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Terraform Humans First, Then Mars?

timothy posted more than 10 years ago | from the measure-of-all-things dept.

Space 480

An anonymous reader writes "Related to the future of Mars, NASA released the transcript of an expert panel which debated terraforming the red planet. Planetary scientists including NASA's Planetary Protection Officer, John Rummel, and science fiction writers (Kim Robinson, Arthur C. Clarke, and Greg Bear) chimed in. When asked if Mars should be transformed to a place where humans could walk without life support suits ("naked"), Sir Clarke responded, "Perhaps we should ask the Martians first." Can it be done quickly-- or at all? Is terraforming ethical? If humans colonize, are the colonists on a one-way trip akin to exile?" Read on for a bit more.

"A consensus seemed to be that like waking a sleeping giant, planet building seems possible if oxygen is not a requirement and some microbial life is dormant underground. But the question of making a planet suitable for plants alone seems to span tens of thousands of years. The remaining science fiction notion was terraforming humans, instead of planets, and making us survive on what is now a very alien world."

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Let's first fix the world (1)

(1337) God (653941) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474590)

Our world is so scary these days.

Let's fix Iraq and then regroup and rethink things.

I love life and want us all to be happy.

ET, is that you? (5, Insightful)

rsrsharma (769904) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474596)

Is it really a good idea to think about terraforming a planet before we're sure that there isn't any life on it?

Re:ET, is that you? (2, Insightful)

Chess_the_cat (653159) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474618)

Why? This isn't Star Trek. The Prime Directive is fiction only. The most there'd be is maybe some bacteria and who really cares about that?

Re:ET, is that you? (4, Funny)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474711)

When our new Hyper Intelligent Sulphur Breathing Galactic Sprout overlords arrive here to do a spot of terraforming cos they think we are just strange stupid organisms, I vote we dont let Chess_the_cat handle the negotiations

Re:ET, is that you? (5, Insightful)

miope (727503) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474717)

Yeah, and in five hundred years people will be ashamed of the "barbarians pre-space humans who exterminated bacterial diversity on Mars". I'm talking seriously, we should try to avoid repeting errors... in Colon's time, nobody knew that European's diseases could be fatal for indians... and that *was* understandable given the lack of scientific knowledge of the era. Nowadays we know the scientific, historic social, and ethical value of life and diversity, so, we should be more careful with our actions. And remember that this bacteria could give us lot of insight about the beginings of life and evolution in general. P.S. English is not my primary language... I'm doing my best effort ;-)

Re:ET, is that you? (2, Interesting)

techno-vampire (666512) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474847)

in Colon's time, nobody knew that European's diseases could be fatal for indians...

Yes, and as soon as they did, they took advantage of it by giving the Indians blankets from smallpox patients to get rid of them faster. Now, as you say, we have better ethics than the Puritans and other early American colonists. I agree that we need to make as sure as we can first that we're not harming existing life, or at least finding ways to preserve it. I really doubt that there's much there to worry about but it needs to be considered and due dilligance taken.

Re:ET, is that you? (1)

schmoo.me (682697) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474779)

I would think the baterium might.

Re:ET, is that you? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474633)

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Re:ET, is that you? (2, Insightful)

polyp2000 (444682) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474699)

I think that you have to make a decision like this on a case by case basis. When it boils down to the bare essentials, life is life, and life will do its best to spread unto the far reaches of the universe, by hook or by crook, with or without us. Is it right not to seize the opportunities for our race to achieve this? My own personal belief is that it is our duty and responsibility, not just for us but for future generations to explore and spread our seed where ever it can be sown. That said we should endeavor to do this in a sensible and responsible manner and do our utmost to achieve our goals in harmony with the universe around us.

Suggestion... (5, Funny)

telstar (236404) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474597)

If we're going to make it a place where people walk around naked, we're going to need two new websites. One where we can vote who to send to Mars ... and a second with up-to-the-minute webcams from the red planet.

Re:Suggestion... (2, Insightful)

powera (644300) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474634)

Up to the Minute? There is at least a 3 minute lag between Earth and Mars, so it would be at least 3 minutes back.

That's the problem people don't think of when they deal with interstellar travel. Most sci-fi has some FTL communication, it's only a few books that don't. I'm not sure that entanglement will ever work itself out, so it might never happen.

Re:Suggestion... (2, Informative)

Apreche (239272) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474720)

There is a very very good one shot anime called "Voices from a Distant Star" aka "Hoshi no Koe". The entire plot of this one episode OAV is the slowness of interstellar communication.

In addition to that, this anime is grade A production quality, and the entire thing was made by a single person in his house with his computer and other animation supplies. One guy. The original voice actors were him and his wife. It's available on DVD in the US, I highly reccomend it.

Oh yeah, as for terraforming. I ask myself one question whenever ethics are involved. Who will get hurt? For example, it is not ethical to do shoddy work if you are a contractor. Why? because you are potentially hurting people. What if that roof caves in? no good. Depending on how and why we terraform mars it may or may not be ethical. If you can do it without harming anybody who isn't consciously making a sacrifice, then it is all good. As for changing people, you are almost certain to hurt someone doing that, so its probably less ethical.

Re:Suggestion... (1)

Timesprout (579035) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474743)

Good point. I have often wondered what would happen if there was a diaspora of humans into space without some type of FTL communication and the 'human' connection becomes weaker and weaker. What are the odds that one group will turn into a bunch of warmongers and seek to conquer the rest.

Re:Suggestion... (2, Informative)

RevAaron (125240) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474820)

Read "The Night's Dawn Trilogy" by Peter F. Hamilton to find out! Includes the Reality Dysfunction, The Neutronium Alchemist, and The Naked God.

Finally! (2, Funny)

Mr2cents (323101) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474739)

At last a profitable plan!

Solved. (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474606)

I already have a large device called "Genesis" that can terraform a planet in mere days.

Re:Solved. (1)

Khakionion (544166) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474841)

I have a device called "Genesis" as well. It's really good at rasterizing planets. With over 65,000 colors. Hell yes.

Eventually...but not now. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474612)

Eventually we will want to do this, and go even further then Mars, but the technology does not exist to do it cheeply yet.

Wait till until we can do it with cheep intelligent or near intelligent robots.

Oxygen requirements = yes, Pressure = no. (4, Informative)

WhiteBandit (185659) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474615)

I've recommended this on quite a few occasions. Check out Dr. Zubrin's book The Case For Mars [amazon.com] . The last half of the book deals with terraforming Mars.

In short, it would be "relatively easy" to create the amount of oxygen that would be needed for us to survive. However, the atmospheric pressure is so low that we will probably never be able to walk around the surface without some sort of protective suit (or oxygen mask).

Re:Oxygen requirements = yes, Pressure = no. (1)

smokin_juan (469699) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474686)

Not really knowing anything about the subject, I'm wondering - if you can pressurize a person for deep sea diving then why can't you de-pressurize them for mars walking?

Re:Oxygen requirements = yes, Pressure = no. (5, Informative)

WhiteBandit (185659) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474745)

Not really knowing anything about the subject, I'm wondering - if you can pressurize a person for deep sea diving then why can't you de-pressurize them for mars walking?

Nope. The pressures are extremely different. The pressure on Mars is about 10 millibars, or about 1 percent of the equivalent atmospheric pressure on Earth.

At this pressure, water immediately turns to vapor. So in effect, your blood would end up boiling. Anyeurisms and things as blood vessels in your brain explode.

Deep sea diving is different in that we're piling on a lot more pressure on our bodies. It's fairly easy for our bodies to cope with more pressure. Depending on how deep you dive, the equivalent atmospheric pressure would be about 15 times greater. I'm not sure how much our bodies could sustain (just doing some simple googling on this), but that is probably near the limit.

But based on the sole fact of low pressure and lowering the boiling point of water, I'd say no.

medium-pressure is useful (1)

r00t (33219) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474838)

Anything you can do to reduce suit pressure will
make your knees and elbows easier to bend. You can
also reduce the weight of the suit.

So, how about 85% oxygen and 15% water vapor at
20% of normal pressure? That's the same amount of
each as 17% and 3% at normal pressure.

At the very least, pressures like those at the
top of Mount Everest should be tolerable.

Re:Oxygen requirements = yes, Pressure = no. (1)

chimpo13 (471212) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474718)

In short, it would be "relatively easy" to create the amount of oxygen that would be needed for us to survive.

Why? Are we sending up Limbaugh and O'Reilly to provide hot air? Drum roll. Is this thing on? And another thing, about those airline peanuts...

Re:Oxygen requirements = yes, Pressure = no. (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474806)

We will probably never be able to walk around the surface without adding more gases to the atmosphere. Of course, that's part of the idea. If there is substantial CO2 locked into the martian regolith as suggested (or invented as a plot device) in the Mars (Red, green, blue, purple... okay I made the last one up) books by Kim Stanley Robinson, then it will be possible to thicken the atmosphere perhaps to something like that found in the Alps.

As suggested in the books, the solution may be to free up whatever CO2 or even other gases which are not convenient to have in the atmosphere, then skim a few comets (I know this is a nontrivial process) through the atmosphere to thicken it further. After all it doesn't really matter what kind of inert gases we introduce into the atmosphere to raise pressure for the most part.

While the Mars books are fiction, they are at least Science Fiction, and not just fantasy. As far as I can tell, they are based on hard science...

Re:Pretty stupid, eh ? (2, Interesting)

mbrother (739193) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474854)

Actually, it does matter what "inert" gases are used since even many noble gases can have narcotic or anesthetic effects when taken into the blood. Perhaps this is more of a problem at higher pressures, but I doubt it can be completely ignored at lower pressures. Simplest and best would be to try to recreate an Earth atmosphere, since nitrogren is a very common element that can be obtained from comets and doesn't have ill effects at less than a full atmosphere.

I'm a hard sf writer and the hardest part of the new book I'm working was designing a breathable atmosphere for a dark matter planet. I had to cheat and invoke alien technology in the end, but it works.

first start with a magnosphere (2, Funny)

Camel Pilot (78781) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474617)

1. Magnosphere
2. Atmosphere
3. h2o
4. ???
5 Profit

Re:first start with a magnosphere (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474809)

1. Magnosphere
2. Atmosphere
3. h2o
4. populate [hotbot.com]
5. Profit

Nope (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474620)

"Terraforming" humans? You mean changing them genetically to fundamentally become an entirely different species? That's far more absurd than terraforming Mars.

Remember, just because Mars won't become a grassy paradise overnight doesn't mean humans can't live there in the meanwhile. Humans can live in surprisingly little space, when combined with hydroponic gardens and nuclear power. Dome cities, or underground cities, would work and support millions of inhabitants while the surface of the planet is slowly transformed.

Problems (3, Interesting)

SolidCore (250574) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474622)

But there are two problems. First, even if all Mars's available carbon dioxide were coaxed into the atmosphere, it still wouldn't necessarily warm the planet enough to make it a comfortable place for humans, because no one knows just how much carbon dioxide is there. Second, the best way to get Mars to release its carbon dioxide spontaneously is, well... to warm it up. It's kind of a vicious cycle.

Re:Problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474788)

All that is needed is a large supply of carbon. From that NH4 could be created which is a much more effective greenhouse gas than CO2. Also, often overlooked is that H20 is a greenhouse gas, so releasing a large amount into the atmosphere would also heat up the planet. Actually, any gas released into the atmosphere (since it is so sparse) would be a greenhouse gas. Since Mars is somewhat similar to Earth and the Earth itself is 50% by mass oxygen, an O2 atmosphere wouldn't be that hard. Power to do this? Nuclear of course. Hell, PNE's might even be useful for releasing the H20.

Re:Problems (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474804)

Bah! Ammonia on my mind (part of my job). Oops, meant CH4.

What? (2, Funny)

OrthodonticJake (624565) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474623)

The idea of 'terraforming humans' makes me think of some scientist dragging a rake over my face. My point is that it sounds like that would hurt, and I don't think many people will support scientific experiments on human beings that allow us to breath Martian air no matter how benign they are. And besides, what's ten thousand years? Those plants will be done in no time!

science (4, Insightful)

sstory (538486) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474625)

I wouldn't ask scifi writers can/should we terraform. I would ask ethicists if we should, and chemists, astrophysicists, etc if we can.

Re:science (4, Informative)

OrthodonticJake (624565) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474654)

I don't know; science fiction writers have been right about the future of technology many times. Of course, you could argue that it's because they imagine something and then scientists see their ideas and say "Lets do that", but I think there's at least one other factor involved. The more scientific of the scifi writers try to make their writing as explainable as possible, and it's that goal that makes their ideas easier to implement. So I think that having the science fiction crowd along for the ride is definitely a good idea.

Re:science (5, Interesting)

sam_handelman (519767) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474746)

Of course, you could argue that it's because they imagine something and then scientists see their ideas and say "Lets do that", but I think there's at least one other factor involved.

Or, you could argue that science fiction writers predict everything (cities on the moon, flying cars, hyperdrive), and SOME of it turns out to be possible.

Those writers who predict something possible are "prophetic", but it is largely a question of chance and selective memory.

However, I am a biologist - and I have the minimal ethical training required by my Institutions' NIH training grant.

Personally, I think it is ethical to terraform a planet which is not presently inhabited (by life of any kind.) Harm is, even in the most general sense, something you do to living things, so bringing life to a dead planet is harmless by definition.

Given the risk to the experimental subjects, I do not think it is ethical to "terraform" (or otherwise genetically engineer) human beings.

However, the more relevant question is not "should we do it?" because - we will. Ethical or not, sooner or later, some people will do it. This applies both to human genetic engineering and to planetary terraforming.

The pressing question, therefore, is how should those who choose to do these things (whatever you think about the ethics) go about doing it? Acknowledging that a thing should not be done at all, and then stepping back from that and considering how to minimize the negative imapct when it is inevitably done, can be a difficult feat of mental gynmastics, but in the coming centuries I think it it something peopole of conscience are absolutely going to have to do - in parallel with efforts to stop the more monstrous excesses from being perpetrated at all.

P.S. - Terraforming Mars will be fairly difficult. In a billion years or so, when the photodensity on Mars (and on Earth) has risen (because the Sun is getting bigger), Mars may look very attractive.

At that point, the big problem with Mars is the lack of a strong magnetic field, which makes it difficult to retain water vapor in the martian atmopshere. This is a problem now but it gets worse as the level of solar radiation striking Mars goes up.

This doesn't mean nothing can live on Mars - we can make micro-organisms that could live on Mars with a, frankly, fairly modest budget and present day technology. There are some things down in the Antarctic that might be able to survive as-is somewhere on Mars (although I doubt it.)

The atmosphere is also very thin, and the level of sunlight so small, that it is highly unlikely that we will be able to warm the place up enough for us to wander outside "naked" merely by changing the components of the atmosphere (which could be done with the afforementioned genetically engineered microbes).

Covering the large stretches of the planet in insulated greenhouses (built by self replicating solar powered robots) is probably the best solution if you want a vaguely earthlike environment. This can be done well in advance of the billion year timeframe, of course, and allows you to retain water vapor and a very high temperature.

MOD PARENT UP! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474850)

Exactly true about Sci-fi writers!

"At that point, the big problem with Mars is the lack of a strong magnetic field, which makes it difficult to retain water vapor in the martian atmopshere. This is a problem now but it gets worse as the level of solar radiation striking Mars goes up."

More info for those who are wondering: Mars had water from about 3.9 to 3.0 billion years ago (which was recently confirmed by MER-A, MER-B, and Mars Express). At about 3.0 billion years ago Mars' magnetic field collapsed (generally attributed to the faster cooling rate of a smaller planet like Mars compared to the Earth--while Mars is theoretically differentiated, the key temperatures and pressures for the melting point of iron in the core which is required for a magnetic dynamo have slid towards solid). The collapse allowed the solar wind to strip the atmosphere of gases which is why it now only is about 1% of the pressure of our atmosphere.

Re:science (5, Insightful)

Chuckaluphagus (111487) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474664)

While I will agree with you in some part, a number of the most famous science fiction authors have been serious scientists in their own right; Sir Arthur Clarke is a co-inventor of the orbital satellite, and Asimov had multiple degrees in chemistry and biology.

Science fiction authors also think about this sort of matter on a regular basis, and not as a mere idle notion. Combine that with significant knowledge of the subject matter, and it isn't unreasonable for the government to be asking them what their views on terraforming are.

Re:science (1)

Rostin (691447) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474719)

Agree. I think this is the same kind of thing that you see on TV where they ask celebrities onto talk shows to discuss things like the economy or foreign policy. They don't know anything, but it's good for ratings. But in this case, it's government money, presumably. It makes me wonder who the first person was that suggested that they have a discussion about terraforming Mars, and if anyone else in that meeting laughed out loud before realizing he/she was serious.

Re:science (0, Troll)

Orne (144925) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474790)

Quite insightful, since the mantra of modern science appears to be Discovery without accounting for Morality. Human Embryonic Stem Cells [rcn.com] comes to mind...

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.
--Albert Einstein

Exile (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474626)

If humans colonize, are the colonists on a one-way trip akin to exile?

The real problem isn't getting onto Mars. The real problem is getting off of Mars. Gravity on the surface of the moon is .16G. Gravity on Mars is 0.4g, or more than twice as much.

Meaning that it takes a lot more fuel to get off of Mars, probably more than could be realistically provided in a landing craft.

The question will eventually become, do we put humans on Mars before we have the technical ability to get them off the surface. If we put them on the surface before we have the ability to get them off, then yes, it will be effectively gravity by exile.

Gravity on Earth is 1G and people have left Earth (1)

Rares Marian (83629) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474725)

I would say getting them off Mars would be easier than getting them off Earth.

On the other hand Australia was exile for British convicts. Look at what a wonderful place it is now :)

Re:Gravity on Earth is 1G and people have left Ear (1)

wmspringer (569211) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474777)

Yes, but we don't have to ship fuel vast distances across space to get it to Earth..

Re:Exile (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474741)

effectively gravity by exile.

Exile by gravity perhaps?

So we modify the humans rather than the planet.... (1)

reality-bytes (119275) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474627)

Its probably not ethical or even remotely possible *yet*. But perhaps we go along the path of genetically engineering humans to be ultra low-burn systems with skin as thick as lead so they can walk around on the Martian surface with nothing more than an oxygen tank to sip from?

Its improbable, but you can grow a human in 20 or so years, terraforming a planet takes generations......

Re:So we modify the humans rather than the planet. (1)

wmspringer (569211) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474749)

Which of course leads to the question...if you did that, would they still be human?

I imagine there must be a number of stories about Earth going to war with "aliens" who used to be human..

Terraforming humans? (4, Insightful)

idontneedanickname (570477) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474636)

"The remaining science fiction notion was terraforming humans..."

Terraforming [reference.com] isn't the right word. Terraforming is forming planets to make them more like Earth (Terra). Purposefully altering humans/human physiology does not yet have a word accosiated with it, I think.

There is a word (4, Funny)

Hershmire (41460) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474683)

It's called breeding.

Re:Terraforming humans? (1)

Rosonowski (250492) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474701)

Vissicitude, I think.

Re:Terraforming humans? (2, Insightful)

jhoger (519683) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474715)

There is a simple word for it: adaptation. Tailoring maybe.

There are hard ways and less hard ways to do that.

Natural selection would be the hard way, and I doubt we could be adapted in that way in any reasonable amount of time.

Genetic engineering would be another way

A third way might be some sort of symbiotic relationship with another biological life form or articificial organism that could metabolize CO2 at a sufficiently fast rate. You still have to deal with climate and weather issues I suppose.

You could probably call it 'Terranforming' (1)

Space cowboy (13680) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474742)

... or possible martianforming. All you need to do is eat some of that Monsanto crap, and you'll be halfway there :-)

[note to the humour-impaired - the above is not entirely serious...]

Simon

Re:Terraforming humans? (2, Informative)

jdavidb (449077) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474837)

In Kim Stanley Robinson's spectacular trilogy, Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars, the word "areoforming" was used to describe Mars' effect on humans, or more specifically, the effect of living on Mars in isolation from earth on human society.

<pedantry> (2, Informative)

rdsmith4 (767227) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474637)

That's "Sir Arthur," not "Sir Clarke." </pedantry>

Let's teraform Earth first! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474639)

...assuming "teraform" means to allow us all to walk around naked.

The sure would change trips to the beach. "Hey Jim, check out that naked chick over there. Man, she would look hot in a bikini!"

nice idea but (0, Flamebait)

Man in Spandex (775950) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474644)

At the point that we are, I doubt to see any of this anytime soon.

We have trouble transforming some places on earth which badly need transformation.

Lets terraform some irradical place on earth (antarctica?) and then see how it goes!

Re:nice idea but (1)

bool morpheus() (689231) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474667)

Good idea, let's melt the polar ice caps.

But we're not done with Venusforming Earth.... (4, Funny)

Bad Vegan (723708) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474649)

Wait wait! Let's finish the job here first. Once we're done Venusforming Earth, we can Terraform Mars.

I'm sure we can figure out some capitalist-distributed scheme that Wall Street loves while changing the atmosphere of Mars as we've done here (deforestation, carbon-based energy industry, too many cow farts, etc.). Of course, the real question is how long will the Mars atmosphere be breathable by "naked" humans before it's unbreathable again thanks to the top-selling 2050 Ford Evacuate super-SUV......

Re:But we're not done with Venusforming Earth.... (1)

radixvir (659331) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474766)

the top-selling 2050 Ford Evacuate super-SUV......

dont forget the 2050 Hummer H6 [xs4all.nl]

A whole new look at reinveting one's self (1)

bastardadmin (660086) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474651)

Hmmm... get enrolled into some gene therapy sessions for a one way trip to live on a world with what would otherwise be a hostile environment?

Interesting concept.

I also like Clarke's point... what do we really know about managing and altering an ecosystem on Mars that may exist (or have existed)?
We cannot even manage our own.

It has already begun. (1)

The Living Fractal (162153) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474658)

Humans have already begun terraforming themselves, just look at all the overweight Americans whom I sure claim that eating six double-cheesburgers a day is really 'optimizing' their body size for Mars' 2/3rds of Earth gravity.

All joking aside, the only good reason for humans (at this point in the game) to live off of Earth is simple: Eliminate the 'all our eggs in one basket' problem once and for all. And in light of recent news (things like the VISA bacteria), I believe it is high time we got our asses in gear and actually did it.

Mars seems to be a sennsible choice for a permanent colony off-world. I seriously doubt much in the way of profound new discoveries would come from just living on Mars in colonies (think total recall, but with the right amount of gravity and no alien reactors or Ahhnold), and thankfully that's not why we would do it.

It will be much, much easier as soon as a space elevator is built and operational, though. So let's forget about terraforming mars or humans, because by the time we are done doing that we'll probably all be dead from something else.

All we need is more research into the mass-production of nanotubes (making really, really long ones and connecting them together effectively) and we're over the major hurdle.

I'm hoping for around a 15-20 year timeline until the first one is built.

Alpha Centauri (3, Interesting)

Atmchicago (555403) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474659)

Perhaps we should look at the video game Alpha Centauri, a very underrated turn-based strategy game. The game takes place on an Alien planet, and requires heavy terraforming, including removal of the natural environment, to allow your civilization to grow. A quote from the game:

"Resources exist to be consumed. And consumed they will be, if not by this generation then by some future. By what right does this forgotten future seek to deny us our birthright? None I say! Let us take what is ours, chew and eat our fill.

CEO Nwabudike Morgan

"The Ethics of Greed"

The prevalence of anoxic environments rich in organic material, combined with the presence of nitrated compounds has led to an astonishing variety of underground organisms which live in the absence of oxygen and "breathe" nitrate. Likewise, the scarcity of carbon in the environment has forced plants to economize on its use. Thus, all our efforts to return carbon to the biosphere will encourage the native life to proliferate. Conversely, the huge quantities of nitrate in the soil will be heaven to human farmers.

Lady Deirdre Skye

"The Early Years"

Re:Alpha Centauri (4, Interesting)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474768)

Alpha Centauri is apparently inspired, at least in part, by the Mars books by Kim Stanley Robinson. All of the archetypes in the book are represented by the leaders in AlphaC, which is one of my favorite games ever. I love playing as the flower children and unleashing swarms of locusts of chiron upon my enemies, especially after building the dream twister and other psi-related special projects.

Anything AlphaC has to say about terraforming was said better by the Mars trilogy. You have the Greens led by Hiroko who say that life will find a way and cannot be denied. You have the reds originally led (however unwillingly) by Ann who says that it is nothing less than criminal to terraform a world that you do not understand and will never understand as a result - any life which might be present on the planet will likely be destroyed and/or become indistinguishable from the life you spread upon it. You have the pure scientist (Sax) who wants to terraform Mars for his own convenience (a common theme in scientific development) and just to see if it can be done, how it can be done, et cetera. And so on, and so forth. In fact if the books have a failing it is that the characters are too transparently archetypical, but nonetheless they're books that I read eagerly, seldom stopping, and still reread periodically. The space elevator, terraforming of assorted planets, and even modification of humans for life on some of them, meeting the planets halfway. Truly amazing stuff and much more insightful and realistic than AlphaC, however good the game is - and it is.

Good Idea? (2, Insightful)

AnomalyConcept (656699) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474661)

Is terraforming even a good idea? Mars ended up the way it is because of its position in the solar system. It was not 'meant' to sustain life from Earth. Hypothetically, life forms can exist on any planet, with each unique to their respective environments. I don't think terraforming is a really good idea. Is it really necessary to change a planet (or ourselves) in order to do whatever the intent (exploration, colonization, etc) is? In that case, should we attempt to 'engineer' a race (or a group of people) suitable for this purpose? I know this is unrelated, but this brings to mind the Xel Naga of Starcraft fame; they engineered the Protoss and the beginnings of the Zerg, and look what happened (a good RTS game, but that's irrelevant =P).

Obligatory George Carlin Quote (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474663)

"In case you haven't heard, the latest disaster for the rest of the universe is that the United States is going to go to Mars...

Ok! Ah Yeah!

We're going to go to Mars and the colonize deep space with our:
Microwave Hotdogs, Plastic Vomit, Fake Dog Shit, Cinnemon Dental Floss, Lemon-Scented Toilet Paper,
and Sneakers with Lights in the heels...
And all these other impressive things we've done down here..
Let me ask you this?! What are we going to tell the intergalatic space council minsters when when of our teenage mother dumps her newborn baby into a dumpster? Huh? How are we going to explain that to the space people? .... "

the toughest bit (5, Insightful)

kylemonger (686302) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474665)

The toughest bit would be getting Mars to have a magnetic field around it again, to keep the solar wind from peeling away the atmosphere (again) and to keep out most of the ionizing radiation. Without that protective field, all terraforming efforts are a waste of time.

Re:the toughest bit (2, Funny)

InfinityWpi (175421) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474694)

"We're men. We have rockets. We have Saran-Wrap.... FIX IT!" --Lewis Black

Easy enough... (2, Funny)

Arcanix (140337) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474670)

We cover the planet with the dirtiest factories we can imagine churning out CO2 and other delightful pollutants to create the greenhouse effect and intersperced with them a dense forest that converts the CO2 into oxygen. Wait 40,000 years. Convert factories into family fun centers and pave over troublesome forests and now we're ready for humans.

To churn out CO2 (1)

Kickasso (210195) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474698)

you need a C and two Os first. Where do you propose we should get them? Transport from Earth?

Before someone else says it.... (2, Insightful)

alptraum (239135) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474671)

In Soviet Russia, the ground terraforms you!!

I honestly feel that instead of spending billions fixing up Mars, instead that money should be used on Earth to fix problems that exist here, right now. Hunger, environmental problems, political strife, etc. It'll be a very long time before anything that occurs on Mars has any effect on the majority of human civilization, while investment in fixing Earth problems can have a more immediate global effect for us all.

In addition, we shouldn't view Mars as a place to run off to if we screw Earth up badly.

Re:Before someone else says it.... (1)

ChrisMaple (607946) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474750)

Hunger is a signal that it's time to eat. Why do you wish to get rid of this important function of human bodies? Malnutrition and starvation are things that are better to get rid of, but they have more syllables so they're hardy to use in demagoguery.

How terraforming mars will work (5, Interesting)

Barryke (772876) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474672)

How Stuff Works: How Terraforming Mars Will Work [howstuffworks.com]

life: spread it around (3, Insightful)

jdrogers (93806) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474680)

I have thought about this alot. Growing up in an environmentalist family, I tend towards the "leave nothing but footprints" ideals. There have been so many times in history where humans have royally fscked up a new environment by spreading disease or introducing an unchecked species with no natural predators.. But is this different?

Obviously, if there is no life there, its not as if we would be destroying a species or habitat, but how do we prove there is no life there?

We are at a unique point in the grand scheme of things because for the first time in history, we as a species have the capability to spread life beyond the bounds of our world. Life wants to spread. With this new found cpability, is it our duty to help it spread?

Now, terraforming is a bit extreme, but I really struggle with even the basic idea of wether it is ethical to, say, introduce bacteria to other worlds and give life a chance to do what it does in other places.

Paradise, A World Without Negroes (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474687)

Imagine a chance to start over, without defective sub-humans to burden progress. Imagine a world without lazy welfare parasites and a perpetual illiterate criminal underclass. In short, imagine a world without Negroes. Paradise!

If oxygen is not a requirement, (2, Informative)

vlad_petric (94134) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474689)

perhaps we can send these guys over! Lost world of mutants discovered [answersingenesis.org]

The interesting thing about the sulfur-based ecosystem discovered in Romania is that it was formed apparently with mutations that ocured quite fast on an evolutionary scale (thousands of years as opposed to millions).

We will obviously see a lot of mutations if we send life on an alien world. So my question is - are we gonna repeat the Australian eco-fiasco at a planetary scale ?

Australians (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474773)

Why don't we repeat the Australia prison-island with a prison-planet?

Since it'd be virtual exile -- exile Microsoft, the NSA, the RIAA, the MPAA, Congress, Pakistan, Israel...

Then check back in a few hundred years and see what we've got!

Disclaimer: Not everyone in these groups deserves to be exiled. But few Australians today would consider Australia exile.

Re:they got my respect (1)

Bastian (66383) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474826)

They are really good at playing scientist. I mean, almost everything they said came from existing scientific theory, and they generally kept their concepts straight. They even listed references!

Granted, none of those references were related to actual citations, and they referneced entire newspapers rather than specific articles. And they mostly just supported the parts of concepts they liked without explaining why they didn't like the rest. But still, A for effort!

It has to be said... (1)

cmackles (767147) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474692)

I for one welcome our new Martian overlords.

We dont need to terraform!! (1)

gareth6889 (745319) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474695)

Just ask Arnie where that fucking alien button is to turn the air conditioning on!

bfgbfg (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474721)

http://82.41.115.83/

Evolution on Mars (1)

wombatmobile (623057) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474724)

Assuming the ethical question of whether to change Mars or not was resolved in the affirmative, how might life be introduced to the red planet sustainably?

Bulldozers, cows and fish are all problematic for such a distant destination.

But what about microbes... and a lot of time? What might be the result of microbes?

Fish, cows and bulldozers perhaps?

Is that what happened on Earth?

Terraform Earth First (1)

cmacb (547347) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474730)

Seems to me if we have the technology to terraform Mars then we should be able to call a halt to all ecological activism here on Earth. Too mch green house gases? Just set the terraformer on "high" for a few months and clean it all up right?

I bet if someone does the math they'll figure out that anything mankind could set up on Mars to generate an atmosphere would have to run for... oh, a hundred thousand years or so (one of the articles says 40 thousand) to have any noticable effect. Which gets us back to why man with all his evil ways hasn't been able to ruin Earth yet. (not that we should be TRYING to ruin Earth or anything).

Blueheart (2)

j14ast (258285) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474731)

Blue heart (cant rember the author) is a excelent book that is about doing precicly what he is proposing: adapting humans for the purpose of colinizing a alien world. It is a interesting read about the effects that such adaptions might have on society (the apdapted humans esensialy were a diffrent species and had thier own culture and customs) and the rekindaling of racism (apparently people had blended to the point of it beaing moot untill adaptions) that occurs in the face of such a huge devide. I highly recomend it

Re:Blueheart (2)

j14ast (258285) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474740)

It was by Alison Sinclair
http://www.sff.net/people/asinclair/wrib lue.html

make a bigger pie (3, Interesting)

daraf (739813) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474735)

If (when) we have the ability to terraform another planet, we should definitely do so.

From an environmental habitat point of view, I would argue that we are an overly successful species in terms of reproduction (mostly due to awesome public health and healthcare systems). Combine that with the fact that we are naturally pre-disposed against culling significant portions of our world population, and it's apparent that there aren't going to be any less of us in the foreseeable future.

Creating / expanding our existing habitat by a significant amount (e.g., 1 red planet's worth) would allow us to decrease our average environmental impact per area.

This might also have the side effect of easing existing social inequities in our world; we spend a lot of collective effort both trying to get 'more of the pie' and trying to 'divide up the pie equally'. I say it'd be better to just make a bigger pie.

On the issue of possibly impacting existing life, I'd argue that exploration and colonization is more important than microbes and red dust.

No problems in finding imigrants. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474738)

The imigrants will be no problem.. People have imigrated to new places several times before in history. Give me a habitable mars, and i am out of here :)

It is in our nature.

Maybe we should solve home planet problems first ? (4, Interesting)

master_p (608214) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474744)

Not that I don't like the idea of the space age where people from Earth will routinely travel from/to other planets, but it seems that pressing issues are piling up on Earth: poverty, foundamentalism, ignorance, ecological destruction and pollution, failing economies, oil wars, huge military spendings, terrorism, and many other issues.

If all these issues are not dealt as soon as possible, then, I believe, we must prepare ourselves (or our children) about huge wars, especially over natural resources. Many knowledgable people say that the future wars will be about water.

Please excuse my ecological save-the-world rumblings that may shatter your dreaming about a space future. I do believe that humanity's future is in the stars, but unfortunately there is another step before it that must be successfully completed...and every day that passes it seems more and more impossible...

Re:Maybe we should solve home planet problems firs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474822)

That's why we need to terraform Mars! To get away from these problems.

zfsd (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474755)

porn [82.41.115.83]

Landis (1)

criordan (733016) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474757)

There is a Geoffrey A. Landis short story that won the Hugo a few years ago about exiling criminals to Mars. Really good read, as is his novel Mars Crossing. Also the mentioned RGB Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson is worth a read. The last two get kind of hokey, but they taught me the basic idea of how terraforming Mars would take place. I.e. giant mirrors, melting ice comets in the atmosphere, causing seismic activity to release gases, etc. In Robinson's books most of the terraforming takes place within a few hundred years, but in reality it would probably be more like a few hundred thousand years before Mars' atmosphere becomes Earth-like. If it every does become technologically feasible I truly think that terraforming Mars should become a top priority. I doubt anyone would ever be willing to cough of the money for it, but for the long term benefit of the human race it really is important.

Re:Landis (1)

criordan (733016) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474778)

There is a Geoffrey A. Landis short story that won the Hugo a few years ago about exiling criminals to Mars. Really good read, as is his novel Mars Crossing.

Also the mentioned RGB Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson is worth a read. The last two get kind of hokey, but they taught me the basic idea of how terraforming Mars would take place. I.e. giant mirrors, melting ice comets in the atmosphere, causing seismic activity to release gases, etc.

In Robinson's books most of the terraforming takes place within a few hundred years, but in reality it would probably be more like a few hundred thousand years before Mars' atmosphere becomes Earth-like. If it every does become technologically feasible I truly think that terraforming Mars should become a top priority. I doubt anyone would ever be willing to cough of the money for it, but for the long term benefit of the human race it really is important.

Edit: This is how it should be formatted. Sorry!

Re:Landis (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474796)

I think that short story is called "Falling Onto Mars." Not much about terraforming in it, but yes it is about using Mars as a one-way destination that has replaced Earth's overcrowded obselete prison system. I think Analog might have an archive of it, try checking out google.

Marsiforming humans (1)

Alrescha (50745) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474776)

"The remaining science fiction notion was terraforming humans, instead of planets, and making us survive on what is now a very alien world."

Read:

"Man Plus" (c) 1976 by Frederick Pohl

which deals specifically with the idea of modifying a man so as to enable him to live unaided on the surface of Mars.

A.

Once upon a time... (1)

CBob (722532) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474786)

Anyone remember James Blish?

It's been a VERY long time since I read his one collection of short stories about the transformed "humans" and such.

Well I for one... (1)

Shadow Wrought (586631) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474793)

welcome our terraformed Matian overlords.


On a serious note I could see some serious conflicts arising out of a Martian race of humans. We have a hard enough time getting along when there is a difference in gender, race, religion, and/ or politics. A new species could only lead to more conflict methinks.

Terraform mars in 10 mins! (1)

Polybius (743489) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474794)

Start the reactor!

Why not a practical combination of the two? (1)

GOD_ALMIGHTY (17678) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474795)

Why pose the question as black and white? Just as we evolved on Earth to our environment and continue to do so, why wouldn't we do the same for Mars? We could begin terraforming and our bodies will grow into the changing environment.

It isn't a given that our bodies would change so much that we wouldn't be able to come back to Earth either. By the time we have created a way of life efficient enough to survive on Mars to Terraform it, we should be able control our own evolution with more precision. We could theoretically start modifying ourselves while we send terraforming bots, those that were sent to Mars would be more efficiently suited to the mission and to life on a partially terraformed Mars. I'm sure, this could be accomplished in 100 years. In the meantime, we could send human explorers to research the engineering of this plan and to determine the existance of life. If we find life, it will most likely be simple, and we can engineer it life we do everything from algae to cows on Earth to terraform it for us.

We are under no obligation to preserve simple life in a pristine state, only how to learn to cohabitate with native life, unless it threatens our species, in which case, we have a right to exterminate it.

I don't see how any of this is more complicated than an engineering effort and the financial backing. There are clearly enough people worldwide interested in doing this, that it could be accomplished. Perhaps the Open Source community should develop a collaberative application that would allow the organization of an "Open Source" engineering effort to solve the technical issues, thus reducing the startup cost of the effort.

With the R&D infrastructure provided, private enterprise might be able to profit enough to make improvements worthwhile. Although, I think we have to ensure that a future extraplanetary society has a similiar ideology of civil rights and freedom that we have, lest we create our future interplanetary enemies. The combination of corporate influence with an unforgiving pioneer world where individuals depend on society to provide, has the danger of giving birth to fascism.

BTW, this was a great Saturday afternoon article. ;-)

It is certainly ethical. Humanity comes first. (2, Interesting)

Adolph_Hitler (713286) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474798)


We should do whatever it takes to establish and secure the survival of our own species first. So yes its ethical. Should we do it now? That's debateable.

I think it might be a good idea to start now before we destroy ourselves in nuclear war or face over population and capitalism collapses. However we should limit the amount of money we spend on this project and perhaps our great grand children will actually see this project completed.

Right now our main concern should be preventing our own self destruction here on earth.

this is completely stupid (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9474810)

Who ever gets there first and lives there will decide. To rule mars you have to live there....wasn't all this decided in the american revolutionary war...or in haiti...or mexico...or africa...or india...why would anyone think mars would be any different is beyond me.

stendec@gmail.com

Don't hold your breath (1)

Ars-Fartsica (166957) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474817)

Its good they talked to scifi writers about this because that is all it is - scifi. We can't even terraform the Western US in a sustainable fashion (we are technically in a worse drought than the dust bowl right now), so why would we think we could do it on Mars?

Re:Don't hold your breath (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474821)

"we are technically in a worse drought than the dust bowl right now"

and yet we can all still get a glass of water if need be. That seens sustainable to me.

If the martians have a problem... (1)

RyoShin (610051) | more than 10 years ago | (#9474840)

They can take it up with whatever we use to start terraforming it.

Or, we can give them a giant diamond to appease them. And then ranch their bug-cattle things.

I'm all for terraforming Mars. I think we'd need to have space domes on the moon, first.

Also, it's only unethical if we're actually killing/destroying things on Mars. Sure, the ground will change a lot, but, except for bacteria, there's been no life on Mars. If there is, I'm sure Terraforming will bring it out, and then we pause and take it from there.
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