Terraforming Mars by Payton S.

By November 7, 2019

Terraforming Mars
by Payton S.

1 AM, Sol 458, Earth Year 2350, Mars
On a dare, he snuck out of an airlock onto Martian soil. His name was Phobos, named after Mars’ larger moon, and at 7, he was still the first and only “Mars-born” child ever. He stepped out onto Mars, with no life support, breathing Martian air. He didn’t instantly get frostbite from the average temperature of -81 degrees Fahrenheit. He didn’t die from lack of oxygen. The liquid coating his alveoli in his lungs and the saliva on his tongue didn’t boil away from Mars’ 100 times lower atmospheric pressure (pressure caused by the weight of an atmosphere). Phobos wasn’t even genetically altered. No, Mars was terraformed.

Terraforming is transforming a planet or island, for example, to become habitable land. Terraforming is possible and has been done on Earth. Plants were introduced to a volcanic Island and now life is flourishing there. But if there was life on Mars, even microbial life, terraforming Mars would kill it.

Mars is the 4th planet from the Sun and is the 2nd smallest after Mercury. Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos ,which, compared with our Moon is incredibly tiny. Mars has a diameter of 4220 miles across which is roughly half the diameter of Earth (7926 miles across).

Terraforming Mars is a massive goal for space exploration agencies because of the benefits it would provide. It would help with human population growth, because it would make colonizing Mars easier and expansion more simple. Harvesting the Solar System’s resources to satisfy the ever growing demand would be facilitated by a junction such as Mars. Also a catastrophic event on Earth would not wipe out the human race because of the “backup plan” of a Mars colony.

As great as a terraformed Mars would be, there are many steps to making it habitable. First, you would have to build up Mars’ magnetosphere, the magnetic field that blocks Solar radiation. (If Earth had no magnetic field, our atmosphere would be completely eroded by Solar wind.)If the magnetosphere is not fixed, no matter how much work is put into fixing the atmosphere, that work would be erased by solar wind erosion.

Second, the temperature would have to be raised from an average of -81 degrees Fahrenheit to above freezing to melt the polar caps, primarily comprised of water ice but also dry ice (CO2). If the poles sublimate (matter goes from a solid state directly to a gas state), the atmosphere will start to build up from the greenhouse effect from the CO2 and the water vapor, which is the third step. Once the atmosphere starts to thicken, the atmospheric pressure will start to rise, hopefully surpassing the Armstrong limit (the lowest air pressure a human could survive in, Mt. Everest gets pretty close to that line). There are lots of theories of how to do this, but one idea is to use massive orbital mirrors to reflect sunlight back at the planet to heat Mars.

But, Houston, we have a problem. To terraform Mars, you need massive amounts of CO2 to thicken the atmosphere and correct the atmospheric pressure. Currently, Mars only has less than 1% of the required atmospheric pressure to be terraformed. Evaporating the polar caps on Mars isn’t enough. That doesn’t get us even to 2%. Using all other CO2 and water vapor sources on Mars, including heating up the Martian soil to release absorbed gases, the atmospheric pressure would only reach 7% of 100%. With our current technology, it’s impossible.

Terraforming Mars has captured the interests of sci-fi writers and scientists because of it’s remarkable potential. Imagine an untouched, second Earth. Imagine the infinite possibilities of what we could create there. Imagine Phobos’ wonder as he inhaled Martian air for the first time. Even though we haven’t invented the necessary tech yet, I’m hopeful they’ll figure out a method to make it possible. It’s worth it.

Peter Searby

Author Peter Searby

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