Thursday, January 27, 2022

Will we terraform Mars?

| January 11, 2022 1:00 AM

Since joining NASA in 1980, retiring chief planetary scientist Jim Green has shaped much of NASA’s scientific inquiries and overseen missions across the solar system. He’s helped us understand Earth’s magnetic field, explore the outer solar system and look for life on Mars.

Man has been searching for life on Mars since the first Viking mission in the 1970s, or a lot longer if you count fantasy novels. Using a scale called the “confidence of life detection” (CoLD), scientists have “unearthed” some evidence of possible alien life (past or current). There’s plenty of carbon dioxide and methane, for example; lifeforms on Earth produce more than 90% of its methane.

Yes, Mars is super cold, but with a little more work Green says we could terraform Mars and one day make it habitable for humans. A giant magnetic shield could stop the sun from stripping the red planet’s atmosphere and raise the surface temperature.

Venus is another possibility for terraforming, Green told the New York Times. Many millions of years ago, it was more like Earth – a “blue” planet. Go back another billion or so, and so was Mars until it lost its magnetic field and dried out. NASA hopes to bring back soil samples from a Mars mission launched in 2021, looking for microbes which could prove terraforming is possible.

Pretty exciting stuff, even if you’re not a space nerd.

2021 was a big year for Mars exploration. NASA’s Perseverance rover landed and is slated to collect those anticipated soil samples. The United Arab Emirates and China both sent space vehicles to Mars. In an exciting close to 2021, NASA launched the James Webb Space Telescope, which promises to shine new light on the celestial past that could help explain everything from black holes to life on Mars – all of which could help humans better accomplish other space aims.

This year, the moon is supposed to get more traffic too, with nine visits planned (five unmanned robotic missions from NASA, as well as missions from New Zealand and others, including public-private partnerships). Russia, Japan and South Korea are talking about moon rovers and orbiters.

The moon may not seem exciting anymore, but it’s handy to have a potential base nearby and we learn a lot from space travel and experiments, some with ramifications in the medical field. The ISS is still around, and China is building its own space station. All this activity is encouraging after NASA decommissioned its shuttle program and many stargazers wondered if we’d never venture past our own atmosphere again in our lifetimes.

We will.

Apologies to scientists for any poor wording revealing my liberal arts education. For more specifics on upcoming missions, check out NASA’s list at

Sholeh Patrick is a columnist for the Hagadone News Network who fantasizes about exploring space from the comfort of the Enterprise-D. Email

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