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The Terraforming of Mars


Dr Beinfest

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Hello ladies and gentlemen,

 

I am coming to you in search of your opinions on this topic. As I begin my undergraduate thesis and I am narrowing down a topic, I realize how interested I am in throwing a gigantic asteroid into Mars.

 

Fun, yes, I know.

 

Incredibly freaking complicated. Lots of work to do.

 

But, I would like to get your opinions. Ethically, where do you stand on crashing an asteroid into Mars and forcing habitation of the planet for the potential use of humankind? Any other feedback of your opinions would be cool. Wouldn't necessarily change my approach or my topic, but I just want to know how people not associated with the field or discipline feel about something like this.

 

THX.

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What's the point? Mars has no electromagnetic field.

 

I would be all for it if the end result, even if in the far future, would be a living planet. I'm not crazy about leaving moons or planets pristine if they are void of complex life. I think our job is to spread as much as possible. We will learn so much more doing so.

 

Mars seeming nonexistent magnetosphere is often highly exaggerated in effects. Yes, it makes it hard for retention of an atmosphere, but you're talking about on a grand scale. A built atmosphere that could be created over a couple of hundred years on Mars would takes millions of years to deplete and would likely outlive our species.

 

 

The major issue faced is making a damn goldielocks atmosphere. Too much oxygen and you'll blow the damn place up. Too much carbon dioxide and it's poisonous.

 

 

 

I need oodles of tetratonnes of helium and/or (preferably) nitrogen. Microorganisms are an answer, but something tells me so is nuclear fusion.

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I mean you can say it's a bigger issue than i suggest all you'd like but that's simply not the case. When manufacturing an atmosphere all of the nasty radiation you want to keep out isn't too hard with enough o-zone and the sort. The lack of a magnetic field is essentially a non-issue if you're going to work on terraforming. It's a problem that fixes itself. Unless, of course, you're referring to solar wind depleting the atmosphere. In which case, that's something that again... we will not outlive as a species.

 

The gravity is not too low for human adaptation. It's the air pressure and temperature. Crashing Deimos and Phobos into Mars is a waste of time. They're Class-C asteroids and would not be of specific benefit. A much more reliable effect would be to a primitive class-D asteroid in the inner asteroid belt.

 

Also, the technology is not far off. It is very expensive, but we've had the technology to attempt this since the early 90s. It's the cost and commitment and lack of understanding of Mars that's what's holding us back.

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On a normal day for our star, sure. It's not so bad as long as mars has a thick atmosphere. Radiation will probably be higher than here on earth, but not terrible. When there is a CME people will need to be inside under shielding.

 

You don't know that mars gravity is ok for human adaptation. It hasn't been studied enough. We already know that microgravity causes bones and muscles to deteriorate along with a few other minor issues. I think its safe to say that future martians will experience a certain amount of bone and muscle loss. Maybe enough to prevent returning to Earth if we can live on mars long term. We have no idea how a child will grow on Mars. I would guess it is safer for fully grown adults to move there, but way too many unknowns for a growing child. There are too many variables and unknowns to say "the gravity is not too low for human adaptation." Need more research.

 

I don't see how all the tech is there for rapid terraforming. How do you think we will be able to create an atmosphere on mars, today? Factories? Who is going to assemble and maintain them? How will we power them? How many factories are needed to make a dent? How do we maintain the right atmospheric conditions for an entire planet? We can't even do that here. We don't have the technology for abundant, cheap, and portable energy. I think the basics are there, but haven't been fully realized.

 

There is little motivation to colonize mars let alone terraform it. There probably won't be any real reason to colonize it for a very very long time. Sucks because I want to go to other worlds. I've been saving for a commercial flight in space for a while now. I don't care to be one of the first, but I'm going to see this planet from space before I die.

 

Coronal mass ejections happen all the time. Even here on Earth we suffer from them when directed at us. I'm not trying to neglect the issue, but you're weighing way too much on it.

 

Microgravity is not the same thing as Martian gravity. Martian gravity is substantial. Surely it's a mere third of Earth's gravitational force, but comparing it to microgravity is a bit different. Of course it 'needs more research.' This isn't something that we'd try tomorrow lol. This is something that you do the science for now, and you continue to do the science for for the next half century. At that point preliminary phases for what is a 100-250 year 'revolution' can begin, and a 1000-2000 year 'evolution' can start. I'm just making up timeframes based upon speculation, but the first step is all we need to worry about right now. No need to get ahead of ourselves.

 

I really appreciate your input, but there's a lot you may or may not be aware of. So far, the only real issue we face in atmosphere building that can't directly be answered short-term in theory is the idea of a filler gas. We obviously can't have an oxygen rich atmosphere (easy to achieve) due to the combustibility. We can't have a CO2 rich environment due to the fact that CO2 is in fact poisonous in large quantities. We need a filler gas. That's usually nitrogen, as it is here on earth (which also supports the nitrogen cycle). There's also CFCs and helium that could do the trick, but you're talking about evolutionary processes. In fact, there's plenty of nitrogen on Mars itself. The issue would be breaking it up and getting it up there. Once again, that's an evolutionary process. Astrobiology. I don't like it, but it sounds like the only reasonable answer (but of course you could speed the process up by using multiple processes, but not substantially to make it a short term project).

 

The CO2 and H2O are nothing we need to be concerned with though. Nor is oxygen. There's so much CO2 on Mars that increasing the atmospheric pressure from the some 40mb? to a good 300-400mb of pressure could be achieved by a simple accelerated chain reaction by increasing the temperature of the planet by a couple of degrees (the asteroid(s) being the triggers). At that point, the volatile CO2 would start exposing itself to the atmosphere and it's once again a problem that fixes itself.

 

Creating an atmosphere is not a rapid process. Creating atmospheric pressure is 'rapid' though. And so far, creating atmospheric pressure and a greenhouse effect is the primary concern. Nitrogen is the secondary concern, and oxygen would come in third.

 

Colonizing Mars is not an issue of ours in this present day. Nor will it be our children's issue, nor our children's children's. But the generations following that cannot start to do so until we make the initial steps. It will be man's greatest achievement. Don't you worry though, I'll make sure you get to Mars as an old ass man. At this point in my academia, it sounds like that's where I'm putting all my time and efforts.

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I thought the large CMEs weren't much to worry about on the surface of earth because of our magnetosphere. I figured since mars doesn't have one, those events would cause serious damage to life on mars.

 

I know microgravity isn't the same as the gravity on mars, but I do think there are major issues for humans living on much less gravity than here on earth. Bone and muscle loss aside, I think human growth would be severely affected. I think we will have a rotating space station simulating gravity before we have any semi-permanent settlement on mars. It should be able to provide all the answers we need on how low gravity living affects us.

 

FWIW I don't think building some sort of atmosphere is that much of a barrier given enough time. To my fault I thought you were thinking about doing most of this in < 500 years.

 

I don't think I will be able to visit Mars. There are too many prohibiting factors to physically travel to Mars on a commercial spacecraft, but I do think I will be able to see Earth from space. That's my goal. I need to do it.

 

It's serious threat to life on Mars without an atmosphere, though. The point is that Mars lacks a magnetosphere and an atmosphere. Atmospheric pressure (and temperature) is the biggest wall to supporting human life on Mars. Once again though, damage from solar radiation such as CMEs is a problem that fixes itself (to human living conditions). If you fix the #1 problem with atmospheric pressure, you're going to be adding a significant amount of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere which deflect solar radiation as they do here on Earth. We're in a sense doubled-up in protection here on Earth, but we're also much closer than Mars is so we take more concentrated hits from the Sun. It's not something that needs to be overlooked, I'm certainly not suggesting that. It's just not the issue to solve. The issue to solve is atmospheric pressure.

 

On microgravity... microgravity is incredibly different from Martian gravity. Microgravity is in a sense no gravity. The effects of microgravity are documented and somewhat understood over lengthy periods of time. Microgravity has small but noticeable effects. Martian gravity is substantial and highly significant. Martian gravity, in a sense, is much closer to Earth gravity than it is to Microgravity considering the inversely exponential relationship of acceleration. Simulating Martian gravity in space wouldn't be worth the time or effort -- we can and will and do do that here on Earth. But you need to understand, Martian gravity is not a 'low gravity' environment. Once again I'll conclude this bit by saying yes, it is something to consider, but no, it's not a limiting factor. It's something that absolutely humankind would evolve through.

 

Building a sort of atmospheres can be done in the next 50-100 years. Building a breathable, life conducing environment is a different story. But once again, atmospheric pressure and temperature is what we want with a preliminary atmosphere. Adding the filler gas and the oxygen is something that follows, and something that makes the planet habitable without oxygen tanks, and allows us to expose animal life and plant life directly to the outside air. That's something that is absolutely evolutionary though, not revolutionary. But getting that initial, preliminary atmosphere such that all we need is oxygen tanks and not pressure suits... doable.

 

You'll definitely be able to get to space and view Earth though. That could be something you'd be able to after like... a decade I'd bet. It'll be expensive though... so start saving ;)

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