Is Mars Terraforming possible using present-day technology?

Terraforming has long been featured by science fiction writers. And it describes the possibility of having an inhabitable environment or an Earth-like environment on another planet. Scientists even feel terraforming is necessary for Mars colonization. Both Mars and Earth engage in the release of carbon dioxide gas that is hidden in the Martian surface, this, in turn, thickens the atmosphere and provides warmth for the planets.

However, Mars is not capable of retaining enough carbon dioxide to be able to warm the planet for human survival. According to a recent study by NASA, The process of transforming Mars into a hospitable environment that can sustain us without the need for life support is far beyond today’s technological capability.

Even though the Martian atmosphere is mostly made up of carbon dioxide, it cannot support liquid water because it’s too thin, and the liquid water is a significant ingredient for life sustainability. While on Mars, the pressure of the atmosphere cannot be compared to that of the Earth’s atmosphere because it’s less than 1% of the earth’s. hence, it freezes any liquid water on the surface almost instantly.

“This infographic shows the various sources of carbon dioxide on Mars and their estimated contribution to Martian atmospheric pressure”. Credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center

Supporters of Mars terraforming proposed a gas release from various sources on the Red planet to increase its temperature to a state where it can sustain liquid water and thicken the atmosphere as well. Due to their ability to warm the planet and trap heat, they are known as “greenhouse gases”. Water vapor (H2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2) are the two greenhouse gasses that are perceived to be present on Mars enough to sustain and provide greenhouse warming.

Several studies and research have been evaluating the possibility of Mars terraforming and researchers have acknowledged the occurrence of CO2 in polar ice and the existence of carbon-bearing minerals with the aid of data from NASA Mars Odyssey spacecraft and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

The results of the study proved that there is insufficient carbon dioxide present on Mars to provide adequate greenhouse warming assuming gas was to be pumped into the atmosphere. Also, Most of the carbon dioxide present could not be accessed and mobilized. So the study ended with the conclusion that terraforming Mars is impossible with the present level of technological advancements.

Even though Mars is still inhospitable to human life till date, some elements that are like river beds and mineral deposits that can only result from water proved that the Martian climate supported liquid water in the past to have existed at the surface. However, solar wind and radiation are capable of removing this carbon dioxide and water vapor from the Martian atmosphere.

Scientists have purported that volatiles could be imported by redirecting asteroids and comets to hit the Red planet. However, this is not a practical approach as it requires thousands of them. Conclusively, studies so far have proven that terraforming Mars is not possible with present-day technology. Hence, further attempts have to be in the distant future.