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ESA Conducts Mars Terraforming Experiments On ISS

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  • Mars (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Chris Lawrence (1733598) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @12:52PM (#31023770) Homepage

    The purpose of this isn't really to teraform Mars. That is way too far off in the future. At this point we don't even have an idea when humans will finally get there. The real goal of this research is to understand the limits to life in extreme environments. This can help us to better understand where we might find life and whether it is possible that there might still be life on Mars today. Glad to see some useful research being done on the ISS after all the time and effort to get it up there.

  • Venus (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MonsterTrimble (1205334) <monstertrimble@NosPaM.hotmail.com> on Thursday February 04, 2010 @01:11PM (#31023986)
    I don't understand what the obsession with going to Mars is. Frankly I think Venus is where we should target our efforts. It has an atmosphere (albeit hazardous to human life) and is about 20% closer to us then Mars. Granted, Venus' atmosphere is about 97% CO2 but I would think that it would be a lot easier to bioengineer something which would survive and thrive in the Venutian atmosphere while changing the CO2 to Oxygen.
  • by giuntag (833437) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @01:24PM (#31024156) Homepage
  • Re:Mars (Score:5, Interesting)

    by kenp2002 (545495) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @01:38PM (#31024362) Homepage Journal

    The purpose of this isn't really to teraform Mars. That is way too far off in the future.

    Actually terraforming a planet with plant life isn't necessarily a slow process at all. If we agree on the idea of human made global warming we have made substantial changes to a planet's ecosystem in a short amount of time.

    Given the growth rate of a variety of micro organisms and small less complicated plant life we can induce a massive change in Mar's ecosystem in a short amount of time.

    Here is a simple example. Given the growth rate of a species of plant that can survive on Mars. X rate of growth over Y distance. Without any natural predators the upper limit of that growth is R based on resources. Until we hit R in general we are talking near exponential growth (not taking into account localize competition with thins out the existing population.) Given this basic idea the mobility of plant life on Mars could be substantial (We are talking a radius increase of hundreds of miles per year.) You could literally cover an entire planet in a plant (again barring predators and R limits) with the lifetime of a human being.

    Obviously there are a multitude of inhibitors to such growth but, if we can confirm there is no existing life on Mars there is nothing preventing us from launching a giant rocket to Mars fill with a good cocktail of microbes, algeas, etc and seed bombing the piss outta the planet and letting natural selection establish an ecosystem. I argue the opposite. Make the planet into a giant industrial factory where raw pollutants are just dumped out the window. Anything capable of living in that environment would have to thrive on said wastes.

  • Re:Venus (Score:3, Interesting)

    by khallow (566160) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @02:01PM (#31024664)

    I don't understand what the obsession with going to Mars is.

    Mars has ground. It's really that simple. Look at all of the things on Earth either built on the ground or made of stuff obtained from the ground. In comparison, there is nothing permanently in the sky on Earth. That situation would have to be reversed on Venus. You'd have to make almost everything out of the Venus atmosphere (that yields carbon, oxygen, sulfur, and nitrogen). Maybe you could run some sort of quick mining trips on the surface using balloons or harvest dust blown from the surface (it should be able to reach the 1 atmosphere platform). That might get you other materials like silicon, aluminum, and a bit of iron. Anything you can't get locally, you need to bring from elsewhere.

    Don't get me wrong, I used to work for the only organization I know of (JP Aerospace [jpaerospace.com]) that has ever seriously proposed a permanent structure in the sky. Their "Dark Sky Station", which floats around 100 km high (at the very limits of the buoyant part of our atmosphere), is intended as a waystation for Airship to Orbit [jpaerospace.com]. If NASA did suddenly propose to colonize Venus, JP Aerospace would be well positioned to take advantage of that impulse.

    But it's a very hard problem that probably won't be solved by the time Mars is colonized. I imagine Ceres, which has no atmosphere at all and a very weak 0.03 G gravity, would be colonized before Venus.

  • Re:Venus (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday February 04, 2010 @02:13PM (#31024820)

    There are already organisms that are adapted to this kind of extreme; they are right here on earth.

    Take for instance, the chemotrophic marine organisms near deep-sea trenches and vents. Specifically, the sulfur reducing varieties.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sulfate-reducing_bacteria

    The hard part is getting them to stay afloat in the lighter part of the atmosphere, in or above the sulfuric acid haze, where the temperature and pressure are more conducive to their habitation.

    http://www.daviddarling.info/encyclopedia/V/Venusatmos.html

    If you couple this with some chemo-lithotropes, like purple sulfur bacteria, (or organisms engineered to use this pathway), then a stable sulfur cycle could be initiated in the upper venusian atmosphere.

    What would likely work best, would be to collect atmospheric bacteria from earths upper atmosphere (Yes, germs do live up there. http://www.lbl.gov/Science-Articles/Archive/ESD-air-bacteria.html), and perform genetic augmentation on them to introduce the required traits for venusian habitation.

    Once you have carbon fixing organisms floating freely in the atmosphere, you can introduce other organisms that produce heat-stable precipitates, that live by ingesting the former.

    Such precipitates might be carbon nanotubes, which would be stable in the venusian atmosphere below the sulfur haze zone, which would be low enough in the atmosphere before being rarified back into carbon dioxide that it could effectively put a pinhole in venus's runaway greenhouse effect, and as the surface temperature slowly falls, might allow carbon "snow" to deposit over time.

    It would take geological time for this to happen, but if you could retard the greenhouse effect sufficiently, it would eventually happen.

  • Re:Mars (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JerryLove (1158461) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @02:24PM (#31024956)

    But what will you end up with?

    Mars has no magnetosphere, and plants are not going to add one. Radiation will still hit hard, and air will still be stripped away by the solar winds.

    Mars has little air, and plants don't generally create new air (they pull carbon from existing air), so it will still be airless.

    Given the above, it will also still be freezing (a problem plants will have on Mars that ironically is less of an issue in space, where vacuum is an excellent insulator).

    So how "terraformed" will it be? Though it would be cool to have something living there, even if it's not us.

  • Re:Mars (Score:4, Interesting)

    by ultranova (717540) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @02:35PM (#31025104)

    Make the planet into a giant industrial factory where raw pollutants are just dumped out the window. Anything capable of living in that environment would have to thrive on said wastes.

    That doesn't make sense. You'd need to lift the products out of Mars's gravity well to get them to Earth - I assume that you didn't mean people to live in the toxic dump planet. If you have that kind of technology, you'd be much better off building your industrial base on asteroids; not only do they have negligible gravity well, but several of them are actually composed of almost pure metals.

    Planets are too valuable to waste as toxic dumps, and space-based industry can deliver anywhere with the speed of a shooting star ;).

  • Re:Mars (Score:5, Interesting)

    by inviolet (797804) <slashdot@ideasma ... org minus distro> on Thursday February 04, 2010 @02:40PM (#31025182) Journal

    Obviously there are a multitude of inhibitors to such growth but, if we can confirm there is no existing life on Mars there is nothing preventing us from launching a giant rocket to Mars fill with a good cocktail of microbes, algeas, etc and seed bombing the piss outta the planet and letting natural selection establish an ecosystem. I argue the opposite. Make the planet into a giant industrial factory where raw pollutants are just dumped out the window. Anything capable of living in that environment would have to thrive on said wastes.

    Why convert Mars into a meat-friendly environment? We already have one of those, and given similar engineering effort, we could turn Venus back into a second. Mars, by contrast, is ALREADY a very nice environment for silicon-based life -- by which I mean AI robots and so forth.

    I consider AI robots to be the future of intelligence, which we are blessed/fated/doomed to create. They will absolutely ADORE the cold no-oxygen environment, and the low light conditions are fine for fission-/fusion-/other-powered critters as they will be. So don't mess Mars up, because they can't happily live here on Earth.

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