It certainly seems as though the next generation will grow up during a time when manned missions to Mars really aren’t a big deal, something akin to how the world currently seems to feel about sending astronauts into space – exciting, sure, but not monumental. Of course, the next step after that will be making Mars livable for humans. While that would be an unprecedented challenge with no comparison, we do know some things about what it would take for the idea to work. For terraforming Mars, rules would need to be followed based on our current understanding of the Red Planet.

What Does “Terraforming Mars” Actually Mean?

Terraforming Mars is a hypothetical process by which the surface and climate of mars would be deliberately altered. This would be done by planetary engineering, and the idea is to create a climate which could sustain human life. This would make the colonization of Mars a much safer and sustainable option.

Can Humans Live on Mars?

terraforming mars

Astronaut spaceman planet Mars surface space people. Elements of this image furnished by NASA.; Shutterstock ID 257133700

Let’s start with the obvious: can humans live on Mars in the first place?

The short answer is, “yes.” The details are a lot more complicated.

Can You Breathe on Mars?

Again, let’s begin with the short answer, which is “absolutely not.” The atmosphere on Mars is almost entirely carbon dioxide and offers very little oxygen.

Therefore, one of the main hurdles humankind would have to overcome to inhabit the Red Planet for any period of time would be securing a reliable source of oxygen. If that resource was ever compromised, it’s usually about 140 million miles to the nearest next best option.

What Would We Use for Shelter on Mars?

terraforming mars

Companies are already working on shelters to be used on Mars. These prototypes are expected to be completed by 2018.

Although we don’t know a lot about them yet, survival on Mars will most likely require that they all have the following in common:

  • Self-Sustainable
  • Sealed Off from Mars’ Thin Atmosphere
  • Capable of Remaining Operational for Long Periods

Living on this Martian planet will be a lot easier after terraforming Mars and rules are put in place to sustain this effort. For ongoing habitation of the planet, this is absolutely essential.

Terraforming Mars: 4 Rules for Turning the Red Planet Green

To terraform Mars and make it livable, we’ll need to follow four main rules.

1. Mine Fluorine

The first step to terraforming Mars would be mining it for fluorine, a critical element for producing perfluorinated compounds (PFCs). These mostly nontoxic gases are fantastic for trapping heat, something that will be essential on a planet with an average temperature of negative 8o degrees Fahrenheit.

Fortunately, after enough PFCs are secured, the sun will do the rest. On Mars, the sun may provide the equivalent level of energy as every one of our planet’s nuclear weapons combined!

2. Begin Planting Vegetation

To be clear, terraforming Mars and the rules involved will require a lifetime to fully implement. For example, harvesting sufficient PFCs will probably take about 50 years.

In any case, the next step after that is to let them do their thing: trap heat on Mars and start increasing its temperature. The eventual boost should be enough to release carbon dioxide that’s trapped in Mars’ frozen soil and ice caps. This would increase the planet’s already high levels, producing even more heat.

At the same time, all the ice melting on Mars would lead to streams and lakes. In turn, these would produce rain and snow storms. All of this exciting activity could eventually transform microbes and plants that have otherwise thrived for millennia under polar conditions.

3. Build Under Mars’ New Atmosphere

All this activity is very exciting, especially because it will help create and fortify an atmosphere that is much more like our own. This is when terraforming Mars can begin in earnest.

After about 100 years of effort, the skies across the Red Planet will actually be bluer than those of Earth. That’s because of how thick its once thin atmosphere will become.

Finally, we’d begin seeing the growth of now native trees and other planets. These would most likely start growing along Mars’ mountain ranges before the trend would hit lower elevations.

Most important of all, the combination of a strong atmosphere, heat, and plant life would mean humans could finally venture outdoors and enjoy this Martian world without worrying about dangerous temperatures or a lethal amount of pressure.

Unfortunately, the air would still be poisonous at this point, so oxygen masks would be mandatory.

4. Plant, Repeat, Plant, Repeat, Plant…

Obviously, terraforming requires lots and lots of plants. So does human survival on Mars, which is why designing livable structures is hardly even half the battle. It’s all about plants.

This next step will probably take about 100,000 years to complete, but after that, many years of photosynthesis and crops being planted, the relentless levels of carbon dioxide should give way and oxygen will finally be available in sufficient supplies to humans.

Terraforming Mars Will Be Worth It

It’s easy to read the above rules and think it couldn’t possibly be worth it. None of us will even be here for the final result. However, many have argued that the journey – every step of the way – is worth it simply because learning how to live on Mars may make it much easier to live on Earth.

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