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Space Science

Mars Terraforming Debate 529

Posted by michael
from the getting-ahead-of-ourselves dept.
blackhelicopter writes "This Guardian article describes the implications of terraforming Mars - the subject of NASA's forthcoming debate. Quote from Dr Lisa Pratt, a Nasa astrobiologist, concerning life probably already on Mars: 'We simply cannot risk starting a global experiment that would wipe out the precious sensitive evidence we are seeking'."
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Mars Terraforming Debate

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  • by Mikkeles (698461) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:14PM (#8697995)
    Given our experiences with Biosphere 2 and my own attempts at gardening, I think Mars is safe for a while.
    • by yintercept (517362) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @07:15PM (#8698917) Homepage Journal
      My attempts at gardening just shows I produce a lot of strange things I can't control. I side with life. If we get life up on Mars, it will do what my garden does...take on a life of its own.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    and put up a Historical Marker.

    Is this political flamebait story day?

    • Re:pave it over (Score:5, Insightful)

      by BerntB (584621) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:05PM (#8698414)
      Is this political flamebait story day?

      No, it is decades-premature-story about a decision that can't be taken without information that will be learned these coming decades.

      Seriously, no one will start changing Mars without decades of research first. That is just too stupid -- it's a straw man.

      And, if they do terraform Mars sometime in the future, the decision will be based on information we will have learned between now and then.

      It would be better to discuss how to lower the price of getting hardware into orbit. Before that happens, anything else are just pipe dreams and a very few tons of exploratory robots.

  • I don't see a problem in *creating* the life ourselves. Terraform the planet, destroy the existing life, and put some new junk there.

    That will also solve the problem of who "god" is (at least for the newly created martians). And it would make earth a sort of heaven from their perspective.

    One day we will all move to mars, and use Earth as a big garbage dump...

    I'll start a company that sends the remains of the dead back to Earth for burial ... that way people can have a guarantee that they'll go to heave
    • "One day we will all move to mars, and use Earth as a big garbage dump..."

      Well, strike that 'all' and replace with 'some select few'.

      The logistics of evacuating a planet are simply near impossible. At our current population level you'd have to transport more than 1.7 million people per day, every day, for a decade. As we're rather unlikely to reach that orbital boost capacity in a very long time, if ever, the vast majority is stuck, no matter how many planets we have.

      So, while your plan is nice, I suspec
  • by claes (25551) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:16PM (#8698019)
    I find it incredible that terraforming of Mars is considered an alternative today. Expect an enviromental discussion that will exceed that of the Kyoto protocol many times over.
    • by kalidasa (577403) * on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:19PM (#8698040) Journal
      Um, so we can live there. If there's no life on Mars, terraforming is an easy ethical decision. If there is life on Mars, then we've got some heavy thinking to do.
      • by Mikkeles (698461) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:46PM (#8698259)
        'If there's no life on Mars, terraforming is an easy ethical decision.'

        Is it necessarily an easy decision? Perhaps we need to debate the meta-question: Is life the only criterion relevant to whether we should muck around with a planetary system?

        • by jcr (53032) <jcr.mac@com> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:02PM (#8698396) Journal
          Is life the only criterion relevant to whether we should muck around with a planetary system?

          No, of course not! One must consider above all whether terraforming Mars is cost-effective.

          -jcr

          • by canadian_right (410687) <alexander.russell@telus.net> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @08:13PM (#8699277) Homepage
            I kill thousands of bacteria everyday just washing my hands. I'll happily kill Martian bacteria if it gives humanity a second home.

            The price of something should NOT be the number one consideration when making any important decision. Profit is not the noblest goal that humanity can strive for. While we all have to eat, I hope that enough people see the intrinsic worth of having humanity living in TWO baskets instead of one that Mars is terraformed one day - damn the cost!

        • by Drantin (569921)
          If there's no life there, why not terraform it?

          So it can be preserved in it's natural state for people eons from nnow to admire, if the sun still happens to not have blown up?

          The remote chance that life may develop there in the far future?

          Maybe we should tear down all man-made structures into their components and kill off the human race in the chance something "better" develops later on?
    • by Scorillo47 (752445) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:42PM (#8698222)
      I wouldn't be too much worried... we just need to provide around 10^19 kg of nitrogen (or some inert gas) and 0.3 x 10^19 kg of oxygen.

      These are absolutely huge numbers. Even if we take all oxygen from all our water from the Earth this won't be enough to fill out the Mars atmosphere...

      BTW, some facts about Martian Atmosphere (from http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/planetary/factsheet/mar sfact.html)

      Surface pressure: 6.36 mb at mean radius (variable from 4.0 to 8.7 mb depending on season)
      [6.9 mb to 9 mb (Viking 1 Lander site)]
      Surface density: ~0.020 kg/m3
      Scale height: 11.1 km
      Total mass of atmosphere: ~2.5 x 10^16 kg
      Average temperature: ~210 K (-63 C)
      Diurnal temperature range: 184 K to 242 K (-89 to -31 C) (Viking 1 Lander site)
      Wind speeds: 2-7 m/s (summer), 5-10 m/s (fall), 17-30 m/s (dust storm) (Viking Lander sites)
      Mean molecular weight: 43.34 g/mole
      Atmospheric composition (by volume):
      Major : Carbon Dioxide (CO2) - 95.32% ; Nitrogen (N2) - 2.7%
      Argon (Ar) - 1.6%; Oxygen (O2) - 0.13%; Carbon Monoxide (CO) - 0.08%
      Minor (ppm): Water (H2O) - 210; Nitrogen Oxide (NO) - 100; Neon (Ne) - 2.5;
      Hydrogen-Deuterium-Oxygen (HDO) - 0.85; Krypton (Kr) - 0.3;
      Xenon (Xe) - 0.08

      • by billstewart (78916) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:29PM (#8698596) Journal
        Terraforming other planets is fun, but first we really need to terraform Earth. Between desertification, global warming, overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction, slash&burn traditional farming, chemically-enhanced modern farming, genetic engineering of plants, moving species between ecological niches, sooting up the polar regions in ways that reduce the planet's albedo, and a lot of other things those pesky primates have been up to, this planet is becoming significantly less Earth-like. It's time to look at changing that. There have been a range of proposals to do things about it, from the Kyoto politics to Giant solar reflector shields in space [guardian.co.uk] to Bruce Sterling's [viridiandesign.org] Viridian [viridiandesign.org] Manifesto [transhumanism.org].
        • by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @08:25PM (#8699336) Homepage Journal
          We don't know nearly enough to accurately predict what would happen if we did something like put up a solar shade. By terraforming mars we can learn more about how to repair Earth, assuming we can bring the timescale down on such a project.
        • If we try to screw around with earth and screw up we're all dead. You've got billions of lives at stake over things that you assume are bad. I don't see how one can believe in evolution and object to a changing world.

          "this planet is becoming significantly less Earth-like"

          Earth changes. According to evolution it used to be a big giant block of ice. Earth has alledgedly been through a lot worse than anything man has managed to throw at it.

          On the other hand, if Mars is dead, there's no harm in trying to
    • by cgenman (325138) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:27PM (#8698583) Homepage
      The Kyoto protocol was controversial because it was attempting to balance man's need to survive financially with man's need to survive ecologically. Nobody wants to destroy the planet, but everybody needs to eat. Plus it came to symbolize a much larger conflict between the Bush administration's self-interested unilateral actions and much of the rest of the world's eglatarian compromising.

      Terraforming Mars has none of the risk of the Kyoto protocol. Whether or not we terraform Mars is basically irrelevant to the ecology of Earth. Likewise, as there isn't a strong industrial base on Mars it is pretty financially irrelevant in the short term. Essentially, the two groups debating this will be hardcore scifi geeks (like me) who want to colonize the universe and hardcore environment geeks who feel that everything is better untouched by human hands.

      Personally, I feel that terraforming Mars will give Earth agencies experience in the vital area of fixing ecological nightmares. As for "screwing up" Mars, people generally point to Earth turning into Mars if we mess up this planet sufficiently. Mars is just about the worst-case scenario. Personally I'd rather have the fallback position that if global thermonuclear war were to wipe out our planet, at least life from Earth would continue somewhere. That, and the ample room such a planet would provide plus the enduring environmental investment sounds quite worthy of the loss of pristine, untouched land berift of much beyond sterilized soil and historical rocks. Much of the research into that could take place LONG before we are in a position to actually terraform the planet. After all, two out of three landers agree that the planet is a pain to get to, with one abstention.

      Now, where the heavy debate is going to lie years down the road is whether or not terraforming a planet gives ownership rights to that planet, and if, for example, the people living on that planet have the right to cede from an offworld government that made life on that planet possible. That's going to be a huge, sticky debate mixing fundamental beliefs about freedom and democracy with entrenched and represented commercial interests and unspoken debts to powerful entities.

  • Imperialism (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Mtn_Dewd (15169) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:19PM (#8698035) Homepage Journal
    It's interesting to me that now that all of Earth now is claimed by some group or another that we would begin moving to other planets. I find it hard to believe that we would form any type of terraforming operation without some political agenda. I'd imagine that being the country to pioneer such an operation (ie: USA) would be the biggest stick policy of them all.
  • Muck It Up (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jim_Hawkins (649847)
    ultimately providing mankind's teeming ranks with a new home. and That is why it is dreadful. We are mucking up this world at an incredible pace at the same time that we are talking about screwing up another planet.

    I agree. Unless humans learn to take care of what they have, we should not even begin to consider "jumping planets" just 'cause we don't want to fix up Earth. It sort of puts us in the position that the aliens from Independence Day held -- we just move from planet to planet raping it for any
    • Re:Muck It Up (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cbogart (154596) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:39PM (#8698202)
      Well, we can't "muck up" mars since it's already dead or mostly dead. And we can't give up on earth and move to mars because, transportation costs aside, fixing mars' problems will be *way* more expensive then cleanup on earth.

      Terraforming mars will always be a secondary hobby project for earthlings. And it seems silly to say "we should get our own house in order first" because 1) we'll never be perfect; that's no reason not to start other projects, and 2) there are billions of humans, so we can work on projects in parallel.

      I think terraforming mars and cleaning up earth's environment are synergistic goals anyway; both will benefit from lessons learned in the other. Mars is a great testbed since it *can't* be mucked up any worse than it already is.

      Kim Stanley Robinson's books about terraforming Mars got me more interested in ecology than any non-fiction book I've ever read. I think because ecological writers tend to have a hopeless anti-human perspective: we're a sinful blight upon the environment; we mess it up accidentally, and anything we try to do to fix it will probably go horribly wrong; best thing we can do is curl up and die. Robinson on the other hand paints an image of humans creatively taking responsibility for ecological problems and fixing them.
  • Whoa whoa (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    When did we start living in a Sci-Fi movie?

    Hey, if we really are in one, I get first dibs on the free jetpacks.

    Seriously, these guys seem to be using this as a ploy to get more funding. I.e., if the planet earth gets screwed up, we have a backup planet we can egress to..

  • Let's Go (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Elias Israel (182882) <eli@promanage-inc.com> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:20PM (#8698050)

    I say terraform it as soon as we can.

    Human survival, wellbeing, and expansion should trump all other concerns. We are the measure of all things.

    Second, a species with only one planet is necessarily at greater risk than a species with two planets. We need the insurance policy.

    I love science. But the value of another planet to our species is greater than the cost of losing the odd microbe or two that might be found on Mars.

    I say, "Let's Go!"

    • Re:Let's Go (Score:5, Insightful)

      by cybermace5 (446439) <g.ryan@macetech.com> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:32PM (#8698147) Homepage Journal
      Right on. I'm pretty sure that long before we ever get the technical ability to terraform a planet, we'll have hundreds or thousands of years of in-person Mars study anyway. Seriously, look at the logistics of terraforming Mars...it's not happening anytime soon. I think that anyone seriously considering it at this point could be called a crackpot. The resources required, and the resources required to get them there, would turn Earth into a wasteland.

      Until we meet a species with bigger guns, we own the place. No need to wipe out anything we find, but there's no need to devote a whole planet to a single species of microbe, if it exists.
    • sure... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by hak1du (761835) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:30PM (#8698610) Journal
      Yes, terraforming Mars is clearly the solution to all our problems.

      After all, if you have exceeded the credit limit on one credit card, it's not that your spending habits are out of line with your income, it's that you need another one, right?

      Folks, if we can't live well and sustainably on a planet as nice as Earth, adding Mars into the mix won't help.
  • by quantaman (517394) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:22PM (#8698067)
    Next thing you know those crazy Reds are taking down the space elevator and Mars is one moon short!
  • Interesting. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by l33t-gu3lph1t3 (567059) <arch_angel16@@@hotmail...com> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:24PM (#8698092) Homepage
    Man, this post made me think of "Total Recall".

    It'll never happen. Why? Terraforming is a multigenerational undertaking. So far the only human creation to span many generations has been religions and the wars they involve.

    Mammoth tasks like terraforming a planet simply cannot be done given the current state of human psychological development. Who here would work on a project that would only be fulfilled hundreds of years after your death?
    • Re:Interesting. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by ChrisMaple (607946)
      One way is to find step-wise payback points, which should not be too hard. Mars probably can be a useful place to be before it is fully terraformed.
    • Re:Interesting. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by SmackCrackandPot (641205) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:38PM (#8698197)
      Do a google search for 'gothic cathedrals' and 'gothic churches'. You'll see that the church wanted places of worship that would transcend all limits of human perception and give church-goers a feeling of the infinity/eternity of God; The huge arched ceilings, massive stained glass windows, and gold painted walls. Construction of such buildings took over a hundred years; four or five generations of builders. The reward for the builders was for their families to receive a steady salary and to be buried in the church graveyard for free.

      Don't forget the Egyptian pyramids, the Great wall of China, and Mont. St Michel (which took 500 years to complete).
      • Re:Interesting. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by myowntrueself (607117) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:50PM (#8698303)
        "Don't forget the Egyptian pyramids, the Great wall of China, and Mont. St Michel (which took 500 years to complete)."

        Yeah but then democracy happened and since then no democratic state can plan more than about 4 years ahead.
        • Re:Interesting. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Imperator (17614) <(slashdot2) (at) (omershenker.net)> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @09:39PM (#8699726)
          "Don't forget the Egyptian pyramids, the Great wall of China, and Mont. St Michel (which took 500 years to complete)."

          Yeah but then democracy happened and since then no democratic state can plan more than about 4 years ahead.

          True, democracies tend not to build cathedrals with government funds. Have you ever considered that there's a reason for that? In particular, that democracies don't build cathedrals because they're not worth the cost?

          Of the achievements listed in the post you quote, only one had any real value to the people that built it. The Great Wall did indeed make people safer. But the pyramids? What good did they do to the people who provided the labor that built them? They are monuments to the folly of man, to the oppression of people who don't choose their rulers, to the power of religious government in draining the fruits of a society. Imagine the investment of people, materials, and expertise that went into building those useless tombs. Think of the opportunity costs of building the pyramids.

          In a democracy, people don't like building pyramids or cathedrals that serve to glorify the ruling classes. So if they don't build such things, good for them.

    • by UnknowingFool (672806) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:40PM (#8698210)
      It'll never happen. Why? Terraforming is a multigenerational undertaking. So far the only human creation to span many generations has been religions and the wars they involve.

      Maybe this generation doesn't, but past generations have been able to build things. The pyramids, the Great Wall of China. Back in my days we spent days moving one-ton blocks from one side of the road to the other. With our tongues. It's just these young pups, and their MTV generation short attention span, and their lazy work ethic. Young whipper-snappers.

    • Re:Interesting. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by LMCBoy (185365) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:14PM (#8698471) Homepage Journal
      So far the only human creation to span many generations has been religions and the wars they involve.

      There's a human endeavor that has been "under construction" for many centuries; it involves dedicated workers from nearly all nations of the world working in collaboration and competition to advance the endeavor incrementally, year after year, lifetime after lifetime.

      It's called Science.
  • by Wavicle (181176) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:26PM (#8698101)
    How to terraform a planet:

    Step 1: Devise a reliable method of getting vehicles to the planet.
    Step 2: Terraform the planet.

    I think we should work on step 1 before worrying about step 2.
  • by Nomihn0 (739701) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:29PM (#8698118)
    The issue of terraforming has been argued extensively in science fiction for years. The most notable books on the topic are by Kim Stanley Robinson, author of Red Mars, Blue Mars, and Green Mars (a hard-sci-fi trilogy on the terraforming of Mars and its consequences).
  • Ethics? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by polyp2000 (444682) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:29PM (#8698123) Homepage Journal
    I think what is interesting is that if the earlier article regarding methane emissions being discovered on mars. If it does turn out that it is coming from some lifeform , no matter how advanced or primitive. Is it ethically right to go marching in there and changing the whole ecosystem?

    Where does one draw the line?

    On earth humans have caused extinctions many times over. It is only in recent years that we try to preserve waning species. If we go to another planet we should take these philosophies with us wherever we call our home; if we do decide to colonize or terraform another planet it should be done in away that doesnt destroy any life that already exists there.

    I do have another opinion though; Mankind is life, a very successful form of life. It seems to me that our aging planet is not going to last forever; Man has always looked up into the stars in awe and wonder, I beleive that it is our destiny to be up their in the heavens, that is the ultimate challenge life has to face. Just because we call Earth "Home" , why should it not be the case that the universe is our "Home" ?
    • Is it right? (Score:3, Insightful)

      Absolutely. We have already made that decision, billions of times. We do it every single day, every time you put a piece of meat in your mouth you make that decision.

      Where do you draw the line? You draw the line with the greatest force. If they have the greater force you die and they live.

  • Mars (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pmsyyz (23514) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:36PM (#8698176) Homepage Journal
    I say we shouldn't attempt to terraform Mars during the first 50 years of human habitation of the planet, during which time we can scour the planet for evidence of life or past life as well as recording the entire planet's condition with the cameras attached to our spacesuits' helmets. Well, I guess most of the exploring would be better accomplished by wheeled robots.
  • by Adolatra (557735) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:40PM (#8698212) Homepage
    Look, I know Agent Smith and Captain Planet made you feel really bad about being heterotrophs, but the point is that we humans are biologically not meant to be totally self-sufficient. We don't synthesize our own food, we don't make our own water. Even if we radically altered our lifestyles to have an absolute minimum ecological footprint, the only way we could truly make the planet last forever is to put strict 1-2-child controls on reproduction. If you think attempting to enforce worldwide controls against the most basic human instinct is any more feasible than space colonization, well, good luck with that!

    Long-term, humans will have to leave this planet at one time or another. While I agree we could be using this one more efficiently, and that terraforming is a bit too far off to worry about just now, debating the morality of terraforming is just silly. Survival of the fittest!

  • Premature (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SerialHistorian (565638) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:42PM (#8698223)
    Isn't this just a tad premature? I mean, we haven't managed to get people to Mars yet. We're probably not going to find life there until we do, and since we've landed craft there already, there's a good chance that any life that is there has been infected already by terrestrial strains of whatever. Let's revisit this debate in about ten years when we've got some evidence and when we have some sort of space capacity that will allow us to get people back and forth to Mars. Until then, this and other articles like it are more than useless wanking that reminds me of the homegrown human-apologist "earth first" eco-wackos.
  • by Baldrson (78598) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:47PM (#8698271) Homepage Journal
    From Mike Combs' Space Settlement FAQ [aol.com]

    Aren't we going to terraform Mars or Venus?

    Terraforming is a long-term project requiring technology significantly advanced over what we have today. Even terraforming advocates admit it would take a minimum of 200 years to modify Mars to the stage where even simple anaerobic microorganisms and algae can survive. [Ref: Terraforming: Engineering Planetary Environments, Martyn J. Fogg, SAE Press 1995.] Space habitats, on the other hand, can be built with today's technology, and would be homes in space which people initiating the program could move into within their lifetimes.

    Interstellar travel may someday become possible, but we have no guarantee that Earth-like planets will be as plentiful in the Milky Way galaxy as they have been in Hollywood, CA.

    What advantages would orbital settlements have over a colony built on another planet?

    1. Access to 24-hour-a-day sunlight. This makes solar power a consistent, economical energy source. Photovoltaic panels can convert sunlight into electrical current, and solar mirrors can concentrate it for process heat in industrial operations (such as the smelting of ore). A space-based solar concentrator the size of a football field (which could still weigh less than a car) could provide process heat equivalent to the burning of 1 million barrels of oil over 30 years.

      Sunlight also drives the life-support system of the habitat, so the day/night cycle can be set to whatever is convenient. Compare this to the moon, where there is 14 days of continuous daylight, and then a 14-day-long night. Here, some alternate energy source would probably have to be used half the time.
    2. Access to zero gravity. This may have a number of industrial and entertainment possibilities. Structures (such as the above-mentioned solar mirrors) could be built many times larger and flimsier in space than on a planet.

      Zero G would be a liability if there were no alternative to it. Astronauts experience loss of bone mass and muscle tone after prolonged exposure to weightlessness. But most of a space habitat would be under Earth-normal gravity, although there would be easy access to regions of reduced gravity and zero G (perhaps for personal flight). With planets, on the other hand, you have to take the gravity that's there, and it's often the wrong kind of gravity to keep us healthy. Lunarians or Martians would probably not be able to visit the Earth (nor accelerate at 1 G).
    3. Location near the top of Earth's gravity well. We here on Earth are the "gravitationally disadvantaged". We are at the bottom of a pit 6,400 km (4,000 miles) deep. This is what makes space launches from the surface so difficult and expensive. Settlers near the top of the gravity well would be ideally situated for departures to points beyond.
    4. Control of the environment. The weather and other aspects of the surroundings would be those of the inhabitants' choosing. Agriculture in space will benefit from weather control (fresh fruits and vegetables year-round!) and the absence of pests.
    5. Mobile territories. Although the first generation of space habitats will doubtless reside in High Earth Orbit, there's no reason why space settlers couldn't attach engines to their habitats, and over the course of months or years gradually change their orbit to whatever solar system location they found preferable.
    6. Long-term expansion of the land area available to the human race. Let's be optimistic and assume that Mars could be made totally Earth-like in the near-term. This would basically double the land area available to humanity, meaning problem solv
    • Location near the top of Earth's gravity well. We here on Earth are the "gravitationally disadvantaged". We are at the bottom of a pit 6,400 km (4,000 miles) deep. This is what makes space launches from the surface so difficult and expensive. Settlers near the top of the gravity well would be ideally situated for departures to points beyond.

      That matches what I've always thought too. Planets are nice places to visit, but I wouldn't want to live on one.

    • by fyngyrz (762201) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:55PM (#8698780) Homepage Journal
      There are severe problems, some of which can be addressed more easily than others:

      • Kinetic vulnerabilties (space junk, terrorism, rocks)
      • Radiation vulnerabilities (solar storms, supernovas, etc)
      • Very short lifespan for photovoltaics (approx 10 years - they're not very efficient, either.)
      • Import of resources (there is no such thing as a free lunch - for instance, to grow food, you must bring nutrients to the food. Those have to come from a gravity well at this point.)

      This planet nurtures us, protects us, and defines our very nature - and it has been doing this continuously, without much help at all, since we were drawing on cave walls. While I am all for the idea of self-sustaining artificial habitats if it can be done, it looks darned difficult to me to get the things the Earth provides, essentially free for the taking, into orbit such that they are sustainable.

  • by Bruha (412869) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:47PM (#8698279) Homepage Journal
    Long ago scientists knew that the planet has a cold core. How much lower would our oceans be if we had a cold core allowing water to seep under ground. Mars may have had less water and other starting materials becuase earth and venus got most of them.

    Jupiter in the same manner sucked up more gasses and is larger than Neptune or Uranus.

    It's possible that mars when it's core was warm enough had some shallow seas but then again it also had a thin aphmosphere from the beginning without enough gasses emitted from the time the crust cooled and volcanoes adding to the mix before plate tectonics on the planet shut down which it did so long ago there's no mention of any existance of faults on the surface of mars.

    It's my belief that mars by the time it became tectonically stable and then dead not enough gasses were emitted into the aphmosphere to keep things thick enough for water vapor to exist on the surface in large amounts and much of it possibly has been blown into space. The rest is liquid deep below and frozen into the surface.

    For any useful terraforming on the planet once we were able to pollute the aphmosphere to thaw things out a bit we'd still be faced with bringing water to the planet. One way would to have robots digest asteroids and free hydrogen to build giant ice blocks and hurl them to the planets surface or bring ice from europa and send it down to the surface of mars.

    But first even the thought of terraforming another planet to live on would involve a huge change in the econmic forces driving the world economy. So I doubt it'll even begin during my lifetime.
  • Not So Bad (Score:5, Insightful)

    by schnarff (557058) <alex@s[ ]arff.com ['chn' in gap]> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:49PM (#8698295) Homepage Journal
    Wow...the amount of anti-human hate going on in this discussion is mind-bending.

    First of all, it's not as if we're about to start terraforming tomorrow. Even the most zealous of the Mars exploration types (i.e. Robert Zubrin [wikipedia.org] of The Mars Society [marssociety.org]) don't think it should be done until the planet has been explored in depth.

    Secondly, keep in mind that we'd really be *fixing* a planet that nature has let die here. All of our new data shows that Mars was once a very life-friendly planet, with oceans, etc.; now it's a cold, nasty place that's only getting more inhospitable as time goes on. Doesn't it make sense to reverse that process and expand the realm where life is viable?

    Third, it's not like doing this would necessarily kill any life forms on Mars anyway. The process would be extremely gradual -- we're talking hundreds of years or more here -- giving microbes, etc. plenty of time to adapt. Heck, we might be giving a boost to what life there might be on Mars.

    Fourth, it's not as if we've even ruined Earth anyway. People tend to forget that one solid volcanic eruption puts out more CFCs than all of human industry ever has. Environmentalists greatly overstate humanity's impact on the planet in their effort to take down industrialized society. We're not doing that poorly here, and what we've learned on Earth would certainly be applied to terraforming of Mars. Heck, the Red Planet might end up being less polluted/more natural than Earth!

    So just calm down a bit and take a moment to consider some of the positives that might come with terraforming Mars. It could be a Really Good Thing.
    • Re:Not So Bad (Score:5, Informative)

      by PlazMan (40335) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:25PM (#8698573)
      People tend to forget that one solid volcanic eruption puts out more CFCs than all of human industry ever has.

      I don't think that's quite accurate. Volcanos can emit quite a bit of HCl and sulfate aerosols. The latter tend to amplify the effects of human-generated CFCs. Check out this link [epa.gov]
    • by roman_mir (125474)
      Wow...the amount of anti-human hate going on in this discussion is mind-bending. - I personally don't discriminate between all living organizms. If I could kill all living creatures in one shot I would have done it by now. At this point in time I am just trying to learn how to genetically modify viruses.
    • Re:Not So Bad [OT] (Score:3, Interesting)

      by amplt1337 (707922)

      Environmentalists greatly overstate humanity's impact on the planet in their effort to take down industrialized society.

      Have you ever thought of why those evil environmentalists might want to do that? Seeing as how they benefit from industrialized society too?

      Yeah, I can't think of a reason either. Which is why I as an environmentalist don't want to destroy industrialized society. I only want to sacrifice a little economic efficiency for the sake of long-term viability. And it's why I don't go making u

  • by iamr00t (453048) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:49PM (#8698301) Journal
    Wired article [wired.com]
    "Maybe there are spores in the Atacama after all.

    That doesn't mean that we'll find them on Mars. But it sure does suggest that we might want to look. "
  • terraforming (Score:5, Insightful)

    by N3wsByt3 (758224) <Newsbyte&freenethelp,org> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:51PM (#8698316) Homepage Journal
    Though the scientific potential of finding alien life is staggering, and one should do everything first to detect it, when push comes to shove, it's a matter of balancing things.

    This implies that, when reasonable efforts are done to detect it, and none are found, I think one should go through with human colonisation. Anything else would amount to a moratorium: you are NEVER completely sure that there is no niche somewhere on a planet where life (as we know it or not, jim!) exists. Infact, those planets that have the most potential to sustain (alien) life, will often be those that have the most potential to be fterraformed.

    And, while some may dispute it, human life (or at least intelligent life) comes first, period. We can see that in the reality on earth as well. While I'm all for procedures and inventions that reduce the medical experimenting on animals, for example, I do not subscribe to the idea of the ultra-greens that evrything in this regard should be forbidden and abolished. It's doubtfull that animal experiments can be totally abolished, and I have no problem with the necessary experiments, to ensure medicines are as safe as possible for human use. I think most would agree. This established one thing clearly: ultimately, humans come first (at least over non-sentient other beings).

    In practical terms, what does this imply? Well, science certainly must have it's shot, and the discovery of alien life would be wonderfull and potentially very important, even in our daily lives. But, if, say, in 20 years of searching, nothing is found, and one can be reasonably sure that there is no life (or it's in such remote niches that it will not rapidely be contaminated anyway), I think one should start terraforming the planet, so that humans (and the earth ecology to sustain them) may thrive on another planet, thereby augmenting our survival (and that of the earth ecology).

    If life IS found, however, things become more difficult. Certainly the timeframe in which to colonise/terraform would be much longer (if ever), depending on the level of alien ecological presence on the planet (small niches or not). Certainly, one could not let that alien life die, so, even if one did decide to terraform, then only after an artificial, viable surroundings is developped (sort of closed zoo, thus), where the alien ecology may be sustained indefinately.

    I'm not going into safety-concerns here, since that's another topic.

    But let's face it: when/if there are other alternatives in keeping alien (non-sentient) life in existence, then one should do that and go on with what is of most use to the human race anyway.
  • by MrIrwin (761231) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @05:53PM (#8698320) Journal
    Just think about the spin-offs in the legal sector.....who owns Mars......what laws apply.

    Then, of course, there will be all those mars patents to file.

    I'm allready getting ready to a couple. The first relates to the use of circular device mounted on a central pivot to ease the problem of transport over the martian surface, whilst the second one is all about the application of temperature elevated hydrogen hydoxide in space colonization.

  • Not necessarily... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mark-t (151149) <markt@ l y n x.bc.ca> on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:12PM (#8698455) Journal
    The point is backed by Pratt. 'If we find life on Mars, the philosophical implications will be profound,' she said. 'If it is unlike Earthly life and has a different genetic code, this will show that living beings evolved separately on two neighbouring worlds. Life is therefore likely to be ubiquitous throughout the galaxy.

    'If it has the same genetic code, however, it will indicate that one planet must have contaminated the other - probably by rocks being blasted across the solar system following meteorite impacts. We may really be Martian in origin.

    No argument about the conclusion of the former scenario, but conclusion of the second scenario isn't necessarily correct.

    If mars has life and that life has the same genetic makeup as what we have here on Earth, it does not necessarily mean that one has contaminated the other (that is a possible conclusion, even a probable one, but not the only option). Another conclusion that could be reached is that the genetic makeup we have here happens to be a particularly successful one (evolutionarily speaking), so most living organisms anywhere in the galaxy are likely to be similar to the ones we have here for that reason.

  • Major Problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by cybergrue (696844) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:18PM (#8698495)
    There is one major problem with Terraforming Mars. Mars has a virtually non-existant magnetoshere. the Magnetosphere deflects the solar wind arround earth. This means prevents large ammounts of hard radiation from reaching the surface (which would kill basically all life as we know it) as well as preventing the solar wind from blowing away the atmosphere. This is the leading theory about why Mars atmoshpere no longer exists to the degree it once did.
  • by luna69 (529007) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:30PM (#8698601)
    Why is this even an issue?

    Personally, I'd like to see us gain the ability to create human-friendly environments away from Earth. But discussing the issue seems to me to be a pointless exercise, best left to university classrooms and NASA cafeterias during lunch hour.

    Why? Because we're not even remotely capable of actually doing any terraforming, for several reasons:

    1: We don't have the technological ability. We have some marginal sense of what might work, and lots of good ideas, but we're decades away from having the technological means to terraform.

    2: We don't have the economic ability to terraform. This is the real kicker. Assume that even a modest, trial attempt to terraform would cost $100 billion dollars; since we don't have even $1 billion to spend on it, we're at least a hundred orders of magnitude away from having the financial means to engage in even the most limited terraforming.

    3: We lack the political & social drive to engage in terraforming. Assuming (1) and (2) from above were no longer problems, there would need to be a strong, global, urgent demand that we engage in terraforming. There are many ways we might conceive of this happening, but none of them are apparently in the works, as of yet. This may change, but if it did, then we could spend time then debating the ethics of terraforming Mars, which, by then, will have been investigated to a much greater degree than it currently is.

    I figure we ought to be spending our money, time, and effort doing that investigation, rather than getting worked up over ethical debates that, ultimately, don't matter one whit.

    • Assume that even a modest, trial attempt to terraform would cost $100 billion dollars; since we don't have even $1 billion to spend on it,

      Not to troll...but we can't spare that 100 billion because then we wouldn't have so many cool shinny things that go boom. ;-)

  • Why not? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by AstrumPreliator (708436) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:32PM (#8698620)
    I hear a lot of people saying we should fix up this planet first, but even if this planet was in perfect condition our population would eventually grow to numbers the Earth can't support.

    We are intelligent beings who (in my opinion) should be able to expand into space. I'm not saying we recklessly terraform planets and suck up all of the resources. We need to realize what we've done to Earth and not do it again.

    On top of our species very survival, Mars can also be used as a pad for further space exploration in our never ending quest to find extraterrestrial life, specifically intelligent beings like ourselves.
  • by pair-a-noyd (594371) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @06:35PM (#8698646)
    and we're going to go bring a dead planet back to life?

    Damn, we're destroying Earth at a faster pace than it can repair itself and we won't accept responsiblity to care for it, how the hell are we going to take care of TWO planets?

    Not to mention, what if there is some dormant life there? Do we destroy it to replace it with life as we see fit?

    And what about the soil? Are there nutrients there to support growing plant life? I doubt it. How will we fertilize the soil? Who will pay for all this pie in the sky BS..

    We better take care of what we have here first.
    Fix Earth first. Once it's gone, it's gone.
    Extinction is forever..

    I think too many people read too much science fiction. Science fiction is escapism from reality.

    • Science fiction is escapism from reality.

      Insightful observation. I suspect its why Star Trek became so popular.

      I think too many people read too much science fiction.

      Science fiction is not the only way to escape reality. Therefore, cessation of sci-fi reading would only move those people to other forms of escapism. And that's not just limited to romance novels or *gasp* fantasy based crap.

  • by YardgnomeUT (448792) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @07:10PM (#8698881) Homepage
    As more and more data is showing, it appears Mars once had a much denser atmosphere that probably supported liquid water. There is also evidence that Mars once had an Earth-like dipole magnetic field and magnetosphere which protected the ancient Martian atmosphere from the radiation of the solar winds. Many researches now believe that without a magnetic field the Martian atmosphere was simply eroded away by the solar wind.

    I am merely a layman on this subject, but it seems to me that without somehow restarting the Martian dynamo to generate a global magnetic field, the idea of terraforming Mars will always remain science fiction.

    With this information, it seems to me that the idea of terraforming Mars is a joke. Am I missing something?

    References:
    http://science.nasa.gov/headlines/y2001/ast31jan_1 .htm [nasa.gov]
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/transcripts/3016_magn etic.html [pbs.org]
    http://spaceflightnow.com/news/n0012/17marsmagnet/ [spaceflightnow.com]
  • first things first (Score:3, Interesting)

    by WormholeFiend (674934) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @07:44PM (#8699100)
    I would think that building a few underground bases there should be a priority, because topside settlements would require a good amount of protection against solar radiation.

    If we could find massive cave systems around volcanic areas, it would be even easier to build a huge contained ecosystem, since:
    a) there is very little tectonic activity on Mars, if at all; and
    b) whatever geothermal activity left on that planet could be used as a power source, on top of solar panels installed on the surface.

    Add some nuclear power plants to the mix and you've got yourself a permanent settlement.
  • Perspective (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Trailwalker (648636) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @08:32PM (#8699376)
    New worlds are not opened and settled by ethicists, moralists, or other contemplative types.

    Columbus, Pizzaro, Cortez, and others were interested in wealth, property and prestige.

    And they weren't worried about who or what was destroyed while they were acquiring those things.
  • by paiute (550198) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @09:13PM (#8699573)
    Why bother wasting time with science stuff? The decision will be made by this administration based on whether it is supported by Scripture.

  • Inside "Total Recall" Arnold Schwarzenegger is taking a space journey to Mars, where the Martians are a people living under repression, maybe somewhat like the Palestines today.

    Arnold, "Douglas Quaid" inside the movie, is actually a former martian who was also a spy on earth. However he got busted and certain parts of his memory was erased. Coming back to Mars Quaid starts to remember things.

    The best part of that movie is the last 5 minutes, where Quaid suddenly remembers how to free the Martian people living in closed controlled environments, also with suers underground. He remembers there is a thousands of years old installation underground, which needs to be activated, Quaid also remembers suddenly how that is done, and what we see happen is actually Terraforming performed in a couple of minutes! A semi gas-explosion-release is activated and the atmosphere fills up, and a blue sky and clouds are formed.

    Robert
  • by Ralph Spoilsport (673134) on Sunday March 28, 2004 @11:04PM (#8700249) Journal
    The article has this gaseous emission:

    'It is very depressing. Before we have even discovered if there is life on Mars - which I am increasingly confident we will find - we are talking about undertaking massive projects that would wipe out all these indigenous lifeforms, all the strange microbes that we hope to find buried in the Martian soil. It is simply ethically wrong.'

    OK.... but pumping your kids full of antibiotics and blasting the kitchen counter with bleach is A-OK... RIGHT?

    So, let's look at this: some subzero Martian Microbes are worth much more than some random sample of salmonella from the blue fuzzy biology experiment in the fridge that used to be a pizza a few months ago, correct?

    OK. so some Martian people should get all the money and good education and fun toys. And the Earthlings? Send 'em off to extermination camps.

    People:microbes - we have more in common with flatworm parasites than we do with viruses, so it's OK to kill viruses, but not flatworms?

    My opinion: get over it.

    1. by the time we're in ANY position to terraform Mars, we'll probably have been there several times with live human-type people and Bog knows how many R2D2 units scouring the planet for every bit of info we can get. We'll be well informed of what is actually (if anything) there.
    2. Terraforming Mars is going to take centuries, and it will take trillions of dollars over that time. In the mean time here on the little green planet of clocks, we will likely be in the middle of our depopulation cycle (through war, disease, environmetal degradation, or some terrorist asshats develolping an airbourne version of HIV or who knows what...) and as the population shrinks, so will the tax base for space exploration. This will only serve to delay the terraforming further.
    3. Assuming we gradually depopulate, and we don't have a glaciation in the process, (i.e. all things being roughly the same, but improving) Terraforming Mars will not be a central activity of the species, and we wll be able to monitor the progress of its development closely.
    4. There is another possibility: that by terraforming mars we kick off an accelerated evolution of (whatever life there might be) on Mars. Perhaps Martian life will help in the terraforming process.

    In anycase, the person who spoke the quoted line needs to get their tinfoil hat loosened. And think a bit more about what they dump on their kitchen counter.

    RS

  • by Genda (560240) <mariet&got,net> on Monday March 29, 2004 @01:53AM (#8700956) Journal
    Folks have touted the possibility of self assembling nano technology...

    Why wait for nanotech to arrive? Here is the perfect opportunity to send robotic machinery, capable of building more robotic machinery. Machines whch can mine mars for raw materials. Then take those raw materials and build new robots, build human habitats, build greenhouses, build fuel manufacturing facilities, and build structure for concentrating precious commodities like water and methanol.

    Because this can be done with only a couple moderately large payloads, it has tremendous feasibility advantages over trying to send spaceship after spaceship full of human operated equipment. We've already seen self assmebling robotic prototypes here on slashdot. Designing modular machines that can move/excavate/mine soil, smelt, produce glass and silicon products, and make bricks or concretes (using liquid CO2 for the liquid for the slurry), would make possible, the building of a fully operational base on Mars before we ever arrive.

    This is exactly the kind of technology that could make living spaces on the moon and near earth asteroids possible. This is the best, and most economic means to begin harvesting the wealth available to us in the inner solar system.

    Marie
  • by muffen (321442) on Monday March 29, 2004 @04:20AM (#8701388)
    There is already water on mars... just look at this picture [freepgs.com].
  • by CaptCanuk (245649) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:39AM (#8704211) Journal
    Well, it's obvious that we should terraform Mars cause like a billion years ago, it was the then present Martians that terraformed Earth. The least we could do is return the favour and continue the cycle. Its well known fact that the Martians nuked themselves in one of their many World Wars and the legacy of life continues on in us. Maybe they some sent small rover here and attached was a bacteria hidden in the airbag somewhere and it was the actual start of life on this planet.

    Whoops, my tinfoil hat fell off... let me get that before anything happens...

FORTRAN is a good example of a language which is easier to parse using ad hoc techniques. -- D. Gries [What's good about it? Ed.]

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