Terraforming: the basic concepts



Gymnasium Haus Overbach


Mars Project

Grades 12 and 13


Terraforming Mars

-Basic Concepts-


published by:

Thomas Lagner and Robert Lauer


responsible teachers:

R. Hillebrand and M. Kämper


published on:

January 28, 2000



Abstract___________________________________________ _______________ 3

The central idea of terraforming_________________________________________ 4

Definition of terraforming______________________________________________ 4

Existing foundations on Mars___________________________________________ 4

Technological possibilities to terraform Mars_______________________________ 6

Global warming - The Runaway Greenhouse Effect___________________________ 6

Space mirrors______________________________________________________ 7

Asteroids__________________________________________________________ 8

Artificial greenhouse gases_____________________________________________ 9

Alternatives________________________________________________________ 10

Conclusion________________________________________________________ 11

Oxygenating Mars___________________________________________________ 12

Overall conclusion___________________________________________________ 13

K. S. Robinson's vision of terraforming Mars_______________________________ 14

Overall concept_____________________________________________________ 14

Various efforts______________________________________________________ 14

Greenhouse effect___________________________________________________ 14

Mirrors____________________________________________________________ 15

Asteroids__________________________________________________________ 16

Water_____________________________________________________________ 16

Oxygen and Nitrogen__________________________________________________ 16

Conclusion__________________________________________________________ 17

Comments_________________________________________________________ 18

A wonderful sense of achievement?!_______________________________________ 18

Mars: The next frontier__________________________________________________ 20

Project diary_________________________________________________________ 22

References__________________________________________________________ 23

Appendix____________________________________________________________ 24




In this paper, we want to give an overview of concepts for terraforming Mars. While writing we always were concerned with our mission statement as follows:

“The paper which we are going to write has the aim to explain the “Terraforming idea” to the man in the street who has no interest in scientific formulas.”

Keeping the texts simple enough was not always easy because a basic knowledge about physics and chemistry is needed and useful. But after detailed discussions we always were able to progress and eventually finish this paper.

As a general introduction to the idea of terraforming Mars, this work does not include all the different plans and suggestions ever made. We explain the basic principles of some commonly suggested terraforming methods, concentrating on models for changing the atmospherical conditions as a first step in making Mars more habitable for terrestrial life. Some central aspects are presented more detailed and with concrete values, but most of these results are unproved estimations and should just give an idea of the general scales.

In addition to this overview of scientific research, we give a short summary of the terraforming process depicted in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars Trilogy. As an example of a fictional prototype model, it can be compared to realistic evaluations and provide another point of view.

At the end, we present our own, different opinions on terraforming Mars with respect to the basic motivations and problems.

We hope that after reading this paper everybody will know what terraforming Mars is about and perhaps be able to draw a personal conclusion about the sense of terraforming other planets for mankind.


The central idea of terraforming

Definition of terraforming


The terraforming process is part of exploring space. The most important reason for discovering the universe is that the human race spreads into space. Therefore, it is necessary to found semipermanent communities living on large spacecraft designed to accommodate long-term human habitation or on other planets.

Terraforming is the process of adapting extraterrestrial surroundings like other planets to the human race. In consequence the aim is to develop an environment on a planet, which supports terrestrial life and brings along the independence from earth. Furthermore new civilizations are given the possibilities to create and manage their own life in a new world. As a reference can be taken the colonization of America.

Terraforming can be done by planetary engineering with regard to creating similar conditions to the biosphere on earth. This includes the use and development of technology to interfere with the features of a planet. Concerning Mars this process contains four important matters:[1]

  1. an increase of the surface temperature by about 60 degrees;
  2. the rise of the mass of the atmosphere;
  3. the supply of liquid water;
  4. the reduction of ultraviolet (UV) and cosmic radiation.


Still the success of this process is only part of terraforming and does not include the support of life. As a fifth aim an atmosphere containing oxygen has to be created for animals and plants as well as for humans. By accomplishing a stable biosphere on Mars or on any other planet this place can be referred as a philanthropical place.


Existing foundations on Mars


When searching for planets that can be terraformed by mankind, the focus has to be confined to the solar system we live in. Any planet beyond this boarder cannot be taken into consideration since the technological requirements needed to travel there do no exist and we do not possess enough detailed information on planets in other star systems.

Nevertheless mankind was able to collect data about the planets in our solar system by quite a few space probes. Most of them have been sent to Mars and Venus, but there where also probes which visited Mercury or the outer planets and their moons. After evaluating the received data it was certain that Mars as one of the planets closest to earth contained the best stipulations to begin the terraforming process.

Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune have no solid surface, and together with their more earth like moons Titan and Europe they are too distant from the sun, which makes them too cold for our requirements.

On the other hand Mercury and Venus are too close to the sun and therefore it is too hot on the surface of those planets. Besides Venus rotation is so slow that a day on Venus is equal to four months on earth. This would make it extremely difficult for plants to live within the 24hour cycle they adapted to in millions of years. The rotation of a planet cannot be changed yet by human technology and it is still far beyond our possibilities.[2]

Mars is a very dry and cold planet and its atmosphere is too thin to support life. But this can be changed by existing human technology. The length of a day on Mars amounts to 24 hours and 37 minutes. This is similar to a day on earth and plants as well as humans could adapt to this cycle. Because of the planet’s larger distance to the sun than earth a Martian year consists of 687 terrestrial days. The gravitation on Mars amounts to 2/5 of the gravitation on earth (9.81 m/s²). As a result objects would not be as heavy as on earth. Both properties, the lower gravity and length of a Martian year, cause no problem for the terraforming process and settling humans on Mars.

The average surface temperature is about minus 60 degrees Celsius and the pressure of the atmosphere amounts to less than 1/1000 of the atmosphere on earth (1000 mbar). But mankind can change the temperature and the pressure. The stipulations needed already exist on Mars.

On Mars exists enough carbon dioxide (CO2), water, nitrogen and many other chemical elements needed for the terraforming process. Carbon dioxide is the most important chemical because in the case it could be dissolved out of the surface the “Runaway Carbon Dioxide Greenhouse Effect”[3] can be started which would heat up the planet and thicken the atmosphere, resulting in an increase of the pressure of the atmosphere. Still life would not be possible yet because the atmosphere does not consist of enough oxygen. But in a long-term process oxygen could be produced. Last but not least Mars is close enough to earth that travelling through space to reach Mars takes just about nine months.

For all those reasons the “Red Planet” claims to be the best candidate because of the fact that Venus rotation is too slow Mars is the planet in our solar system which is most comparable to earth.

Technological possibilities to terraform Mars

Global warming - The Runaway Greenhouse Effect


As a first step in terraforming Mars, the planet’s atmosphere must be warmed and thickened, that as a result at least some anaerobic[4] bacteria could survive on its surface. This would be the beginning of “ecopoiesis”[5].

The easiest process to achieve this aim in an acceptable amount of time seems to be a global greenhouse effect. Energy used for warming up would then mainly come from the sun, and for the fact that this is the biggest source of energy we have, furthermore free of any costs, it is most reasonable to use it. On Mars carbon dioxide (CO2) is the greenhouse gas most easily available. It traps the warmth of the sun, which can effectively warm up a planet.

To start this process, an initial warming, perhaps only of some degrees, must be produced. The result would be the out-gassing of existing carbon dioxide, at first from the polar caps (particularly the south one), where the gas can be found in frozen form. After some time the warming can also make CO2 bound in the regolith[6] entering the atmosphere.

This additional CO2 would enhance the greenhouse effect and thereby result in a faster temperature rise, which again would result in more evaporated carbon dioxide and other important gases. This positive feedback keeps the process going on (a chain reaction) and would finally create a considerably thicker CO2 – atmosphere.[7]

But two important parameters are still unknown, the amount of carbon dioxide in the ice and regolith on Mars and the energy (and hence the time) necessary to release it from the regolith.[8] As a consequence, estimations on the final CO2 pressure vary from 100 mbar to nearly 2000 mbar. In comparison: Earth has a mean air pressure of 1000 mbar. Furthermore it is not sure if the mean temperature at the end would be above the freezing point of water, 0°C, but some optimistic projections show values of about 20°C.[9]

Beside of these calculations, the main problem in planetary engineering is how to produce the initial heat necessary to start the process. In the following, some ideas to warm up Mars are presented.


Space mirrors


The idea of focussing solar energy on the surface of Mars is the most common proposal concerning the start of the terraforming process. The aim of installing sun-reflecting mirrors is to vaporise the carbon dioxide, which exists in the south polar cap. As a result the carbon dioxide would thicken the atmosphere and therefore contribute to the “Runaway Greenhouse Effect”. Hence Mars would warm up and the pressure of the atmosphere would increase. Robert M. Zubrin and Christopher P. McKay have developed a theory to install a mirror behind Mars.

The mirror would measure 125 kilometres in diameter and operate at the altitude of about 214,000 kilometres above the south polar cap. Using especially manufactured materials the mirror would have a weight of about 200,000 tonnes. A 200,000 tonnes mirror seems to be incredible huge but on earth this mass is equal to the aluminium production of five days. Because of this mass the mirror cannot be produced on earth and afterwards launched into space. In consequence the only option, which can be made use of, is to construct the mirror in space. The needed materials can be dismantled on the Martian moons or nearby asteroids. The stipulation to manufacture a mirror that size would be a space industrialisation.[10] Still this is not impossible since the Znamia project succeeded.

The Znamia (banner) project was tested by the Russians on February 4, 1993. It was of big interest for them since a great part of their country is extremely cold. The mirror had a diameter of twenty meters and its surface consisted of a five-micrometer thin layer of aluminium. This layer had a mass of about four kilograms. After installing the mirror in orbit the five-hour experiment was started. The mirror was pinpointed at the night hemisphere of earth. People living in Canada, Europe and Russia stated that they saw the flashing of the mirror. All in all the project was a full success. Now there are plans to install a set of 200-meter mirrors in order to warm up Russia. Once a while the media report about the progress of this project called “Noviy Svet” (New Light).[11] Therefore it can be taken into consideration when building the orbital mirrors for Mars.

Concerning the mirror reflecting sun light onto Mars it would function as a low angle reflector and would not have to orbit Mars but balancing gravitational forces and light pressure. Consequently the mirror could be focused on the south polar cap and raise the temperature by about 5 degrees Celsius. The subsequent raise of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would result in the increase of the pressure of the Martian atmosphere by approximately 190 millibars in a period of 200 years, which would be 1/5 of the existing pressure on earth.[12]




A very destructive plan for heating up Mars is the redirection of asteroids consisting of ammonia or other greenhouse gases onto the planet. They would thicken the atmosphere and, beside of the short but enormous energy release at the moment of the impact, result in a global greenhouse effect.[13]

Zubrin and McKay propose in their essay to search for ammonia asteroids in the outer solar system. Strange as it may seem, it is easier to move such objects to the “Red Planet” if they originally have a great distance to the sun. They move slower on their orbits than celestial bodies nearer to Mars or Earth, therefore less energy is needed to give them a new course. Additionally, the gravity of intermediate giant planets like Jupiter or Saturn can be used to bring the asteroids onto the right course, which reduces the required acceleration at the beginning. As a result, it would suffice to effect a change in velocity of about 0.3 km/s (~1,100 km/h) for an object with a distance from the sun of twelve AU[14] and a mass of 10 billion tonnes. To direct a similar asteroid from the Main Belt, “only” 1.2 AU away from Mars` orbit, it would be necessary to alter its velocity by 3.0 km/s (~10,800 km/h). In comparison, a Space Shuttle flies with speeds of more than 7 km/s (~25,000 km/h), but the masses of asteroids are incomparably higher.

The required thrust can be reached by installing a propulsion system on the object using a part of its frozen gases as propellant. After an acceleration time of 10 years, during which about 10% of the asteroid’s mass are burned in the engines, the object would have to fly about 20 years before crashing onto Mars.[15]

If the asteroids can be directed to hit existing beds of nitrates, more useful oxygen and nitrogen could be released. One mission would temporarily raise the planet’s temperature by circa three degrees centigrade although incoming ultraviolet radiation rapidly destroys the imported gases. But forty missions, if started annually, could double the amount of nitrogen in the atmosphere and increase the global temperature by about twenty degrees centigrade. Furthermore, the thicker atmosphere would keep the radiation off the surface.[16]

One problem with these plans is the fact that up to now only one ammonia asteroid has been found in the outer solar system. It has a diameter of 180 km instead of 2.6 km as used in the calculations above. But since smaller objects are more difficult to discover, it is possible that there are enough of them to be found. Another problem is that it is too dangerous to have any settlements on Mars during the time of the impact mission. Therefore they can be used as an initial phase of terraforming, but then the gases destroyed by radiation must be replaced by another method.

Concerning the engineering skills, it will be very difficult to accelerate an asteroid with diameters of some kilometres. The rocket systems have to be of high stability, and it is unknown how difficult it is to produce propellant from the asteroid’s matter, or how to mine it.


Artificial greenhouse gases


The greenhouse effect is always based on adding gases to the atmosphere and therefore thickening the atmosphere. On earth this happens today by burning fossil fuels because carbon dioxides are released during the burning process. On Mars carbon dioxide can be gained by warming up the surface. But using other gases than carbon dioxide can accelerate the greenhouse effect. Halocarbon gases (CFCs) have a stronger impact on the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxides because halocarbon gases absorb infrared radiation carrying more energy, which carbon Dioxides cannot absorb.

At the first glance the theories about the warming of the atmosphere on earth due to halocarbon gases could be taken into consideration but at the second glance the involvement of those gases on Mars would be a 1000 times greater than on earth and hence those models would not fit the situation on Mars.[17]

McKay developed two different models how halocarbon gases can be used. In his first model he draw up a cocktail where the gases were only active at a certain wavelength in the infrared spectrum. But the impact on the greenhouse effect would be larger if those gases could become active in the entire infrared light spectrum. Consequently he draws up a second model, which is based on a “uniform gray absorber”. Only such a designed gas mixture produces enough energy to increase the temperature above the freezing point on Mars.

Still the halocarbon gases have a short lifetime expectation on Mars compared to terrestrial conditions. Because of the thin atmosphere the UV radiation would break them up within a few days. On Earth it can take many years before the halocarbon gases are transported from the troposphere into the stratosphere where the UV radiation destroys them. In McKay’s model it would be necessary to produce three trillion tons per year in order to keep the halocarbon gas level high enough in the atmosphere of Mars in order to warm up the planet within 600 years. Till today no ideal cocktail has been developed yet but Martyn J. Fogg gives a list of properties which an ideal cocktail should be composed of:

  1. uniform gray absorption;
  2. strong radiative forcing at low concentrations;
  3. non-destructive to ozone;
  4. long atmospheric lifetime;
  5. resistance to photo dissociation;
  6. non-toxic concentrations;
  7. manufacturable from elements likely to be abundant on Mars.[18]

All in all, artificial greenhouse gases such as halocarbons are most likely to have the strongest impact on the “Runaway Greenhouse Effect”.




Some older models, basing for example on the ideas of Carl Sagan, propose to heat up the polar caps by reducing their albedo[19]. A darkening results in a higher absorption of sunlight by which the caps could be evaporated in about 100 years. The necessary reduction of albedo could be just around a few percent. It is suggested that thin layers of dust or special plants can cover enough ice to effect the required change.

Problems concerning these ideas are the winds that would perhaps blow away large amounts of dust. And before setting out the plants, it would be necessary to have altered atmospherical conditions, so that this method seems to be rather unpractical in the first phase of terraforming.[20]


A method to release gases, which are strongly bound in the regolith on Mars, is the use of buried nuclear explosives.[21] They could also be applied to melt ice reservoirs, which would add water vapour to the atmosphere and thereby increase the greenhouse effect. But it is apparent that the process is connected with a high level of destruction and probably an unacceptable rate of radioactivity.




The model of a global “CO2 Greenhouse Effect” seems to be a promising idea for creating a denser and warmer atmosphere. Although important details about Martian attributes are still unknown, it is probable that the process leads to an atmosphere capable of supporting some primitive organisms and improving the conditions for human settlements, for example by blocking the UV radiation.

The required engineering to trigger a self-driving greenhouse effect is connected with mostly untested methods on a, more or less, large scale. But the ideas, perhaps with the exception of the asteroid project, lay within the foreseeable technological possibilities of the next century. And if some or all of the different plans to warm up the planet would be combined, the process could become quite effective.

Concerning the time scale of this primary phase of terraforming Mars no exact prediction can be made, on the one hand because little is known about resources on Mars and on the other hand because there is no reference in planetary engineering. Estimations about how long it will take to produce the initial warming depend on the different methods and the input of energy and money. Furthermore it is uncertain after which amount of time the runaway greenhouse effect will reach a stable point, depending on the amount of carbon dioxide reservoirs. Some optimistic predictions show an overall length of only some decades, the rather pessimistic values lay around a thousand years and more, but most calculations indicate a duration of approximately one or two centuries.

For these reasons, mankind should well be able to accomplish this first step in creating a new planetary biosphere, but it will certainly be a project for more than one generation.

Oxygenating Mars


In order to make human life possible on Mars it is necessary to create a biosphere that is almost similiar to the biosphere on earth. This is going to be very difficult and will take the most time of the terraforming process.

After warming up the planet and raising the atmospherical pressure the oxygenating of Mars can be started. Primitive plants need approximately one millibar of oxygen and a human needs about 120 millibars of oxygen in order to survive. But at the beginning there is nearly no oxygen in the atmosphere of Mars. As a result the oxygenating process has to be broken up into two phases.

In the first phase the oxygen has to be produced artificially in order to provide simple plants with enough oxygen to survive (one millibar). To produce one millibar of oxygen out of carbon dioxide on Mars it would take 2200 TeraWattYears. On earth approximately 12 TeraWatt are produced within a year. In combination with mirrors in the orbit in order to release oxygen out of the soil such a goal could be achieved within 25 years.[22]

In the second phase plants are distributed on Mars in order to produce more oxygen. Still using mirrors to provide energy in order to create oxygen out of carbon dioxide by chemical processes 120 millibars of oxygen can be produced within 900 years. The required time depends on how much energy can be produced for the artificial oxygenating process.

In the case that there are 120 millibars oxygen in the atmosphere of Mars it will be possible to give up the life supporting systems and live just like on earth. If the process works perfectly there should be no difference to earth.

During the entire process earth will serve as a model. Therefore by oxygenating Mars the results will be useful to understand the development of earth itself. Providing the atmosphere with oxygen will also bring along the process of building up a functioning ecosystem that is stable. All cycles existing on earth have to be reproduced and hence oxygenating Mars will be the most challenging part of the terraforming process.[23]


Overall conclusion


Terraforming Mars is going to be a long-term project that depends on how much energy can be provided to produce mirrors and greenhouse gases, move asteroids and to oxygenate the planet. It also depends on the progress in technological achievements and the interest of the scientists.

For instance, today we possess enough data to begin terraforming Mars but it would take at least 1000 years to finish this process. Therefore existing technology has to be adapted to the Martian surroundings. For example machines have to be very resisting to the UV radiation and cosmic rays; artificial human biospheres have to be able to withstand the strong storms on Mars. Normal excavators cannot be used because of the stony surface. Everything has to be “special”.

A solution has also to be developed for the long journey between Mars and Earth. At the beginning many materials have to be sent to Mars before a colony can be built up and the terraforming process can be started.

The results gained by terraforming Mars will also give details about geoecochemical cycles on earth and help to comprehend them. All in all it can be concluded that as more energy is put into this project as faster Mars will be terraformed and make life possible without technological support.


K. S. Robinson's vision of terraforming Mars


Overall concept


In his trilogy comprising 'Red Mars', 'Green Mars' and 'Blue Mars' Kim Stanley Robinson presents a vision of terraforming Mars. The whole process spans approximately 200 years and results in a planet with an earth like atmosphere and a global ecosystem including vegetation, animals and human civilisation.[24]

The basic process as explained before in this paper mainly consists of a primary phase in which a thick CO2 atmosphere is created and one or more following steps with the goal to form a gas mixture in the atmosphere that fits to human requirements. But Robinson's characters include all necessary planetary engineering in a single-phase model, developing directly to the final state. The fictional terraformers like Sax Russell use nearly all proposed methods and additionally realise some rather uncommon ideas.[25]


Various efforts


As a first step, small windmills are spread over the surface, which produce heat, a completely new idea but one, which does not prove to be very effective, because during more than seventy years they raise the global temperature by only about 0.15 degrees.[26]

Another method used to warm up the atmosphere is the drilling of so-called moholes. Through these shafts with depths of several kilometres, heat from the inner planet can warm up the air. After more than fifty years, the moholes have added circa 5 degrees centigrade to the global temperature of Robinson's Mars. Although it is uncertain to what extend these figures are realistic, the idea of using areothermic[27] energy seems to be quite sensible.[28]

Some alternative terraforming efforts are hold on a quite low level. In the year 2102, a reduced albedo has resulted in a gain of about 2 degrees, and the released heat from nuclear reactors, rather a side effect, has made up about 1.5 degrees of the whole temperature rise.[29]


Greenhouse effect


As in most proposed terraforming scenarios, the greenhouse effect does play a major role in the process depicted in the story. Factories on Mars use carbon, sulphur and fluorides from the regolith to produce several super-greenhouse gases and their output continuously increases over the first decades. The mixture, mainly consisting of halocarbons, is called “Russell Cocktail”, named after the first head of terraforming on Mars, and the text passage even includes a reference to Christopher McKay's work (see p. 9). The fictional calculations concerning the gain of heat from this process after sixty years indicate values around 14 degrees, up to this point the highest temperature value resulting from a single method.[30]

At the same time, additional water vapour and released carbon dioxide have lead to an increase of 10 degrees. In comparison, the model described on page five of this paper results in higher temperature values, because more carbon dioxide could be released in an equal time. But in the Mars Trilogy, many terraformers try to keep the CO2 pressure as low as possible, with the aim to avoid a transitional phase with a dense but highly poisonous atmosphere.[31]




Orbital mirrors can be an effective way to increase the incoming sunlight, and consequently Robinson makes use of this idea in more than one form. Mirrors similar to the type described on page seven of this paper appear in the terraforming process of the story. As an example of multifunctional technologies, they are used as solar sails on spacecraft from Earth before positioned near Mars, balancing sunlight pressure and the planet's gravity. But in contrast to the widely proposed model of focusing the reflected light on the polar caps to evaporate as much carbon dioxide as possible, Sax Russell’s mirror project directs the additional sunlight to regions near the terminator[32]. As a result, the day lasts a bit longer and the given values after approximately fifty years with an ever-increasing amount of mirrors show that this has warmed up the atmosphere by circa 5 degrees.[33]

A considerably larger mirror system is installed during 10 years of mainly robotic construction, beginning in the year 2091. The material of an asteroid called Birch, named after a real world scientist who developed plans for such giant reflectors, is used to produce solar sail material with a thin layer of aluminium. These sheets are arranged to form a ring with a diameter of about 100,000 km, surrounding the whole planet. The reflected light meets at a point called Lagrange One, where the gravitational forces of Mars and the sun are balanced against each other. This has the result that any object in this position stays on a stable orbit between the planet and the sun. Here, an object named “Soletta” is placed, made of solidified silica vapour from two asteroids. Also coated with aluminium, this reflective material is spun into a complex web of slatted rings with an overall diameter of 10,000 km. The construction allows to direct sunlight, which would have passed Mars, via the mirror-ring onto the “Soletta” which reflects it onto the planet, balancing the light pressure from both sides. This method increases the insolation[34] on Mars by 20%, which makes the sun shining as brightly as on Earth. The costs and construction skills in a zero-G-state required for a project on such an enormous scale seem to be hardly achievable in the time Robinson plans in his story, but such a project could be a great step towards a more earth like Mars.[35]

Another technology using energy from the sun is a so-called aerial lens. The structure glides in the upper atmosphere. Its principle function is focusing light on the ground, so that enough heat is produced to melt rocks and release carbon dioxide from the regolith.[36]




The plan to crash ammonia asteroids onto the planet, as proposed by Zubrin and McKay (see p. 8), seems not to be safe enough if human settlements are already present on Mars, like in the story. But also because characters like Sax Russell often avoid very destructive methods, Robinson only includes this idea in a modified way. Instead of objects from the outer solar system, small ice asteroids from nearer orbits are directed to cross Mars on special trajectories. Thereby, they completely burn up in the atmosphere, which increases pressure and humidity on the planet. Beside of the big amount of energy required to accelerate an asteroid, it would surely be difficult to figure out and hold such an exact course that no destruction occurs on the surface. But in the story, robot systems and artificial intelligence develop fast enough to realise this idea by 2052.[37]




As a method to make Mars moister and thereby enable life to spread, aquifers are broken up, leading to glaciers of frozen water covering parts of the surface which later, when global temperatures rise above 0°C, become rivers and lakes and a sea in the Hellas basin, establishing a Martian hydrosphere. Robinson even describes massive drilling operations on the northern hemisphere. In combination with the increasing global temperature and the feedback of the water pressure forcing more ice to rise through the regolith, a real ocean comes into existence.[38] This idea is based on speculations about big water reservoirs under the Martian surface, which could be true. But pumping them up could require an energy input that might better be used for other methods.


Oxygen and Nitrogen


Concerning the basic gas mixture of the atmosphere in a mean altitude, Robinson’s character Sax Russell proposes the following recipe:

300 mbar nitrogen
160 mbar oxygen
30 mbar argon, helium and others
10 mbar carbon dioxide

Together, this would be an air pressure of 500 mbar, similar to high mountain regions on Earth.[39]

In the story, large amounts of nitrogen, the primary atmospherical component but difficult to get on Mars, are imported from Saturn’s moon Titan, a method far beyond the current levels of space flight.

Another long-term process to produce special gases, particularly oxygen, are genetically engineered organisms, spread all over the surface. In Robinson’s vision, this project is started even before the atmospherical conditions have changed, although the first generations of algae and lichens are not very successful. But a fast propagation of following species leads to a growing layer of biological active material which also serves as useful base for more advanced vegetation.




In his trilogy, Robinson depicts the whole transformation of the barren Mars we know to a world with forests and oceans on its surface and animals and humans living under the open sky. This takes place in an improbably short time of less than 200 years and is connected with gigantic technological expenditure. But the basic ideas and principles lay within the considerations shown in the other chapters of this paper and seem to be promising ideas for terraforming Mars.




A wonderful sense of achievement?!

“What I cannot create I do not understand.”

Richard P. Feynman


by Thomas Lagner


At the end of the 19th century there was a science fiction author who was able to write science fictions which described stories no one could ever believe might become reality. One of his well-known and popular books is titled “Journey to the Moon”. The name of this famous author is Jules Verne. About 100 years after this book had been published his story turned out to become reality when Neil Armstrong went for a walk on the moon.

Terraforming Mars will be the ultimate challenge for mankind just like the journey to the moon, the first crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by plane and the colonisation of America. The man in the street always stated that those plans are unrealistic and too difficult to accomplish because of the lack of credibility. Consequently after refusing for many years he had to admit that those great challenges are actually possible.


In libraries already exist many books about terraforming plans giving detailed information how this aim could be approached and there are also many science fiction novels to be read concerning this subject. The problem is once again the credibility of those plans and novels. I have been facing terraforming plans since two months and still carry doubts in those plans because one factor seems always to be let out. I ask myself what the consequence of terraforming will be!

Many authors give detailed information, chemical formulas and financial calculations and some keep it simple in order to make it for everybody plausible. Those plans are basically easy to comprehend which this paper is supposed to prove. Most terraforming plans are based on the “Runaway Greenhouse” effect. The best method to start the Greenhouse effect is a combination of warming up the polar caps by mirrors and soletta, impacts by asteroids and adding CFCs to the atmosphere. In consequence those processes will increase the temperature and atmospheric pressure on Mars. Afterwards the oxygenating process takes place and around a 1000 years later life will just be like on earth. Of course, this is going to be a challenge and the fact that it will take many generations to accomplish this terraforming process deters many people. I personally agree that it is possible to terraform Mars even if those models are not perfect yet. I am certain it would be a sense of achievement at the first glance.


“Homo sapiens is a planet-shaping species”.[40] But does shaping include destroying other planets? If we begin terraforming Mars as a result we will start terraforming other planets to spread humanity into space. But by raising the quantity of planets available to live on we will begin caring less about earth and other earlier terraformed planets. For instance when somebody has ten apples in his bag he will throw the one out that is rotten but when somebody owns just one apple, which is already rotten, he will still try to make the best out of it.

Today earth is already “a bit rotten”. Rainforests are destroyed like on Irian Jaya by dismantling resources, animals die out and huge areas are covered by concrete. Due to the large production of carbon dioxides by the industries the greenhouse effect rises and the polar caps start slowly melting; the result can already be seen by an increase of floods in many countries. Therefore many scientists state that mankind should keep on his mind that earth might not be life supporting some day anymore. It might become too hot to grow plants and the entire northern hemisphere will be a man-made desert. The supply of liquid water will be impossible because all sources are contaminated. Hence mankind would die out just like many animals before and of course this has to be prevented by leaving earth behind like a murderer his victim. But not only this is going to occur: There will also be social, political and economical rivalry between Mars and Earth, which will result in military confrontations. The result will be the destruction of Earth and Mars and a new planet has to be terraformed.


Above all can terraforming be called a sense of achievement when we might forget someday who has made us to whom we are today? Our mother Earth! The death of our mother is going to be the long term consequence of terraforming other planets if mankind does not watch out.

“I cannot create I do not understand” stated Richard P. Feynman but what he let out is that somebody who cannot create the future because he cannot understand the future will also not notice the consequences of the future for the future. Therefore someday people will be excited about settling on Mars but living in this trend they do not think about the consequences just like the first settlers in America; they destroyed the home of the Native Americans.

Still Terraforming is not necessarily bad but before mankind settles on other planets we should have started healing the world we live in today from the wounds we are responsible for. After having reinforced Earth mankind can proudly talk about a sense of achievement when terraforming Mars and spread it like wildfire in the entire universe.

Mars: The next frontier


by Robert Lauer


In the twentieth century, the exploration of space with telescopes, probes and by astronauts lead to many wonderful and unforeseen discoveries. But it also brought a great disappointment to many people. No sign of any kind of life beyond Earth could be found and no world in our solar system has the qualities to enable human life without massive technological support.

As a result, with regard to the future of mankind considering overpopulation and limited resources on Earth, plans are developed to make planets more habitable and to spread life. At a first glance, this process seems to be on a too large scale compared to current technological activities. Some ideas like routinely redirecting asteroids or building mirror systems surrounding whole planets, to my opinion, are a bit too optimistic, even for the next one or two centuries. Particularly, if one considers that, after the landing on the moon, the development of human activity in space has been rather slow.

Furthermore, all “calculations” concerning the amount of time and the results of various efforts are just very speculative estimations. Nearly each scientist works with different figures for similar processes and no one has practical experience. So does it make any sense to do studies in terraformation?

I think it does. As in many other sciences, basic research is very important, even if there seems to be no use in the direct future. Perhaps even completely new technologies are being invented by people inspired by today’s futuristic ideas.

On the other hand, existing technology like the production of artificial greenhouse gases would certainly allow us to make a beginning in terraforming Mars. If it did not work, we would at least learn something.


But should we really do everything we can do? Thinking a bit more optimistically, I would rather ask: Why not?

To my mind, the only decisive reason not to terraform Mars, or any other planet, would be the discovery of indigenous lifeforms. It still seems possible that certain micro organisms live on the present Mars, and like many writers of plans for terraforming, I would reject planetary engineering if such findings were made. Even if a comprehensive search for life would be out of any results, we could probably never be sure if Mars really is completely barren or not. But after an extensive research period of some decades or more, this question would not make much sense any more.

The exploration of Mars' lifeless features is also of great importance, especially for the understanding of planetary development. As terraforming would certainly affect many basic structures, for example the polar caps, an elaborate exploration must be carried out in advance.

In conclusion, I do advocate terraforming projects, if Mars has been thoroughly studied before. With regard to the space programme, this would make the process rather to a project of the 22nd century. But so there is a bit more time to reflect upon the plans, to build up a better space industry, and perhaps to solve some social, political and ecological problems here on Earth.


As a first step for all these ideas, we have to set up a human colony on Mars. It will be a high-technology enterprise and something never made before in mankind’s history. We will need some persons who are willing to spend a bit more money on the future of humanity than to invest it in weaponry, and we will also need people who boldly go where no one has gone before.

But I am sure we can face this challenge.


Mars cannot really be compared with the western America during its colonisation, but it is our next big frontier. We will make it to a new home, whatever this will mean. And when we live there, we will be quite a bit nearer to the stars.


Project diary


Dec 02, 1999
 First meeting; conversation about project possibilities; first ideas to write about terraforming with regard to Venus and the Moon

Dec 02, 1999 till Dec 07, 1999
 Research on terraforming aspects. Discovery of the most important source: www.xs4all.nl/~fwb/rgbmars.html

Dec 08, 1999
 Meeting; decision on the aim of the project: “Terraformig for Dummies”; therefore keeping everything as simple as possible without staying on the surface; Venus and the Moon stay out of our interest

Dec 08, 1999 till Dec 21, 1999
 Reading and Research on terraforming methods; first structure plan for the paper

Dec 22, 1999
 Exchange of collected information; decision to get more into details during the holidays.

Dec 23, 1999 till Jan 11, 2000
 Reading and Research; getting prepared for detailed discussions

Jan 12, 2000
 Meeting: Answering questions, new structure for the paper, working on the mission statement, exchange of data; focussing on certain terraforming ideas: mirrors, asteroids, gases, etc.

Jan 13, 2000
 Meeting: exchanging notes; detailed discussion about terraforming plans; writing down the results; splitting the work for the paper

Jan 14, 2000 till Jan 16, 2000
 Writing parts of the paper; comments

Jan 17, 2000
 Exchange of written work and comments

Jan 18, 2000
 Detailed discussion about content of the work; result: changes in the content of the paper

Jan 19, 2000 till Jan 21, 2000
 Changing and adding of facts to the paper

Jan 22, 2000
 After exchanging point of views first prototype of the paper

Jan 23, 2000 till Jan 24, 2000
 Checking on spelling mistakes and last changes

Jan 25, 2000
 Few detailed discussions about the paper and its content

Jan 26, 2000
 “Last touch”

Jan 27, 2000
 End of project; decision to hand in the paper on Jan 28, 2000

Jan 27, 2000 till Jan 28, 2000
 “Final touch” – Print out

Jan 28, 2000
 Handed in. Short Discussion about project work;




Martyn J. Fogg,  “Terraforming - Engineering Planetary Environments”, 1995.
Martyn J. Fogg, “Terraforming Mars: A Review of Research”, 1998, http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~mfogg/index.htm.
Robert H. Haynes, “How might Mars become a home for humans?”, 1993, http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~mfogg/index.htm.
Christopher P. McKay, „Belebung des toten Planeten“, in Spektrum der Wissenschaft-Dossier, 4/1999.
Kim S. Robinson, “Red Mars”, “Green Mars”, “Blue Mars”, Voyager, 1996.
Robert M. Zubrin and Christopher P. McKay, ”Technological Requirements for Terraforming Mars”, 1993,
Frans Blok, http://www.xs4all.nl/~fwb/rgbmars.html.


[1] cf. Martyn J. Fogg,  “Terraforming - Engineering Planetary Environments”, 1995, p. 219.

[2] cf. Christopher P. McKay, „Belebung des toten Planeten“, in Spektrum der Wissenschaft-Dossier, 4/1999, pp. 48-49;

[3] Martyn J. Fogg, “Terraforming - Engineering Planetary Environments”, 1995, p. 239.

[4] not needing oxygen in order to live;

[5] Robert H. Haynes, “How Might Mars Become a Home for Humans?”, 1993;

[6] name for soil on Mars;

[7] cf. Matyn J. Fogg, “Terrafoming Mars: A Review of Research”, 1998;

[8] cf. Robert M. Zubrin and Christopher. P. McKay,., “Technological Requirements for Terraforming Mars”, 1993;

[9] cf. Robert M. Zubrin and Christopher. P. McKay,., “Technological Requirements for Terraforming Mars”, 1993.

[10] cf. Robert M. Zubrin and Christopher P. McKay, ”Technological Requirements for Terraforming Mars”, 1993;

[11] cf. Martyn J. Fogg,  “Terraforming - Engineering Planetary Environments”, 1995, p. 181;

[12] cf. Martyn J. Fogg,  “Terraforming - Engineering Planetary Environments”, 1995, p. 304.

[13] cf. Robert M. Zubrin, and Christopher P. McKay, “Technological requirements for Terraforming Mars”, 1993;

[14] 1 AU: mean distance from the sun to Earth, circa 150 million km;

[15] cf. Robert M. Zubrin and Christopher P. McKay, “Technological requirements for Terraforming Mars”, 1993;

[16] cf. Robert M. Zubrin and Christopher. P. McKay,., “Technological Requirements for Terraforming Mars”, 1993.

[17] cf. Christopher P. McKay, „Belebung des toten Planeten“, in Spektrum der Wissenschaft-Dossier, 4/1999, p. 50;

[18] cf. Martyn J. Fogg,  “Terraforming - Engineering Planetary Environments”, 1995, p. 237.

[19] value for the amount of light reflected from a planet or another celestial body;

[20] cf. Martyn J. Fogg, “Terraforming Mars: A Review of Research”, 1998;

[21] cf. Martyn J. Fogg, “Terraforming Mars: A Review of Research”, 1998.

[22] cf. Robert M. Zubrin and Christopher P. McKay, ”Technological Requirements for Terraforming Mars”, 1993;

[23] cf. Martyn J. Fogg,  “Terraforming - Engineering Planetary Environments”, 1995, pp. 69-77.

[24] see also appendix, p. 45;

[25] cf. Kim S. Robinson, “Green Mars”, Voyager, 1996, pp.260-261;

[26] cf. Kim S. Robinson, “Red Mars”, Voyager, 1996, p. 179;

[27] parallel to geothermic, but referring to Mars (areo-) instead of Earth (geo-);

[28] cf. Kim S. Robinson, “Green Mars”, Voyager, 1996, p.261;

[29] cf. Kim S. Robinson, “Green Mars”, Voyager, 1996, p.262.

[30] cf. Kim S. Robinson, “Green Mars”, Voyager, 1996, p.262;

[31] cf. Kim S. Robinson, “Green Mars”, Voyager, 1996, pp.260-262;

[32] moving borderline between day and night on a planet;

[33] cf. Kim S. Robinson, “Green Mars”, Voyager, 1996, p.261;

[34] incoming sunlight;

[35] cf. Kim S. Robinson, “Green Mars”, Voyager, 1996, pp.177-179;

[36] cf. Kim S. Robinson, “Green Mars”, Voyager, 1996, p.179.

[37] cf. Kim S. Robinson, “Red Mars”, Voyager, 1996, p.318;

[38] cf. Kim S. Robinson, “Green Mars”, Voyager, 1996, pp.159-160;

[39] cf. Kim S. Robinson, “Green Mars”, Voyager, 1996, p.262.

[40]Martyn J. Fogg,  “Terraforming - Engineering Planetary Environments”, 1995, p. 194.