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Silvino Phillips
Silvino Phillips

Terraforming Mars

Terraforming Mars ===

Terraforming Mars

For decades, planetary scientists and science fiction writers alike have toyed with the idea of making a planet other than Earth habitable for humans, a process more commonly known as terraforming. Due to its size and rocky composition, Mars is the most common target for such theories, with the much hotter yet mostly earth-sized Venus also making the occasional appearance.

Now, recently retired, forty-plus year NASA veteran Jim Green sat down with the New York Times for a long ranging interview about this terraforming concept, the overall search for extraterrestrial life and the upcoming Europa Clipper mission.

Finally, Green addresses the ongoing search for signs of life on Mars dating back to the Viking lander missions of the 1970s, while offering his own thoughts about the hunt for life in the clouds of Venus, a planet he also thinks would make for a great terraforming target.

The study, co-authored by Northern Arizona University planetary scientist Christopher Edwards, refutes the popular notion of terraforming by examining what would be needed to release carbon dioxide from several different sources. The paper serves as an inventory of CO2 available for terraforming Mars, including in the Martian polar ice caps, which would require vaporization on a massive scale; CO2 attached to the surface of dust in the Martian soil, which would require an enormous heating effort to release the gas; and carbon locked in mineral deposits, which would require extensive strip mining.

Working towards parametres will grant players a higher terraforming rating, which will increase the amount of funding they receive every round. Building cities, growing forests and placing oceans can help players to increase the number of resources they have and can produce every round, giving them an advantage over their opponents. Playing certain cards can also grant players victory points, as will purchasing awards and milestones. Whichever player has the most victory points by the end of the game is declared the winner.

But in 2020, Mars is very much on the agenda. NASA, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic -- they all want to put space boots on the ground, and in some cases as soon as the 2030s. But as scientists work toward blastoff, the concept of terraforming will most likely be a case of "failure to launch."

There's a solid pile of ideas around terraforming Mars, and they all sound pretty wild. Mostly, they have to do with getting a lot of greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, releasing it from the planet's ice and soil.

In 1993, researchers Robert Zubrin and Chris McKay wrote a paper analyzing theories for terraforming the red planet. One involved building giant orbital mirrors to reflect sunlight to raise the temperature of Mars, melt the frozen water on the planet and thereby release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. In another scenario, settlers could build factories whose express purpose is to pump out artificial greenhouse gases like fluorocarbon gases. Humans could maybe harness ammonia-rich asteroids, aligning them to hit Mars.

RZ: It appears that Mars does have all the elements needed for terraforming. The one outstanding question is nitrogen, whose inventory remains unknown. However theory suggests that Mars should have had an initial supply of nitrogen comparable to the Earth, and it seems likely that much of this is still there.

There remains only the question of science. Surely we should avail ourselves of the opportunity to study native Martian life before we terraform the place. We surely will. Terraforming Mars will be a long term project, and should native Martian microbes exist, there will be ample opportunity to study it before terraforming takes place. There will also be opportunity to study how it adapts to warmer, wetter conditions and the presence of terrestrial microbes after terraforming takes place. Furthermore, if Mars actually is terraformed, there will be much more people on Mars to study every aspect of Mars


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