Strolling in the Forests of Mars

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The idea of terraforming other planets, especially Mars, to make them habitable for people has long been a staple theme in science fiction. But science fiction has a way of becoming science fact. At the moment Mars' atmosphere is too thin and too cold to support earth life. But NASA and Mexican scientists are researching how to plant a forest on Mars. They are particularly interested in how trees manage to survive in the inhospitable environment of Mexico's highest volcano. Reuters reports:

Scientists are using the pine-forested slopes of a Mexican volcano as a test bed to see if trees could grow on a heated-up Mars, part of a vision of making the chilly and barren red planet habitable for humans one day.

Planetary scientists at NASA and Mexican universities believe if they can warm Mars using heat-trapping gases, raise the air pressure and start photosynthesis, they could create an atmosphere that would support oxygen-breathing life forms…

By pumping in highly insulating gases like methane or nitrous oxide, the scientists think they could heat Mars to 41 degrees Fahrenheit from minus 67 F now. That would match temperatures where trees grow at 13,780 feet on Pico de Orizaba.

Having trees on Mars, as opposed to only simple plant forms like algae or lichens, would open the possibility of humans one day being able to breathe Martian air.

The scientists are studying what makes trees refuse to grow above a certain point, where temperatures drop and the air becomes thinner, to see how easily they could grow on Mars…

"It's possible Mars could have trees in 100 years. (But first) we need to understand what sets the tree line on Earth," McKay said by telephone from NASA's Ames center in California.

Scientists are already using biotech to tinker with plants in a quest to adapt them to the harsh conditions of the red planet.

Bonus issue: If Mars should turn out to have indigenous life of some type, should humanity forgo terraforming the planet?

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  1. The Prime Directive forbids it number one.

  2. “It’s possible Mars could have trees in 100 years. (But first) we need to understand what sets the tree line on Earth,” McKay said by telephone from NASA’s Ames center in California.

    Um, I’m going to call bullshit on this and say no. No known water, no oxygen, so no. Yes, I’m aware that plants produce oxygen, but they also need it to burn the sugars that they produce from sunlight. I’m pretty sure that they need at least a little bit of oxygen to get things going while they set up their oxygen production capabilities.

    Besides, even if the first tree on Mars produces a metric shitload of oxygen, all that oxygen will diffuse away, so it won’t have any to use for burning the sugar that it produces from CO2.

  3. Bonus issue: If Mars should turn out to have indigenous life of some type, should humanity forego terraforming the planet?

    No.

    I’m not going all touchy-feelly “all life forms have the right to develop in their own way” Carl Sagan-ish here.

    I just think a biology that developed independently of ours is too scientifically valuable to risk destroying.

  4. But NASA and Mexican scientists are researching how to plant a forest on Mars. They are particularly

    Cue the nativist assholes who think American Scientists would do this job if only the wages were higher in one….two….three……..

  5. I agree with MikeP!

    I’m afraid that their scientists will LetTheMartian menaceInto OUrCoNtry.

  6. thoreau: Part of the article I didn’t cite in the blog post suggests inoculating Mars with oxygen producing bacteria to jump start the process.

  7. Thoreau, why do you have to be such a mean scientist?

    🙂

  8. This has to be one of biggest wastes of taxpayer dollars I have seen in quite awhile.

  9. Pretty soon we’ll need to build a wall to keep the Martians out.

  10. “… Mars was a dreary uninhabitable wasteland, much like Utah, but unlike Utah Mars was eventually made livable.”

    Professor Hubert Farnsworth explaining Fry about the planet Mars.

    I’m pretty sure all they need to do is find the giant alien reactor.

  11. I’d say yes. I’m not going all hard-assed “human progress is conterminus with the destruction of the environment” Dick Cheney here.

    I just think that the environmental value of an ecosystem is best measured in its diversity and level of biotic activity, not its stasis or the absence of human involvement.

    In most cases, here on earth, when we screw with an ecoystem, it reduces those factors. The problem with invasive species, for example, isn’t that God doesn’t want the plants he put in Asia to grow anywhere else; it’s that species like kudzu or phragmytes don’t have natural predators in North America, so they grow out of control and end up dominating the ecosystem, squeezing out native plants and providing inferior food or habitat for other species, resulting in a net loss of diversity and a net loss of biotic activity.

    That’s not what we’re talking about on Mars.

  12. All I can think of right now is the South Park episode where the kids take a whale to Mexico so they can send it home to the moon so it can be with it’s family.

  13. Pretty soon we’ll need to build a wall to keep the Martians out.

    And it will have a built in network of speakers that will loudly loop Slim Whitman’s greatest hits.

  14. MEXICAN? MARTIAN? They sound suspiciously similar. Coincidence?

  15. I don’t see how they can do this without putting big clear bubble tents around the ‘forests’. I’d prefer to see O’Neill Colonies myself.

    Life on Mars? Might be worth exploiting for the life sciences/industries. (Like Joe I don’t worship Gaia, despite appearances due to broad brush painting from teh right, so why should I worship Ares? ((actually i think I worship Athena ala Cryptonomicon)))

  16. a photosynthetic algae or bacteria is probably a better solution than trees, but then again unleashing intergalaztic kudzu may not be the ebst idea

  17. Once you plant trees on mars, there’s no way environmentalists will let you strip mine it.

  18. Smart to put landscaping there first so the Mexicans have jobs when the get there.

  19. Smart to put landscaping there first so the Mexicans have jobs when the get there.

    Ayatollah Usoe wins the thread.

    And, in light of his comment, I again have to say that I agree with MikeP.

  20. “Forego” or “forgo”?

  21. Having trees on Mars, as opposed to only simple plant forms like algae or lichens

    Lichens? We don’t need no stinking lichens!

  22. As I recall, some recent studies imply that there might be water under the surface of Mars. And Martian soil contains oxygen, I think, in the form of iron oxide.
    So a couple key ingredients might be there, thus the idea of terraforming Mars is not completely nutty.
    I also seem to recall that Mars’ gravity is a bit weak to sustain an atmosphere over a geologically long period of time, so replenishment might be a concern.
    (Hmmm, so many things about Mars I’ve forgotten. Guess I need to make another trip back there.)
    One aspect of this that bothers me is that it seems a bit self-serving. A lot of Martian research seems to be deliberately aimed at proving that life could exist there, and therefore justifies the goal of sending humans there to explore Mars and colonize it.

  23. Bonus issue: If Mars should turn out to have indigenous life of some type, should humanity forego terraforming the planet?

    NO. Fuck the Martians, it is our planet now.

    Marvin the Martian was never so considerate about our planet.

  24. jf: right you are. Will fix. Thanks.

  25. OMG, this is the fucking stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of.

  26. Gah! ^^ is mine

  27. “There can’t be so much as a microbe or the show’s off!”

    -Dr. Carol Marcus

  28. KAHNNNNNNN!!!

  29. No terraforming say I! Hands off Mars!

    Details here:
    http://jackwilliambell.livejournal.com/173651.html

    The quick summary? Ecologically and economically terraforming Mars makes no sense. Not when there are cheaper and better alternatives. The only reason to terraform a planet is a lack of imagination.

  30. In the spirit of this venture, I’m hoping to convert lead to gold. I just need some funding. Anyone?

  31. I don’t have much of a science background (except watching National Geographic and Discovery Science), but it seems the idea of teraforming Mars to make it habitable by pumping green house gases into the atmosphere will always be science fiction, due to the lack of a magnetic field and a wobbly axis. Even if there is breathable air, you’ll still be fried by radiation and the climate would be highly unstable.

  32. I say terraform the bitch.

  33. Well, I just found out that I’m a racist bastard. When I heard the words “Mexican scientist” it was all I could do to keep from laughing.

  34. Exploit Mars all you want, but please, please, don’t touch Uranus.

  35. Bonus issue: If Mars should turn out to have indigenous life of some type, should humanity forgo terraforming the planet?

    The real question is whether we should Marsiform Terrans.

  36. LarryA,

    According to Fred Pohl, that means having our testicles removed. Destroy the Martian ecosystem or feel the collective screams of all male humans? I say screw the Martians.

  37. Good idea. Then we can complain about global climate change on another globe.

  38. As the saying goes, the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago, the second best time is today. The only thing that worries me is whether Mr. Bailey has invested in Martian timber rights.

  39. The only thing that worries me is whether Mr. Bailey has invested in Martian timber rights.

    Indeed. Given how tall those trees would grow, my guess is that Ron is shilling for Red Planet Redwood Inc.

  40. Yes, please, let’s terraform Mars. Post haste!

    “So c’mon Libertarians, lets go! To the colonies! This message brought to you by the Shimago-Dominguez Corporation…”

    Out here.

  41. Well, as long as it’s not Weyland-Yutani…

  42. DANCE, SULU, DANCE!

    WHAT? THIS ISN’T THE SULU THREAD?

  43. Just nuke the site from orbit. It’s the only way to be sure.

    A real shake and bake job.

    MAO! MAO![SLAP SLAP] MAO!

  44. Yeah, Baily is just shilling for Big Wood.

  45. I say we put a big lasso around it and pull it closer to Earth, because I don’t want to have a 5 minute delay in the transmission of Monday Night Football.

  46. jf
    “Forego” or “forgo”?

    “forgoe”

  47. I can’t resist…

    For God’s sake, would someone VK Urkobold?? I don’t think he’s human….

    Out here.

  48. MIKE TWIN CITIES:

    MAYBE. ONLY MORE EVIL!!!!!!!

    *takes it from joe.
    **catapults kitten against an old board

  49. Far be it for me to interpret the Urkobold, but I think it means “before joe”.

    mike_twincities,

    Well, Dr. Urkobold did apply the V-K empathy test on highnumber. Who failed.

  50. Yeah, Baily is just shilling for Big Wood.

    Heh heh.

  51. I knew it! I always suspected this board was rife with non-humans!

    Maybe I better take that test myself!!

    Out here…gotta go fix some latops.

  52. I think it means “before joe”.

    urjoe?

  53. > NASA and Mexican scientists are researching how to plant a forest on Mars.

    Shouldn’t they be spending money on how to get there, or on if it’s at all possible to have humans such a long time out of the Earth radiation shield ? Or at least making internet radio cheaper ?

    Anyway those are your tax money, and you still win, since my tax money are supporting bio-no-tillage farms in Germany, which is a lot less fun.

  54. Bailey wrote “But science fiction has a way of becoming science fact.”
    What kind of bullshit is this Bailey? Are you drunk?
    Most science fiction, 99.99% does NOT become fact.
    YOU SHOULD KNOW THAT.

    Three years and 100 bucks plus my precious time!
    I want my fucking money back.

  55. Uh, I’m fairly certain it would be easier to grow trees in the Sahara Desert, or in Antarctica, than it would be to do so on Mars. I understand that the idea of planting a forest on another planet has a Romantic appeal, but if we can’t even make relatively inhospitable areas on our own planet bloom, what are the chances we’ll succeed in the far more inhospitable environment of another?

  56. Archejoe? Protojoe? Mojoe?

    crimethink,

    Clearly, you haven’t been to Vegas.

  57. I have a cunning plan. The United States should say that any operation based on Mars is not subject to U.S. taxes and tariffs, export restrictions, etc. Porn, gambling, drugs, etc. are all okay, provided that they come from or are run from Mars.

    We’d have a city with a nice forest on Mars within ten years.

  58. I think it means “before joe”.

    bj.

    I do intend to institute Year Zero when I come to power.

    empiler,

    Shouldn’t they be spending money on how to get there, or on if it’s at all possible to have humans such a long time out of the Earth radiation shield ?

    Not necessarily. It would be quite a bit easier to shoot a capsule of seeds from the terraforming plants onto Mars than to put people there. During the time it takes us to figure out the second question, the seeds are growing.

  59. antejoe

  60. joe,

    Will you be instituting the transition to Asimovian Caves of Steel right on Year Zero, or later on? I’m going to Aurora to live a futile, long-lived existence with my hot Spacer wife (that would be Mrs. Libertate) and five hundred robot slaves, but I’ll be sure to keep an eye on your regime’s activities.

    Ta, ta!

  61. Pro Libertate: it would only result in having a big proxy server set on Mars. The drugs and gambling might work, though. Gambling worked for Vegas, at least.

    joe: well, I’d rather have NASA and ESA (they’re wasting my money on “simulating” weightlessness by keeping women in bed when there are thousands of bedridden patients to get the data …) and RKA spend money on new rocket engines and rocket fuels. I don’t care about Mars, and I think getting there first is a lame idea. The asteroid belt is much more interesting and potentially much more useful.

  62. emilper,

    Well, yeah, the law would need to have some specific provisions addressing what it takes to constitute “residency” on Mars. To begin with, each company will need at least 100 people on the planet.

  63. Anything’s smarter than human space flight right now.

  64. Fine, fine. But will I be able to spend my pesos there?

  65. Oh, and Happy 38th Anniversary of the First Moon Landing to everyone! How pathetic. I thought we’d be doing better than this.

  66. PL

    Yeah. I was thinking about the landing this morning, too.

    I remember watching the live broadcast. That pause between “Engine Shutdown” and “Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has Landed.” was absolutely heartstopping.

    12 men on the moon. Since then, no one’s gone beyond 750 km out. sigh.

  67. Aresen,

    It just pisses me off to no end. I can’t specifically remember watching the earliest Apollo missions live (I was pretty young), though I know that I did. I remember clearly Apollo 17, though. Glad I watched it. I’ll be an old man before we go back.

    My dad was working with a NASA subcontractor during Apollo, so I ate, lived, and breathed space as a child.

    Politics and everything else aside, there’s something truly pathetic about us doing that and not following it up.

  68. Um, I’m going to call bullshit on this and say no. No known water, no oxygen, so no.

    Well, no conclusive proof of water, anyway. But there’s some evidence leaving the possibility open:

    http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/mars/news/mgs-20061206.html

    But on the whole, I agree the case for trees on Mars in 100 years has more basis is wishful thinking than known facts.

    No terraforming say I! Hands off Mars!

    Heh. See Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars.

    Bonus issue: If Mars should turn out to have indigenous life of some type, should humanity forgo terraforming the planet?

    Too many variables to answer that one. How advanced is the indigenous life? Would terraforming necessarily be destructive to it? Are native preserves a possibility?

  69. I think the reason people like to talk about terraforming mars is that it’s nice to imagine we could make a whole new world from scratch. And if we fuck it up, who cares. It was a dirt ball anyway.

  70. Terraforming Mars is interesting and all, but you know what we really need to figure out first? How to land something larger than a ton there safely:

    Some proponents of human missions to Mars say we have the technology today to send people to the Red Planet. But do we? Rob Manning of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory discusses the intricacies of entry, descent and landing and what needs to be done to make humans on Mars a reality.

    There’s no comfort in the statistics for missions to Mars. To date over 60% of the missions have failed. The scientists and engineers of these undertakings use phrases like “Six Minutes of Terror,” and “The Great Galactic Ghoul” to illustrate their experiences, evidence of the anxiety that’s evoked by sending a robotic spacecraft to Mars – even among those who have devoted their careers to the task. But mention sending a human mission to land on the Red Planet, with payloads several factors larger than an unmanned spacecraft and the trepidation among that same group grows even larger. Why?

    Nobody knows how to do it.

  71. MEXICAN? MARTIAN? They sound suspiciously similar. Coincidence?

    Dude even weirder…the three letters that are similar…The M at the beginning and the AN at the end…

    Spell “MAN”!

  72. 12 men on the moon. Since then, no one’s gone beyond 750 km out. sigh.

    dude the Voyager probe is going to be so pissed at you when she gets back.

  73. **************************
    Can’t believe I didn’t find this tread earlier. NOTE to Reason web-guy: Threads popping up in the middle of the page is fucking annoying and damned inconvenient and unfun besides.
    **************************

    Short answer: Mars is too small
    Longer answer: Mars can’t hold an atmosphere. While this is partially due to its low gravitational field, it is mostly due to the lack of a magnetosphere. Mars is a solid rock with no molten iron core. Without a magnetosphere, the solar winds just blow the atmosphere away.

    I guess you could replace it as fast as it blows away, but that pleads the question, Where are you going to find all that gas? And how are you going to “pump” it to Mars? Sorry I didn’t RTFA

  74. Pain wrote, “I think the reason people like to talk about terraforming mars is that it’s nice to imagine we could make a whole new world from scratch. And if we fuck it up, who cares. It was a dirt ball anyway.”

    Think of the reality TV possibilities: “Next, on TLC, you can make a fortune if you can only ‘Flip that Planet’!”

  75. Warren,
    Mar’s interior isn’t a solid rock; but it is very different from earth. The Crust of Mars is solid though, and so it can’t process a carbon cycle or naturally release much gasses from the interior to the atmosphere as Earth does. It’s high and often wobbly tilt (no big Martian Moon to offer stability), combined with a rather eliptical orbit would make the long-term climate of an exposed surface too much. Only covered greenhouse domes/whatnot make sense for Martian colonization.

    Instead go with the O’Neil Colonies!

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