Could humans specialize in terraformation? If we focused on increasing our knowledge of planet habitability, and the methods of terraforming, could our species be known as ‘terraformers’?

Could we specialize in terraformation? It would be nice.

Unfortunately, focused or not, terraforming is not realistic. Look at Mars. The problem is not creating an atmosphere. The problem is keeping it and protecting people there from dangerous rays from the sun. You see, Mars has no organized magnetic North or South. Without a magnetic field the people there would die of exposure. Furthermore, without sufficient gravity to hold in the atmosphere, it would blow away by rays from the sun. Mars simply cannot be terraformed. It doesn’t matter whether you focus or not.

Will the moon or Mars have the first permanent human population?

In my opinion, hopefully neither place because there is no valuable reason for humans other than our robots to establish a presence in either place. Robots are expendable and you don’t have to bring them back. They can transmit what they find. Both are dead planets. Both have no reason to settle there.

What are the most depressing things about space exploration?

It is far easier to create a living quarter on the floor of the Pacific, maybe even in a deep trench, than to live on the surface of Mars.

by Richard Muller
Richard Muller is Prof. Physics UC Berkeley and author of “Physics for Future Presidents”

Most of the universe out there is pretty bleak. The planets and their moons look like exotic but very severe places to visit. They wouldn’t be much fun to explore, except remotely. Unlike the exploration of the New World in the 1500s and 1600s, will be completely dependent on the resources of a major country or company just to survive. It will be a totally artificial survival.

It is far easier to create a living quarter on the floor of the Pacific, maybe even in a deep trench, than to live on the surface of Mars. We are not running out of space on Earth. Even Antarctica is far more benign than any planetary surface other than that of the Earth.

I once invited Wally Shirra to speak at a meeting on the exploration of the planets. I had no idea what he was going to say, but as someone who had “been there” I knew it would be interesting. When he spoke, he said that he knew what it was like in space, and that it was awful. Yes, you get some nice views, but space is constantly trying to kill you. He said he had no interest in going back; been there, done that, and it was exciting but exceedingly difficult. He suggested that the best way to explore the universe was with robots, like Voyager, not with people.

I agree. We can do a much finer exploration of Mars and the other planets/moons if we spend the money on advanced robotics, and not on the unnecessary human.
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Wayne Boyd
Professor Muller, thank you for your refreshing take. I have a blog and express my opinions here on Quora reiterating your views of space and Mars. People call me crazy and send me hate mail. Truth hurts sometimes.

What happens when we plant tree on Mars?

Mars is one of the most habitable planets in the solar system besides Earth. But don’t let that fool you — that says more about the rest of the planets in the solar system than it does about Mars.

By Matt Lever

Nothing.

“But… but Mars has CO2 in the atmosphere, soil, and sunlight!” I hear you reply.

Mars has an atmosphere, sure. But it’s atmosphere is so incredibly tenuous in comparison to Earth’s that it may as well not be there at all, at least so far as a respirating organism is concerned. Partially thanks to this, it is also perishingly cold, particularly at night. Siberia would seem like Tunisia in comparison.

And yes, Mars has soil. It’s dead soil, though. Not only is it not going to be nutritious to a burgeoning plant baby, but it would also be toxic. To say nothing of how frigid and dry it is.

And it may well receive sunlight, but only about half as much as we get on Earth. Contrariwise, Mars lacks an effective magnetosphere, so much more radiation gets down to the surface. So even if that first shoot somehow forced its way out of the toxic, perishingly cold, infertile soil, and somehow managed to suck out some CO2 from that tenuous, dry atmosphere, it would be starved of light and irradiated.

And then blown away by ferocious winds and torn apart by sandstorms.

Mars is one of the most habitable planets in the solar system besides Earth. But don’t let that fool you — that says more about the rest of the planets in the solar system than it does about Mars. As it stands now, planting a tree there would just be a seed funeral.