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ESA Conducts Mars Terraforming Experiments On ISS

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  • by sznupi (719324) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @12:48PM (#31023710) Homepage

    I, for one, welcome our Mars-terraforming lichen overlords.

  • by jollyreaper (513215) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @12:50PM (#31023750)

    Then come back to earth and take us over. Underworld: Rise of the Lichen. Gonna net to get some space reindeer to save us.

  • by PlasmaEye (1128377) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @12:51PM (#31023754)
    I guess you could say that fungus was lichen space. *crickets*
  • 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.

    • Re:Mars (Score:4, Funny)

      by TheRealMindChild (743925) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @01:12PM (#31023996) Homepage Journal
      Imagine it! A dyson sphere [wikipedia.org] of kudzu [wikipedia.org]!!!
    • 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:Mars (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Greg Hullender (621024) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @02:08PM (#31024766) Homepage Journal
        On Earth, the Oxygen Cycle is about a million years. Seed Mars with plants, add water, and wait a million years. Presto! Instant oxygen atmosphere.

        Of course, advanced technology might cut that to as little as ten-thousand years . . .

        --Greg (Why I lost interest in terraforming)

        • by X0563511 (793323)

          The hard part is keeping the oxygen there. Between the lack of a respectable magnetic field and lower gravity, most of the atmosphere will just spin off and/or get blown away by solar radiation.

      • 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.

        • by ultranova (717540)

          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.

          Drop a bunch of ice asteroids to build up the atmosphere, and then one every century or so - or perhaps a constant barrage of small chunks that are vaporized in the upper atmosphere would be preferable? Either way, that should keep the air pressure up, until we can develop the technology to reboot planetary cores.

          • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

            Pardon the Star Trek analogy here, but wouldn't that be like flinging water balloons into a dry riverbed?

          • Someone should get right on the technology (and engineering) of how to move billions of tons of mass out in space.

            I think you underestimate the challenge of doing that.

      • by sznupi (719324)

        if we can confirm there is no existing life on Mars

        This one will be hard, Mars is probably too borderline with is invorement to say with high certainity, even if "we haven't found anything yet"

        Also, I'm not sure if dumping waste would be productive...yes, some life will hang on; but the resulting biosphere won't be very useful to 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@ideasmatt e r .org> 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.

        • 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.

          Timeout. No more conversations with the Roomba. Outside for you.

      • by ianezz (31449)

        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.

        True, but the resulting ecosystem is not necessarily stable and self-sustaining. As fast as it builds up, it could suddenly collapse.

      • by DarthVain (724186)

        LOL

        OK, do everything you have ever done, but over there...

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by eleuthero (812560)
      I'd like to see them just seed Mars with the lichen now. If it turns out to be problematic, it isn't like it is our own planet (or like it even has life to speak of that we need be concerned about). Put some kudzu cells in the lichen and maybe we can even have Mars go all greenfly on us and then we can spend more on spaceflight in order to be able to flee the galaxy consuming super-lichen
    • But if we start now, maybe by the time we get there, earth based life will be well established.
       

  • by Lumpy (12016) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @12:59PM (#31023828) Homepage

    It's near earth orbit. INSIDE the magnetosphere which removes a huge amount of radiation from the equation.

    Big difference there.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by RavenChild (854835)
      Exactly.

      Mars (along with Venus) do not have a magnetosphere in the same way Earth does. They have ionospheres that operate in similar fashion but the magnetic field only deflects a bit of the solar wind.
    • by Remus Shepherd (32833) <remus@panix.com> on Thursday February 04, 2010 @02:24PM (#31024964) Homepage

      Not that big a difference, and not in the way you think.

      The magnetosphere does nothing about UV radiation, which is the biggest short-term threat from the sun to living things. If you're above the ozone layer, you're getting almost full-strength illumination in UV.

      And although the Earth's magnetosphere diverts a lot of the solar wind, it does it in such a way that many high energy particles are trapped in the Van Allen belts, creating regions of near-Earth orbit that have much more particle radiation than the heliosphere. The solar wind has particles up to 100 eV; the inner Van Allen, which the ISS passes through, has energies up to 100 MeV.

      So no, it's not 'open space'. It's near Earth orbit, which in some respects is worse than deep space.

      Either way, it's a brutal test of endurance for any living thing.

      • by khallow (566160)

        the inner Van Allen, which the ISS passes through, has energies up to 100 MeV.

        The ISS passes under almost all of the inner Van Allen belt. I understand there is a lobe over South America which the ISS occasionally grazes. It is a better radiation environment than deep space.

  • Venus (Score:5, Interesting)

    by MonsterTrimble (1205334) <monstertrimble AT hotmail DOT 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 Gravatron (716477)
      It's all fun and games till someone goes blind from Venus sickness.
    • Re:Venus (Score:4, Funny)

      by MachDelta (704883) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @01:18PM (#31024074)

      Why go to venus when we can simply terraform earth to have a venus-like atmosphere? We're already well on our way! Mars is a much better place to escape to... I mean, investigate.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      Men are running the program - we just want to go home! We're from Mars, ya know?

      And now, thanks to the ISS, we'll have both topping for our pizza and athlete's foot when we get there.
      • by goldaryn (834427)

        And now, thanks to the ISS, we'll have both topping for our pizza and athlete's foot when we get there.

        Next 'pizza' research: exactly what kind of cheese is the Moon made from? This could solve our mozarella shortages. I think we should be told.

    • by holmstar (1388267)
      The problem is that it would need to stay airborne (the surface is hot enough to melt lead) and be very resistant to low pH (sulfuric acid rain is kind of a bummer).
    • 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.

      Probably something to do with Venus's high temperatures and high air pressure.

      "In fact, atmospheric pressure on Venus is about 90 times the atmospheric pressure on the Earth. This would be comparable to water pressure 1000 meters below the surface of the ocean." [whecn.edu]

      • I suspect, however, that part of the reason the pressure is so high on Venus is the composition of the atmosphere. We already have organisms that survive in extremely hot, acidic, high-pressure environments on the earth [sciencedaily.com], so it's not impossible to find an organism that could survive in Venus' atmosphere. If we can find such an organism that ingest the heavy molecules in Venus' atmosphere and excrete less dense molecules like O2, then wouldn't the pressure of the atmosphere on the surface of Venus decrease?
        • by sznupi (719324)

          Well, then you would have molecules containing large amount of carbon and also free O2 in the same place. Both in immense quantities. In an enviroment with known huge lighting strikes. See the problem?

          • Depends upon what the carbon molecules are. Diamonds and graphite, IIRC, tend not to be terribly reactive to O2. CH4 etc., OTOH...yeah, that could be a problem :)
    • by Nadaka (224565)

      Venus is also 800 degrees in the shade at a hundred atmospheres of pressure with acid rain that will dissolve most of the materials we make spacecraft out of in a matter of hours.

      Mars also has an atmosphere of mostly CO2, except the temperature, pressure and chemistry is closer to the top of mount everest than the center of an erupting volcano.

      • except the temperature, pressure and chemistry is closer to the top of mount everest than the center of an erupting volcano.

        You are off by an order of magnitude (or more). It's more like the temperature, pressure and chemistry at 100,000 feet (references sited in another post above). Everest is only 1/4 the way there (by altitude), and since atmospheric pressure is a *logarithmic* function of altitude, that makes a bigger difference than you might expect.

        • by Nadaka (224565)

          Forgive me. My memory of the atmospheric context of mars was not as good as it was for venus. The point however remains valid. Mars is a far more hospitable planet than venus.

    • 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.

      Well, there are three reasons for the 'obsession' with Mars.

      1. Man has historically been more interested in Mars than Venus.
      2. We can actually reasonably reach the Martian surface with both unmanned and [eventually] manned probes.
      3. Mars is actually 'closer' than Venus. It's not absolute distance that
    • by Teun (17872)
      The 20% distance advantage of Venus vs. Mars is nothing compared to the problems caused by the Vesuvian atmospheric CO2, pressure and temperature that are all way beyond what we and our technology are used to.

      Although we've here on earth found some extremophile life forms that survive or even thrive at temperatures and pressure encountered on Venus but nearly all (simple) living organisms we know could cope with Martian conditions.

      I would say it's not difficult to see the low hanging fruit.

      • by tmosley (996283)
        I wonder if it's easier to add gas to a planet's atmosphere, or to remove it? If removal is simpler, then Venus could well be a better target. You're not going to be going outside on Mars in shorts and a respirator any time soon, but it might be possible on Venus.
        • by Teun (17872)
          With an atmospheric pressure at the surface of Venus of about 90 Bar at 480 degC (1300 psi @ 900 degF) you'd have a problem, even building a suit for it is nigh impossible.

          The conditions on Mars are comparatively benign, 6-10 mBar with a temperature from just above freezing to about -120 degC or -200 degF.

          On Venus you'd have to get rid of nearly all CO2 and (for pressure) 95% of all gasses, on Mars you 'only' have to add some greenhouse gases and ideally a lot of oxygen.

          Transferring various minerals into g

    • It's because Mars is the "Red Planet". Don't you see, it's all marketing.

    • I'm with you re: Venus vs. Mars for terraforming. In addition to all the points you raised, the gravity of Venus is about 90% that of earth (according to http://astrogeology.usgs.gov/Projects/BrowseTheSolarSystem/venus.html [usgs.gov]). Mars' gravity is approximately 1/3 that of earth. This is important because less gravity == less atmospheric pressure on the surface of the planet. Consequently, the density of the Martian atmosphere is 1% that of earth [starryskies.com]. That's really freaking thin, even if you are trying to breat
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by khallow (566160)

      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

      • by ckaminski (82854)
        Indeed, that really is the smart bit. Grab a few Jupiter/AresV style boosters, and go find Ceres or something like it, and get it into near-earth orbit, say, someplace geosynchronous. Much better destination than either the moon or Mars, and solves the "eggs-in-one-basket" problem.
        • by khallow (566160)
          Ceres is way, way too big to move casually. You'd need a long term plan over the span of millennia. But a kilometer wide hunk of rock might be doable. That'd have somewhere between 1 and 3 billion metric tons of stuff in it (depending on the density of the asteroid). Supposedly there is roughly one collision of a 5-10 meter wide asteroid with Earth every year. If that could be put into orbit instead, it'd be several hundred tons of material per year.

          The problem is that the asteroid is coming in at someth
    • Methinks the sulfuric acid rain and immense pressure at the surface might disagree with you there...

      Due to the extremely hostile conditions on the surface, current technology disallows any possibility of colonizing the surface of Venus soon. However, there have been recent speculations about the possibility of developing extensive "floating cities" in the atmosphere of Venus in the future.[125] This concept is based on the atmospheric conditions approximately fifty kilometres above the surface of the planet, where atmospheric pressures and temperatures are thought to be similar to those of Earth. Proposals suggest that manned exploration can be conducted from aerostat vehicles, followed in the longer term by permanent settlements.[125] The existence of dangerous quantities of volatile acids at these heights, however, precludes any short term settlements.

      -wikipedia

      Not to mention plants tend to not want to uptake CO2 anymore above certain concentrations (concentrations much less than 97%). Look into a protein called RuBisCO. Mars has a better potential for being colonized using current technology.

    • by sznupi (719324)

      Venus rotates on the order of "once per year". WHile this doesn't mean much with its current thick atmosphere, it's really, really not conductive to Earth-like enviroments. Youd would get variations between the harshest Antarctic night and Sahara heat with separation of 100 days between them. The atmosphere would freeze solid on the night side, with day side dominated by evaporation and completelly dry.

    • by thepotoo (829391)

      You've got a lot of replies talking about gravity, CO2, magnetospheric issues, etc.

      These problems drop away when you consider a floating city [wikipedia.org] (our atmosphere: 70% N2 / 20% O2 is a lifting gas on Venus). Besides the awesome sci-fi factor, we have the technology, almost literally right now, to put something like this together. Can anyone tell me why it wouldn't work? (apart from funding problems).

      • Because I don't want to live in a place where there is absolutely positively no water, no hydrogen
        at all. None. (almost as bad as no nitrogen on Mars -- don't get me started). Oh yeah, acid.

        More trouble than it's worth, I'd rather live IN Mercury, ON Ganyamede, or UNDER Ceres.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      It's hot enough to melt metal there. Way harder for machines to exist, impossible for humans. The atmosphere isn't what would kill you, we can live in no atmospghere at all with the proper space suit, it's the extreme heat. I seriously doubt it would be easy to design a suit that could keep you alive on Venus.

    • by Chryana (708485)

      The mean temperature of Venus is around 460C. The atmospheric pressure is 93 times that of earth. While I don't expect to walk on a distant planet in my lifetime, I would certainly hope we would do terraforming so that humands can one day walk on a distant planet, and this pressure is about 50% higher than the current human tolerance record. There is also no water - and I don't think there is any form of life on earth which can survive without water, at a temperature which will quickly boil any water it mig

  • Werewolves are on the ISS? Sweet!

  • That moss has taken a lichen to that space station!
  • by holmstar (1388267) on Thursday February 04, 2010 @01:41PM (#31024402)
    This experiment just shows that the lichen was able to survive long term exposure to space. It doesn't say anything about growth, which is what you would need in order to do any sort of terraforming. It would be nice if they would give a bit more detail on the findings.
  • Because after the first phase of this biological warfare invasion one of us is going to be in big poopoo ...

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Obama cancelled NASA.

  • Space is a hostile environment for living things

    In fact, they boil at absolute zero
    And there's no matter there for them to live off of
    If you tried

    But then I'm no scientist
    I just work here
    As a Space Transportation System Orbital Vehicle maintainer
    A Space Transportation System Orbital Vehicle-man

    And think I'm going to be late
    Getting home for dinner

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      just work here
      As a Space Transportation System Orbital Vehicle maintainer

      From your poetry I thought you might be a Vogon ;)

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by holmstar (1388267)
      Um... sorry to burst your bubble but nothing boils at absolute zero. And the ambient temperature of space is pretty warm, actually. (in terms of the temperature of the sparse distribution of particles out there)

      The reason you would freeze in space (besides boiling, which is an endothermic process) is because you radiate energy via infrared light faster than you acquire it via bumping into hot space particles.
  • These experiments are not about terraforming (Mars, for example, does not have a vacuum at the surface), they are about the exchange of biological material between the Earth and Mars. We know that material can be sent between the two planets relatively gently (by big meteorite impacts); this research makes it almost a certainty that some life could survive the trip.

  • But I'm not too sure. We are still pretty uncivilized. Maybe a few more trips through the great red filter [messagebase.net].

"Mach was the greatest intellectual fraud in the last ten years." "What about X?" "I said `intellectual'." ;login, 9/1990

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