Mankind hopes to foster life on Mars

Terraforming is not just a dream of science fiction.


Illustration by Trevor Lunde/THE CHIMES

Jacqueline Lewis, Writer

When most people consider life on Mars, they picture little green men — not humans beings. Where the idea of putting people on Mars was once a fantastical reach of science fiction, today the thought of sending mankind to Mars is an ambition much closer to reality.

More than Exploration

NASA issued a press release Sept. 28, 2015, confirming evidence of liquid water on the Red Planet. Not long after this discovery, the science fiction blockbuster “The Martian” was released, telling a story of an astronaut stranded on the hostile planet. But the excitement surrounding this stems from the narrative’s closeness to reality. The movie’s production involved significant collaboration with NASA, including setting the narrative in the 2030s — NASA’s actually projected time frame to put astronauts on Mars.

But the space industry has more than just exploration on its mind. It does not just want to put astronauts on Mars, but everyday people. Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, hopes to colonize Mars not with small groups, but with approximately a million people in order to have an effective infrastructure and workforce on the planet similar to Earth. The company is even coming incredibly close to designing reusable rockets in order to keep costs low for sending large numbers to Mars.


Unfortunately, liquid water and reusable rockets are not the only requirements for extraplanetary migration. To make the Red Planet habitable for mankind, a lot of work must still be done.

Yet, this extraordinary feat is actually plausible through a process called terraforming.

According to NASA, terraforming is “the process of transforming a hostile environment into one suitable for human life.” Thankfully, Mars is close enough in distance as well as in environment to act as a prime guinea pig for this process. However, this will not be easy.

Steps to Take

It will involve a long and complicated set of steps. After exploration and data collection, scientists must first make the atmosphere better suited for humans. To do this, they must send greenhouse gases like chlorofluorocarbons into the atmosphere. On Earth, these gases contribute to increases in the ozone layer, and it would do the same on Mars.

This would trap heat and cause the surface temperature to rise and vaporize carbon dioxide in the south polar cap. This process would introduce carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and cause an increase in temperature, eventually vaporizing the entire cap.

Liquid water would then raise the atmospheric pressure to that of Earth’s high mountains and would sustain human life. However, scientists would need to introduce more oxygen into the atmosphere by planting trees, which produce oxygen from carbon dioxide. This, over centuries, would make human life possible on our neighbor planet.


Today, mankind is taking the first exciting steps in our journey to Mars. Although there is still so much we have to do to expand into the solar system, we have the hope that one day being stranded on the red planet like our protagonist from “The Martian” will not be such a burden.

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