According to expert reports, NASA thinks relying on current technologies won’t allow for terraformation of Mars.
Three years ago, SpaceX founder Elon Musk appeared on an episode of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.
To a question about how he intends to make Mars’ atmosphere liveable, Musk replied that the fastest way to make Mars more Earth-like is to “warm it up” by dropping nuclear bombs over the poles.
Sorry to break the news for Musk and all Mars fans out there, but NASA experts say solutions we could imagine to Mars terraforming based on present-day tech simply won’t do it.
Terraformation of Mars: Nukes Won’t Be Enough
NASA’s inspirational journey to Mars is still a hallmark on the agency’s to-do list, though no longer at the top of it.
For every party with a Mars colonization plan, getting there would be the easy part, as harsh climate and extreme elements will be awaiting the first settlers.
At 142 million miles from the Sun, and with a very thin atmosphere, Mars is very cold.
Compared to Earth’s 57° F, the average temperature on Mars is minus 81° F and can get as low as minus 195° F (-125° C) during the winter.
Musk’s idea, which is a common trope in science fiction literature, is believed to hold potential by many scientists.
Dropping nukes on Mars would release carbon dioxide thought to be trapped in the surface, the atmospheric pressure (now 0.6 percent of Earth’s) would increase, and the planet would warm up enough for liquid water to run.
However, this constructive destruction won’t work for the simple reason that there isn’t enough CO2 in the Martian soil to begin with.
According to a new study funded by NASA, “Transforming the inhospitable Martian environment into a place astronauts could explore without life support is not possible without technology well beyond today’s capabilities.”
Though the technique does work, even if we get to release all the carbon dioxide there is in Mars, including all sources (soil, polar caps, and minerals), the atmospheric pressure would rise to only 6.9 percent of that of the Earth.
Physicist Bruce Jakosky from the University of Colorado, Boulder, lead author of the study “Inventory of CO2 available for terraforming Mars” said:
“Our results suggest that there is not enough CO2 remaining on Mars to provide significant greenhouse warming were the gas to be put into the atmosphere; in addition, most of the CO2 gas is not accessible and could not be readily mobilized. As a result, terraforming Mars is not possible using present-day technology.”
Per this study findings, if we follow Musk’s idea and all the Martian ice caps were to be vaporized, the pressure increase would barely double current pressure on Mars (to 1.2 percent of Earth’s).
That’s certainly not Earth-like enough for Musk liking.
For the time being, in the current technological context, Mars’ bombardment will remain confined to science fiction stories.
That said, there’s actually natural terraforming going on right now on Mars. But, if we leave it entirely to nature, it would take tens of million years for Mars’ environment to be Earth-like.