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How to Terraform Mars

Lately, Iíve read a lot of flawed suggestions on how to terraform the Planet Mars, so I wanted to clarify how to really terraform Mars with todayís technology. Keep in mind that this hypothetical solution completely ignores all economic, sociological, and political factors. Again, this solution is only concerned with what mankind is currently capable of.

First, the only reason to terraform Mars is for colonization, so basically the planet needs to be modified on a macro scale to support human life for thousands of generations. Therefore, several radical solutions must be implemented; even though at first, they may appear daunting and overwhelming.


The problem that needs to be addressed first is that the gravity on Mars is less than 38% of that of Earthís gravity. Even though human life could easily survive at this low gravity, it is believed that long term exposure would be detrimental for a long and healthy life especially for returning to Earth after several years of exposure to this low gravity. For example after only a single decade, weak bones would easily break in adults. Furthermore, the physical development of children at this low gravity would probably cause severe deformities and perhaps be even lethal especially to fetuses. It is already known that gigantism (never stop growing) causes death in people, now imagine how tall children would grow in this low gravity and the problems that will occur because if it. It is obvious that the human body has evolved to survive and work most efficiently with Earthís gravity.

Therefore, the gravity of Mars needs to be increased to Earthís level. This can only be done by increasing the mass of the planet by re-directing millions of asteroids in the near by asteroid belt to crash into Mars. Even the two moons of Mars could be used. Either rockets would be used to push these masses into Marsí path or missiles could be used to redirect their paths. At mankindís current level of technology, this would take a huge amount of resources and time, yet it is feasible. Hopefully, this undertaking should be much easier with future advancements in technology. Finally, the reason why this task should be executed first is because the bombardment of meteor strikes would be hazardous for anyone already on the planet.


This solution would also address the next problem that Mars has insufficient mass to keep a pressurized and breathable atmosphere from escaping into space. Once Mars has a higher gravity, comets could be redirected to impact the planet to provide needed gases for a thicker atmosphere and water for oceans. Eventually the atmosphere would be thick enough to completely disintegrate comets and asteroids without crashing onto the surface, so humans could start relocating to the planet at this time.

Since Mars is significantly farther from the Sun than the Earth, the atmosphere would have to be much thicker than Earthís atmosphere. The reason why this is necessary is because the only way to get a smaller range of temperatures to stabilize the temperature differences between both day and night. Furthermore, mankind knows how to make factories that could easily create plenty of greenhouse gases to stabilize the planetís temperature too. Eventually, the polar ice caps on Mars would melt and also help form a thicker atmosphere and oceans.


The only unsolvable problem with terraforming Mars is that the planet almost does not have a magnetosphere to shield life from certain types of solar activity (mostly ions and electrons). While a thicker atmosphere would protect people from deadly solar radiation such as UV rays, Mars lacks an active geothermal core with strong magnetic poles thus preventing a protecting magnetosphere from existing. Despite what happens in movies, it is impossible to drill a hole into the core of Mars to detonate a few nuclear warheads to jumpstart the planetís core, thus activating strong magnetic poles and creating a protective magnetosphere. Furthermore, using conductors to create an artificial magnetosphere to cover an entire planet is currently not technologically feasible, yet shielding a small city may be possible. Unfortunately, more research is needed.

As a result, a human colony would not be able to survive on the surface of the planet for long periods of time; however there is a work around to this problem. People could live indoors under heavy shielding. This is possible by building entire cities either underground or within enclosed domed habitats on the surface of the planet. This is called paraterraforming. At first, living mostly indoors may seem as a failure to most definitions of terraforming, yet this means that a colony could live on Mars.


At this point, Mars will have an atmosphere, but the air will probably not be breathable or even safe. Because of the large number of asteroids, comets, and other debris impacting Mars, the atmosphere would have a lot of dust and other harmful particles floating around. So after a few years, these particles would mostly settle to allow light to reach the surface of the planet. When this happens and since Mars already has a lot of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere (almost 96% right now), Mars can be seeded with bacteria and plant life that are hardy enough to survive this new harsh environment. Some genetic engineering may be necessary for them to survive better. These plants and bacteria would do the double duty of both filtering the air and producing breathable oxygen for people to breathe. Without a magnetosphere, the first plants and bacteria introduced on Mars would have a low survival rate, so species that have a very fast lifecycle would be preferred.


Water should not be a problem on Mars, since the polar ice caps consist of a lot of water and more water would be introduced from comets.

On the other hand, growing food would be much more difficult. In the worse case scenario, all food would have to be grown indoors just like people would be only living indoors too. Hopefully, some agriculture would survive of the surface. However, livestock would not survive long without a magnetosphere, yet fish could survive under an ocean of water.


Now that Iíve explained what is necessary to terraform Mars, I hope that I proved that colonizing Mars is impractical and economically not feasible with todayís resources by just presenting the sheer magnitude of such a project.

I would imagine that colonization of space would begin without terraforming, but rather space stations near resources, such as asteroids and comets, that could be mined easily. These space stations would have to create artificial gravity by spinning and would not need as many resources as terraforming an entire planet. But that a completely different article.

by Phil for Humanity
on 08/10/2007

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