused soil, mosses and grasses could begin growing, and later on, when the soil is ready to host larger plant life, scientists can introduce trees to the surface. With enough trees, the need for artificial oxygenation would decline.

There’s still the matter of Mars’s gravity, however. Mars’s gravity is about a third of Earth’s, so our bodies would react to the lack of gravity, and start to kill itself . There’s a few theories on how to fix Mars’ gravity, yet this would have to be done radically— truth be told, those theories may not be possible. That doesn’t mean we are out of luck, however. Humans can adapt. If we sent humans to live on the surface of Mars, within a few generations, we could evolve. We could evolve to better breathe with Martian air, and our body composition could change to be better suited for the low gravity. If this happened, we would have to divide humanity into two classifications: Martian Humans and Earth Humans. There would be two classifications of humans, and once their bodies evolve, they would die if they came back to Earth, much like in The Space Between Us.

However, experts aren’t completely sure how long this process would take to complete. It could range from 50 years to 100 million years. Scientists don’t know how well Mars would take on this radical change, but it’s still worth a shot. This would have to be in the very far future though, as we haven’t even created a vehicle that can make a manned trek to Mars. Along with not having the proper transportation, a lot of the technology we would need to complete the mission would have to be created, such as pressurized space suits made specifically for Mars, habitable living shelters on Mars, the Mars In-Situ Propellant Production Precursor, and other vital machinery. Mars might not even be the best place to go for outer-Earth colonizations. The clouds above Venus are currently habitable for human life, and NASA has even thought about going there to build large cities in the sky. Some of the moons of Jupiter may also be candidates. We could even go to other solar systems that may support life. Wherever we go, there will be hardships and obstacles to pass, and, hopefully, future generations will make the right steps to successful outer-Earth colonization.

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