Greener Mars – When We Become Martians?

The latest edition of the American Heritage English Dictionary defines terraform as: a verb that means to transform (a landscape) on another planet into one having the characteristics of landscapes on Earth. [Latin term, terra earth: see terrace + form]

Mars, the red planet with a mythology that speaks volumes, is daunting. While there are notable stories surrounding Martian lore, it is the realities faced by NASA and other space agencies . Mars seems like a littered graveyard of crashed probes. Up until 2014, a full third of any earth launched rockets headed to the planet never made soft landings.

Countless visionaries and entrepreneurs voiced their desires to terraform Mars. While no country or entrepreneur has attempted to send missions to Mars to terraform it, attempts may ensue before the end of the 21st century. However, success in terraforming Mars hinges on important priorities.

  1. Successful understanding of Martian soil and rock (regolith).
  2. Successful manipulation of plant genomes to be radiation-resistant and withstand Martian cold.
  3. Plants need adequate sources of water.
  4. Martian soil may need adequate amending to ensure proper minerals within the soil.
  5. Astronauts must stay on Mars for an extended period of time to successfully implement the endeavor.

Scientists across the world have experimented with simulated Martian soil and performed computations for the past 25 years in the hopes of unlocking the secrets of Martian soil. If you recall Andy Weir’s book, The Martian or its movie adaptation, the lead character is stranded on Mars and grows potatoes to sustain himself until rescued. While Martian farming may occur in the lives of our children, it is decades until it becomes practical.

So, let’s get to the point – how can we terraform Mars?

There are, at least, two methods by which we can farm Mars:

1. Oxygenate the atmosphere first and then proceed to utilize the resources of Martian regolith with genetically engineered plants.

2. Use Greenhouses to grow crops and resources – vegetables, fruits, and hemp. Other uses of synthetic plants center upon genetic manipulations of plant biology to produce medicinal alterations and other commodity-like stuffs.

While the first method seems daunting, it has a sense of a pioneering spirit to it. It will take multiple generations to implement according to published studies. According to Cyprien Verseux and co-workers the first step is to seed multiple acreage of the Martian surface with cyanobacteria to begin an oxygenation of the atmosphere. It is postulated that early Earth had little to no oxygen and cyanobacteria or a related species of bacteria oxygenated the earth’s atmosphere. Life as we know it sprung forth. Professor Verseux and co-workers published their study in the International Journal of Astrobiology in 2016. Their studies delve into greater details of how engineered cyanobacteria can generate hydrogen fuels and potentially greater undertakings to help a Martian colony. In this fashion, multiple missions from NASA, Jaxa, or ESA tend to the endeavor.

Putting greenhouses on the Martian surface to facilitate colonization appears simpler than attempting to turn the Martian planet from rust-colored to an appealing shade or blue-green. NASA utilized the moon to put boots upon it and successfully proved they can do it almost routinely in the 1970s. Furthermore–from the Space lab in the 1970s to the ISS of present times, the international community proved it can work cooperatively to nobler ends. Thus, we get a better sense of the issues in the journal, Genes in 2018. The group of three Australian scientists paint a fascinating look at synthetic plant biology, in the article titled, The Multiplanetary Future of Plant Synthetic Biology.

The present outlook of international cooperation for space ventures appears cloudy from chaotic, nationalistic policies. It behooves nations of the world to band together. Perhaps, in the next decade, the world will understand and re-commit to space exploration as a peaceful undertaking.

Science fiction writers love Mars. Ray Bradbury, Andy Weir, and H. G. Wells encouraged readers to dream and fantasize of Martian aliens or desolate landscapes. The truth of Martian colonization maybe stranger than what he have dreamed or thought we could anticipate –it is a destiny well worth achieving. It may well turn the world stage away from war and terrorism to cooperation and peace.

SOURCES TO EXPLORE
Briando Llorente, and co-workers. The Multi-planetary Future of Plant Synthetic Biology. 2018. https://doi.org/10.3390/genes9070348f

Cyprien Verseux, and co-workers. Sustainable Life Support on Mars–the potential roles of cyanobacteria. 2016. https://doi.org/10.1017/S147355041500021X

American Heritage Dictionary https://www.ahdictionary.com/word/search.html?q=terraform

NASA log of International Martian missions– https://mars.nasa.gov/mars-exploration/missions/historical-log/

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