Scientist Calls Mars a Terraforming Target for the 21st Century

ASPEN, Colorado ? Mars will be transformed into a shirt-sleeve, habitableworld for humanity before century?s end, made livable by thawing out thecoldish climes of the red planet and altering its now carbon dioxide-richatmosphere.

Howbest to carry out a fast-paced, decade by decade planetary facelift of Mars ? atechnique called ?terraforming? ? has been outlined by Lowell Wood, a notedphysicist and recent retiree of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory anda long-time Visiting Fellow of the Hoover Institution.

Lowell presented his eye-opening Mars manifesto at Flight School, held here June20-22 at the Aspen Institute, laying out a scientific plan to ?experiment on aplanet we?re not living on.?

Humans:a terraforming species

?Isuggest that the near-term outlook is that Mars will be terraformed,? Woodsaid, and seriously underway by the middle of this century and essentiallycomplete by the end of the 21st century.

Wooddefined terraforming as ?the purposeful alteration of the physical environmentto increase its habitability for humans.? He noted that we homo sapiens are a terraformingspecies, pointing to our own planet?s alteration over time.

?We?recurrently in the tenth millennium of the terraforming era,? Wood said.Similarly, Mars will be terraformed?as will every other piece of the solarsystem that we can get to?if-and-as humanity becomes truly space-faring, heexplained.

?The terraformingimpulse in humankind will be quenched only by massive adverse selectivepressure,? Wood reported. Terraforming nay-sayers seem to ignore thefundamentals of population genetics, sociobiology and human history, he argued.

Marsis far easier to terraform than the Moon, Wood advised. ?It?s kids? stuff asfar as rendering it [Mars] into something that?s human habitable quickly andeasily. The Moon is a good bit tougher.?


Woodsaid that Mars currently is ?stuck? in a semi-permanent ?thermal depression.?But there is a multiplicity of design solutions, he foresees, such as engineeringan artificial greenhouse effect at the planet that warms the world and makes it?a more preferred planet.?

Overall,Wood said that a workable plan can be scripted to raise the average temperatureof Mars, rid the world of excess carbon dioxide, as well as generate soil tosupport agriculture.

Afterroughly one to three decades of such warming, Wood continued, the ?Great Spring??literally erupts all over Mars. It?s all a matter of trimming-and-tailoring athawed Mars to the ?biospheric optimum,? he concluded.

RespondedEsther Dyson, Chairman of EDventure and host of the Flight School: ?This is not aproject that would fit the time horizon of any venture capitalist.?

ButWood said that the effort is doable, but with a caveat.

?Ibelieve it?s roughly a 50/50 chance that young children now alive will walk on martianmeadows?will swim in martian lakes,? Wood said.? It is not technology, normoney, he said, the pacing ingredient is marshaled will.

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Leonard David
Space Insider Columnist

Leonard David is an award-winning space journalist who has been reporting on space activities for more than 50 years. Currently writing as's Space Insider Columnist among his other projects, Leonard has authored numerous books on space exploration, Mars missions and more, with his latest being "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published in 2019 by National Geographic. He also wrote "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet" released in 2016 by National Geographic. Leonard  has served as a correspondent for SpaceNews, Scientific American and Aerospace America for the AIAA. He has received many awards, including the first Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History in 2015 at the AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium. You can find out Leonard's latest project at his website and on Twitter.