21st Century Science & Technology
Terraforming Mars
Pat Rawlings/
Terraforming Mars will require a series of interventions on the planet, in order to make the atmosphere thick and warm enough for microbial life. During that time, exploring Mars will require space suits, as seen here. Eventually, however, people will able to walk around the surface unencumbered, at home on their new Earth.
Terraforming Mars To Create A New Earth

by Marsha Freeman

(Partial text from Winter 2000-2001 issue)

Space scientists are now working on bold new plans to take the first steps to make all worlds habitable for future generations.

What greater representation can there be of mankind’s creative genius, than for him to move off his home planet, and extend life throughout the Solar System, by creating new abodes for life, new Earths? In the 1938 article translation in this issue, the great Russian biogeochemist, Vladimir Vernadsky, wrote that the geological region of life on Earth—the biosphere—has been “extended through man’s machines into the stratosphere.” A decade before Vernadsky’s article, Hermann Oberth, the father of spaceflight, wrote that the goal of using machines for future manned space exploration was not merely to venture off the surface of the Earth, but “to make all worlds habitable.”

Now, for the first time, man has at his fingertips, the tools that can be used to move human civilization into space. Now, too, we can plan the steps that will be required to create new Earths.

Although Earth’s Moon is the nearest and most convenient object for exploration and settlement, that small celestial body is unable to support the atmosphere upon which life would depend. Life on the Moon will require an enclosed and protected habitat.

Mars, although more difficult to reach, has all of the ingredients necessary for life. Now a likely lifeless planet, Mars once had an atmosphere thick and warm enough to allow for the flow of liquid water on its surface—the prerequisite for life. And once there is again an atmosphere that will allow the existence of liquid water, there will be life on Mars. Terraforming Mars, therefore, is first a “restoration” project, to return the now cold, dry planet to a more potentially life-like period in its geological past.

The First Step: Ecopoiesis
Because the atmosphere of Mars today is composed primarily of carbon dioxide, it will not support aerobic life—animals or man. The first step in terraforming Mars will be to warm up and thicken the existing atmosphere in order to make Mars habitable for the anaerobic micro-organisms that can prosper in a carbon dioxide environment.

This process has been termed ecopoiesis by biologist Robert Haynes—from the Greek, meaning fabricating or producing an abode or dwelling place. The process of ecopoiesis on Mars will require the transformation of what Vernadsky terms the “bio-inert bodies” of the planet—the soil, atmosphere, and water—which play a large role in the organization of the future biosphere, and, in turn, are “changed by the living matter within them.”. . .

Marsha Freeman is an Associate Editor of 21st Century magazine. Her most recent book, Challenges of Human Space Exploration, was published by Springer-Praxis.

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