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mattbrowne's avatar

If we possessed the technology to terraform Mars at some point in the future, what are the reasons to do it or not do it?

Asked by mattbrowne (31719points) March 24th, 2009

I tried to transform the yes-no question “If we possessed the technology to terraform Mars at some point in the future, should we?” into the Fluther format and wonder whether it really matters.

The terraforming of a planet, moon, or other body is the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying its atmosphere, temperature, or ecology to be similar to those of Earth in order to make it habitable by humans. The term is sometimes used broadly as a synonym for planetary engineering in general. Mars is considered by many to be the most likely candidate for terraformation. Much study has gone into the possibility of heating the planet and altering its atmosphere, and NASA has even hosted debates on the subject. However, a multitude of obstacles stand between the present and an active terraforming effort on Mars or any other world. The long timescales and practicality of terraforming are the subject of debate. Other unanswered questions relate to the ethics, logistics, economics, politics and methodology of altering the environment of an extraterrestrial world.

There’s one idea about crashing a comet (or a series of comets) onto Mars to raise the temperatures. The approach was described by Marshall T. Savage in his book “Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps”.

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28 Answers

asmonet's avatar

Good job on the question!

I think the most logical reasons are for science, technology and if and when we run out of space here at home.

marinelife's avatar

The cost would be (pun fully intended) astronomical. Therefore, in order to justify it, the cost-benefit ratio would have to balance.

If population begins to make the Earth overcrowded beyond bearing, that is the most likely reason to me.

I don’t think we have the technology or experience to crash comets into worlds without knowing all of the ramifications.

Also, we would need a set of ethical guidelines. Suppose someone thought Earth looked good adn considered its inhabitants beneath notice? We would need to make sure we were not hurting any life forms whose home was a planet slated for terraforming.

dalton's avatar

It might tend to interfere with the lives of the sentient life living there.

mattbrowne's avatar

@dalton – Yes, I heard about the little green men too. Poor critters ;-)

mattbrowne's avatar

@asmonet – Thanks! Yes, at some point Earth will become too crowded.

kevbo's avatar

Hey @mattbrowne. Welcome!

Actually, these guys said in 1997 that it could be done for $20—$30 million using gaslight-era technology.

By the way, I’m one of Fluther’s resident conpsiracy nut jobs.

I think the real deal is that the powers that be have deemed that Mars (and space in general) is not for public consumption, and that the plan is for Mars and other exploits to ultimately benefit corporations (through mining, for example). I also think there are artifacts and ruins on Mars that are being obscured from public view. I really don’t believe that in the 40 years since we’ve been to the moon our progress has stalled as naturally as it seems.

Arsenal of Hypocrisy
Richard Hoagland

“There are great ideas undiscovered. Breakthroughs available to those who can remove one of truth’s protective layers.”- Neil Armstrong

mattbrowne's avatar

@marina – exploring Mars is basic research which doesn’t require an ROI, but you’re right the story for terraforming is different.

dalton's avatar

Now now…that sounds somewhat sarcastic, mattbrowne. Surely you read Asimov’s history of Mars. Or was it some sort of chronicles? I forget.
They were not green men. They are living right there on/in a slightly shifted dimensional plane.

mattbrowne's avatar

@kevbo – Great quote from Neil Armstrong! Thanks.

Blondesjon's avatar

@dalton…Michael Valentine Smith is the only Martian I acknowledge.—oh, and this guy.

I believe we will have to completely strip this planet of it’s every natural resource before we even begin to seriously contemplate any real forays into space. Human kind is a “wait ‘til the last minute” kind of race and I’m pretty sure that the popular push for the funds and resources to terraform a planet will have to wait until we are suitably scared, as a whole, for our continued well being.

that and overcoming the whole time/distance factor…stupid einstein

gailcalled's avatar

@dalton: The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury.

Asimov wrote the wonderful series about robots:'s_Robot_Series

hiphiphopflipflapflop's avatar

Who wants to be stuck in a gravity well? ;)

dalton's avatar


He also wrote the Martian Chronicles. You should take a peek.

dalton's avatar


I must agree…Heinlein outdid them all with “Stranger in a Strange Land!!”

dalton's avatar


Especially without a pail…

gailcalled's avatar

@Dalton; Which “he”? I read Bradbury’s. Are you saying that Asimov was a co-author or wrote a Martian Chronicle of his own?

dalton's avatar


I may have mixed them up…it was over 40 years ago that I read this stuff!

Jiminez's avatar

Absolutely. I don’t see any ethical or moral reason why we shouldn’t.

Blondesjon's avatar

I agree with Jiminez. I guess you could say that the money involved with such an undertaking could be used to solve a few of the world’s ills first (moral) but you could also argue that space may hold the cure for said ills (speculative ethics?).

VzzBzz's avatar

Here’s my question:
Money factor aside, if we have the technology to colonize another planet, transform it to be fit for human support then why don’t we just do that now, with our immediate planet Earth?

Blondesjon's avatar

@VzzBzzbecause it already supports and sustains human life?

VzzBzz's avatar

@Blondesjon: supports and sustains human existence but in what quality. I don’t want to end my years living like a cockroach.

Blondesjon's avatar

@VzzBzz…If you want to reform our governmental and societal woes here on earth you can’t set the “money issue” aside. Freedom isn’t free.

VzzBzz's avatar

@Blondesjon: It’s impossible to set money aside, I was assuming money wouldn’t be an issue. I mean, we haven’t seen real money in years but we keep spending so why the hell not, right.

Blondesjon's avatar

@VzzBzz…I get it. You want to use terraforming technology to “upgrade” the planet. Interesting idea. If money is no issue I agree, why not.

VzzBzz's avatar

@Blondesjon: Yes, I want humans to use all their ingenuity and resources to clean up the crap here on Earth before taking off and making space junk.
Oh listen to me spouting off- I’m just a BumbleBee and you see what’s happening to Bees in nature, right.

Nullo's avatar

I say, why not? There’s already nothing on Mars but rock, ice, and lots of carbon dioxide; any kind of terraforming effort would be an improvement.

Of course, it would be hideously expensive.

mattbrowne's avatar

@Nullo – It might not be that expensive in, say, 2080.

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