Terraforming Mars might be impossible…for now
At the end of 1990’s sci-fi adventure Total Recall, all it takes is the push of a button. In a matter of minutes, Mars’ sky transforms from a hellish red to an Earth-like blue. After nearly suffocating on the Martian surface just moments before, Arnold Schwarzenegger takes in lungfuls and lungfuls of that sweet, sweet breathable Martian air.
This is terraforming, the concept of making a planet more hospitable to humans, and it’s been cropping up in pop culture since the early 1900s, everywhere from books to movies to video games. Once upon a time, the idea of turning Mars into Earth 2.0 might have been merely a fanciful notion, as theoretical as actually going to the planet at all.
But in 2020, Mars is very much on the agenda. NASA, SpaceX, Virgin Galactic — they all want to put space boots on the ground, and in some cases as soon as the 2030s. But as scientists work toward blastoff, the concept of terraforming will most likely be a case of “failure to launch.”
You might say Mars is a rough neighborhood.
The planet, about 70% the size of Earth, has an atmosphere of mostly carbon dioxide and boasts an average temperature of -81 degrees Fahrenheit (-62 degrees Celsius). Because the atmosphere is so thin (Earth’s is more than 100 times denser) there’s not much shielding from radiation.
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