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Space Science

Terraform Mars Using Oasis Greenhouses 70

An anonymous reader writes "The Director of the Mex-Areohab project, Omar Diaz, is interviewed today on the feasibility of modifying the Martian climate and terraforming with mini-greenhouses. At higher than 5,000 meters above sea level, on the volcano Pico de Orizaba, the Mexican model can be compared to many oases in the desert and contrasts with industrial-scale terraforming by Zubrin and McKay, among others, who use fluorocarbons, orbital mirrors, polar melting and pollution machines. One planet's pollution is another planet's rain machine, but the thrust of the interview seems to maintain that micro-terraforming is just faster and more efficient."
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Terraform Mars Using Oasis Greenhouses

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  • by LeninZhiv ( 464864 ) * on Thursday March 11, 2004 @01:47AM (#8529349)
    Before anyone writes a cheque for this plan, I say they should have to terraform the moon first as a proof of concept.
    • by obeythefist ( 719316 ) on Thursday March 11, 2004 @01:59AM (#8529412) Journal
      The moon would be orders of magnitude more difficult than mars for some basic reasons.

      You need to have something to work with before you can start terraforming. The moon has a lot of rock. So does Mars, but Mars has different kinds of rock, and it also has ice and CO2.

      A planetoid needs a reasonable amount of gravity to retain a gaseous atmosphere before it bleeds off into space. Mars has a very thin atmosphere, the moon has none.
    • by notamac ( 750472 ) * on Thursday March 11, 2004 @02:00AM (#8529414) Homepage
      I think a critical thing here is that Mars is much easier due to having enough gravity to actually hold a terraformed atmosphere in place - something the moon is lacking.
      • It doesn't take a lot of gravity to hold an atmosphere in place. Look at Titan, it has a mass of only 1.35E23 Kg (compared to Earth's 5.98E24 Kg) and atmosphereic pressure of 1.6 bar. The moon has a mass of 7.35E22 so surely it could support a breathable atmosphere (say 0.5 bar).
        • Titan has the great benefit (?) of being cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.

          You don't need so much mass to keep a thick atmosphere that far out in the solar system.


          • I'm sure that helps but lets look at Venus, 4.9E24 Kg (slightly lighter than Earth), surface temp of almost 500 deg C and air pressure of 90 atm.

            It seems to me that the reason some planets have an atmosphere and others don't is simply the availability of volitiles such as CH4, CO2, N2, O2, NH3, etc.

            If Venus and Titan can both support such thick atmospheres, I don't see why the Moon can't.
  • No easy answer (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Grave ( 8234 )
    Unlike microwavable dinners, we can't just nuke it to heat it up. Or can we? While massive use of nuclear detonations on Earth would chill the planet ("nuclear winter"), would the immense release of various gasses and energies actually increase the average temperature of Mars? Not that I would seriously suggest we start our first off-planet colonies with an interplanetary nuclear barrage or anything.
    • by pizza_milkshake ( 580452 ) on Thursday March 11, 2004 @02:13AM (#8529476)
      i'm in favor of detonating lots of nukes on mars, just to see what happens.
      • Not sure, but I think seeing Venus's atmosphere sent outwards a few hundred kilometres would look pretty cool.

        Remember that the main idea behind nuking a planet is to get cool things to watch on discovery channel.
        • Yeah, maybe they could have a pay-per view special to fund the costs.
          • Re:No easy answer (Score:4, Interesting)

            by RobertB-DC ( 622190 ) * on Thursday March 11, 2004 @05:15PM (#8536249) Homepage Journal
            Foo: I'm in favor of detonating lots of nukes on mars, just to see what happens.
            Bar: Not sure, but I think seeing Venus's atmosphere sent outwards a few hundred kilometres would look pretty cool.
            Baz: Yeah, maybe they could have a pay-per view special to fund the costs.

            Interestingly, I just listened to someone discuss the awesome power of a sight that fewer and fewer people have seen: nuking the Earth.

            On NPR's Fresh Air [npr.org], former Secretary of the Air Force Thomas Reed talked about his new book, At the Abyss: An Insider's History of the Cold War. In addition to his policial role, he was for a while a "consultant to the director of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, a well-known center for nuclear weapons research." As such, he helped design nuclear weapons, and was present during their testing.

            He pointed out that witnessing an above-ground nuclear detonation was itself a life-changing event, and that the experience colored the decisions of all who saw and felt it. The light, he said of a Christmas Island [nuclearweaponarchive.org] blast, wasn't just bright -- it was all-enveloping, even through the way-beyond-dark goggles. And the instant blast of heat, that made you want to run away, anywhere, just to get away.

            But nuke tests are now performed underground, where the awesome power is visible only as instrument ticks and a dimple [nuclearweaponarchive.org] in the ground. As the old scientists die, there are fewer and fewer people who have witnessed a nuclear blast as it would occur in the above-ground world.

            The whole concept is so abstract, we can now discuss the idea of blowing one up on another planet, without even breaking into a sweat. Unfortunately, there are plenty of folks in the militaries of the world who can do the same sort of abstract thinking in reference to their own planet.

            Damn, that got a lot deeper than I thought it would...
  • by Dr. Bent ( 533421 ) <benNO@SPAMint.com> on Thursday March 11, 2004 @02:30AM (#8529547) Homepage
    We'll outsource all of our industry to Mars!

    - Cheap Martian labor (They don't even USE money up there!)
    - Lax environmental law
    - Low taxes
    - No import/export tarrifs
    - Cheap raw materials (The whole planet is made of frikkin' iron!)

    and after a few thousand years we'll have a brand new hospitable planet. Of course there are some drawbacks. For one, the commute is going to be hellish. But where else are we going to go after the labor market in China starts demanding decent pay and working conditions? We've got to think ahead, people!
  • Send Me!! (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by bhima ( 46039 )
    This is a great idea, and I think it could be impleemnted in our life time (Provided the USians quit spending all of their money on weapons). If every one is still worriend about saftey SEND ME!
    • Re:Send Me!! (Score:1, Interesting)

      by flewp ( 458359 )
      I think it's a great idea too, provided non-americans get their heads out of their asses and stop making stupid posts just to hear themselves sound cool.
      • Re:Send Me!! (Score:2, Insightful)

        by bhima ( 46039 )
        US military spending is over three times what the rest of the world spends (2002-2003: 389 billion).

        A manned mission to Mars is estimated to be 55 million. Even with the inevitable over-spending it's a pittance in comparison.

        And just to make my self sound cool: The mission to mars could probably be paid for with the profits the USians make from the production of land mines they have covered southeast Asia with.

        The point is money is obviously not a problem, the prioritization is!

        • I think you mean billion and not million.

          But on everything else i agree, it's a small price to pay.
          I dont want to be a member of a temporary species.
        • Manned mission to Mars for 55 million? The two rovers that are wondering around the surface cost 810 million.
        • US military spending as a percentage of GDP has been dropping slowly since the 1950s, though...
        • Correction (Score:3, Informative)

          by 2marcus ( 704338 )
          I think you have your ratio of US to world spending wrong:

          http://www.globalissues.org/Geopolitics/ArmsTrade / Spending.asp

          It is much closer to 1:1 rather than 3:1. Though your point still holds - we could probably afford to cut military spending in order to increase spending on other activities, and (the cynic's view) spending on space is a good way to keep our military technical superiority even if it isn't directly weapons spending.


          ps. Nor do
          • Re:Correction (Score:3, Insightful)

            by shaitand ( 626655 )
            What people are missing is that no small chunk of that spending is really DARPA research spending. DARPA research spending constitutes MOST of all spending on advanced research in all areas of science. Although it's slotted to the military, the money isn't just being used for guns, it's being used to help perfect fusion technologies that could provide the world with plentiful cheap energy for example.

            Yes the military has a combat use in mind or believes all the research could potentially benefit them, but
          • Re:Correction (Score:1, Flamebait)

            by bhima ( 46039 )
            Yes, I did mean Billion not Million.

            The ratio of spending does vary wider than I expected depending on which source is used but I think 1.8:1 is average of a quick survey.

            Average of a quick survey of world spending was just below 900 billion. So again the money is there if the priority was.

            And as someone else pointed out DARPA funds research also.

            SO all of this makes me feel like space must be militarized in order to attract funding (or sufficent interest)

  • by sl8r ( 104278 )
    Is it my imagination, or have we finally found something to terraform?
  • Terraforming Mars is fun to think about but ultimately useless. In a few billion years, our sun will go red giant and boil away Earth's oceans and royally screw up the terraformed Mars as well. If we REALLY want to think about a space travel project that has the capacity to preserve the human race after our sun runs out of hydrogen to burn, we'd start colonizing extra solar planets. That way when one sun goes nova, there's plenty of humans in other solar systems. Only then is our race truly immortal! Until
    • baby steps, man, baby steps. First mars, then some other extrasolar planet.
    • Re:Terraforming Mars (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Unordained ( 262962 ) <unordained_slashdotNOSPAM@csmaster.org> on Thursday March 11, 2004 @04:06AM (#8529895)
      I haven't noticed "terraforming Mars" being proposed because of over-population of species-survival.

      We could take care of over-population-related problems on earth if people would just stop reproducing so much. I mean, really guys ... you don't need that many kids (or any?) Our planet can easily sustain us for a long time to come, at least assuming we take care of it. The damage isn't irreversible -- if we're smart, she'll last us a while.

      Species-survival? Our sun's not going anywhere. Based on the usually-suggested timelines for evolution of mankind, we're just getting started, and have plenty of time to figure things out (so long as we don't wipe ourselves out first.) It would be far more in the interest of self-preservation to dismantle our nukes than to find new planets. We're a bigger danger to ourselves than the sun, or likely aliens.

      No, I'd say we're thinking of terraforming Mars for other reasons:
      - The hell of it. (No, really.)
      - Research. (How does life develop? Were we an accident? Necessary?)

      There's no reason to feel we need to rush it, just so we can "get down to business" using Mars for ores or habitation. We're comfortable here. We're rushing because we've watched enough sci-fi to have an idea of what might be possible -- and we want to see it happen.

      Besides ... the moment we set stuff down on Mars, we've got people sending us rent bills for plots of land they "own" ... maybe we should get that resolved first?
      • by Deliveranc3 ( 629997 ) <deliverance AT level4 DOT org> on Thursday March 11, 2004 @04:40AM (#8529992) Journal
        ou don't need that many kids

        We interrupt this silly post to point out that this is slashdot, these people REALLY aren't part of the problem. Thank you.
      • Perhaps you havn't seen this proposal because it would not work. No way to move people as fast as people reproduce.
      • According to population experts (as opposed to the lay man...) the world population will peak about 2060. Perhaps in your lifetime! China and most of Europe already does not have enough births to maintain a study population, with Europe only seeing population increases because of immigration.

      • Re:Terraforming Mars (Score:4, Interesting)

        by pavon ( 30274 ) on Thursday March 11, 2004 @01:07PM (#8532965)
        Responding to you and your parent. First, colonizing Mars would increase the sustainability of our species - it is far more likely that the earth will be hit by a big astroid before the sun runs out. Furthermore, we are fairly certian that we have tons of time before the sun runs out, but cant' predict when the next big astroid will come - could be 5 years from now, or it could be 10,000. So getting all our eggs out of this basket that is Earth is more important in the short-run than getting out of the solar system.

        We could take care of over-population-related problems on earth if people would just stop reproducing so much. I mean, really guys ... you don't need that many kids (or any?)

        Actually that is a short-sighted solution to the problem. The european birth rate has been dropping for some time now, while universal health care has been increasing life expectancy. They are now realizing that they will be in a real jam in a couple decades when the average age of the population is 64.
        • [excluded middle?]

          So, should we just let old people die? Refuse life-extending procedures? We're already trying to push back the age for retirement to get more "bang" out of a person, but that just doesn't seem like a great idea either.

          Our average age is going to continue to be high unless we:
          - let/make people die at a younger age
          - have a significantly higher rate of birth than death, which means population growth

          Wars could do some of that, but it seems like wars mostly kill the young, not the old. And a
    • You need to start somewhere.

      Those dozens of extrasolar colonies full of humans won't just *POOF* into existence when you wait few years.

      Few billion years is a frickin' *LONG* *LONG* *LONG* time. It's so long it's totally incomprehensible for simple mortals like us. Worrying about something happening after billion years and trying to plan for it without intermediary steps is nuts. Eukaryotes were only born 1.5 billion years ago, and life didn't crawl out of oceans until 1 billion years ago. Maybe they shou
  • When the first humans start living on mars, i assume they will need all the resources availiable, and wont be interested in venting precious oxygen into the atmosphere.
    However, as we get a decent foot hold established there, this will become more feasable. The article doesnt mention how many of the 'units' will be needed, but i would guess it will be a very large number. So we are probably talking about factories produceing the units from local materials.
    It also seems that it would be a waste of resources
    • We've already got plentiful O2 factories here on earth. They're called "plants". The problem is, to build them from thier pre-fab state (seeds), you need warmth, sunlight, C02 and water. Mars is badly lacking in both the warmth and water components, the sunlight isn't that great, and the C02 is a bit thinner than what they're used to.
      • We also have something called "desertification" and "hunger".
        Notice that i said:
        "...research into it could greatly benefit us here on earth."
        and not "...Minimal Units of Terraforming could greatly benefit us here on earth."
        But thanks for telling me about plants, someone mod obeythefist informative!
  • .. welcome the notion of standing Liam and Noel Gallagher on Mars to play their own brand of 'I wish I was John Lennon' BritPop to the microbes. Unless they bred, in which case it might not be so good.. 'Maahs Attaahks' anyone?
  • by MachDelta ( 704883 ) on Thursday March 11, 2004 @04:39AM (#8529986)
    Err... correct me if i'm being an idiot here, but I thought the reason Mars' atmosphere was so thin was because it lacks a complete magnetic field. When the planet 'died' (assuming it did) a bazillion years ago, solar wind from the sun hosed the planet and blew away much of its atmosphere, or so i'm told.

    So... wouldn't that make terraforming Mars kind of like pouring water into a sieve?
    • Yep, that and the smaller gravitational pull of the planet. The bigger problem is that there's no van-allen belt surrounding Mars either, because the core is dead. Who'd have thunk all those volcanoes were so good for us.
      • The core is dead? Wasn't there a movie about this happening to Earth? Seems like they used nuclear weapons to fix it, although I haven't seen it and may be thinking of Dr. Evil's scheme from another movie [imdb.com].

        Perhaps I would have gone to see The Core [thecoremovie.com] if it had been about terraforming Mars by jumpstarting the core. I don't suppose it could have gotten any less plausible.

    • by Tango42 ( 662363 ) on Thursday March 11, 2004 @04:51AM (#8530047)
      I think the time scales involved are very large. It would be like pouring water into a sieve with very small holes.
    • I still think a much better idea than trying to 'fix' Mars is to just develop humans that suit the environment. I mean, its pretty inefficent to have to maintain Earth-like conditions everywhere we go, it would be much better if we could develop the technologies necessary to harden human physiology to withstand cold vaccum conditions with minimal protection. Beef up radition damage correction mechanisims by an order of magnitude or two and maybe build in some powered materials recycling equipment (why car
  • by dpilot ( 134227 ) on Thursday March 11, 2004 @09:22AM (#8530826) Homepage Journal
    An interesting proposal was part of the story, "Mining the Oort" (IIRC, by either Frederick Pohl or Poul Anderson, it's sitting on the shelf at home.)

    ****SPOILER ALERT******

    Eventually they smacked Mars with a series of comets in one locality. The impacts built a long, deep valley. They also released a pile of water vapor. Since the valley was the lowest area of topography around, most of the released vapor settled there. I forget how deep the valleys were, but in the bottoms they were able to achieve some decent partial pressures. Of course it wasn't O2, but water vapor, ammonia, and some other cometary traces. But correcting the gas mix is the 'easy' part of terraforming once you've got the right atoms in the right place.

    Going for deep valleys either does away with the dome entirely, or possibly doming over the top of the valley.

    Getting inhabitable valleys then looks more like the Mars of C.S. Lewis's "Out of the Silent Planet."
  • Since adding more atmosphere just isn't feasible, let's entertain another crazy option: pressurizing a valley (or cave system?).

    Why not? Cover a huge valley with a nice strong material, and then start pumping extra atmosphere into it. Maybe some derivative material of the space elevator cable.

    It's not any more outlandish than other ideas I've read.

    • I like ideas that use local materials and conditions to our advantage. But this has some technical problems:

      You will need to seal the walls and floor of the valley/crater your using to prevent gas escapeing faster than you can pump it in.

      You will also need to keep the cover in place and it will require a lot of force. Complex plants need a minimum of about 0.5PSI to survive, and the current martian atmospheric pressure is so small it can be a saftey/fudge factor.
      100 square meters worth of cover need
      • You will also need to keep the cover in place and it will require a lot of force. [...] 100 square meters worth of cover needs approximately 350tons of force to hold it in place. But since martian gravity is about 1/3 that of earth, we really need over a 1kiloton of force. So it isnt impossible, it's just difficult.
        If the dome is sufficiently shallow, the force can be supplied simply by piling material onto the top of it.
  • by drwho ( 4190 )
    ok, putting aside the need for a magnetic field for a moment, how about letting evolution take hold:

    use a mirror to concentrate light to warm an area with water and melt it. Introduce our best microbes to said area, giving them a fair amount of nutrients from earth, but at a controlled rate. The microbes reproduce, and gradually mutate, some of these traveling to the edge of the life zone, and becoming pioneers on the mars surface: surviving with less water, etc. The life zone continues to grow, with the m
  • One planet's pollution is another planet's rain machine

    Hey, we've got plenty of extra pollution here on Earth. And Mars could use more pollution to help terraform. So why don't we just ship all our extra pollution to Mars?
  • Greenhouse gases (Score:3, Interesting)

    by barakn ( 641218 ) on Thursday March 11, 2004 @03:20PM (#8534529)
    Atmospheric carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas, gets removed and is replaced by oxygen, which isn't very reactive in the infrared. The atmosphere is less able to hold heat, and so the planet cools (except the exosphere, which actually heats up and increases the rate at which the atmosphere is escaping). CO2 ice builds up on the ice caps, and so the atmospheric pressure drops. These plastic greenhouses might make the planet worse.
    • Re:Greenhouse gases (Score:3, Interesting)

      by kippy ( 416183 )
      If the atmosphere is increased by 500 fold (high mountain on Earth type pressure) it will have much much more CO2 than it does now. remember that it's only 7 bars on Mars now while it's 1024 bars on Earth. There will be plenty of CO2 to trap heat.

      CO2 is really weak too remember. Heating up the atmosphere will need to be done with a coctail of CO2, CFCs PFCs, amonia, water and methane.

      See here [globalnet.co.uk]for a NASA study.
  • Green Mars (Score:2, Informative)

    by CosmicDreams ( 23020 )
    Sounds familar to Kim Stanley Robinson's Green Mars. The Red Mars/Green Mars/Blue Mars is a good trilogy about mars terraforming. I'd recommend it if this topic intrests you.
  • Everything I needed to know about terraforming I learned in kindergarten: You're not allowed to play in the neighbor's sandbox (whether nor not there's anyone home) as long as you keep pooping in your own. Nobody gets to terraform Mars until they can prove they can terraform Earth for the better, instead of for the worse. I think that's a fair test of both capability and intent, with the side benefits of a cleaner sandbox for everyone and a much better idea of what's being done wrong (and thus by whom).

Things equal to nothing else are equal to each other.