Wednesday, January 14, 2004

The Trouble with Terraforming

With President Bush days away from ambitious promises to reinvigorate human space exploration/colonization, bizarre notions like the terraforming of Mars will likely return to the sphere of public discussion. Terraforming, or converting Mars into a place more like Earth (you know, like they did in Star Trek II), is popular for the obvious reason that if you're going to visit a place, you might as well be able to breathe once you're there.

Even the science-fictionally hypnotized will admit that terraformation is centuries away, so the ethics of terraforming have plenty of time to develop. However, the current wave of Mars Rovers could add grist to this future mill by finding life.

If we discover evidence of past life on Mars, we'll celebrate. If we discover current life on Mars, we'll dance in the streets. Either outcome will make our lonely universe seem a little less vacant. Though discovering present life on Mars would be undeniably pleasing (if incredibly unlikely), it would complicate our long-term ambitions for terraforming Mars into Earth Lite.

Augmenting Mars from dry, wrecked desert into a place habitable for plant and animal life could easily annihilate anything presently living on the Red Planet. Though life capable of eking out an existence on current Mars would be a candidate for success on an Earth-like Mars, it seems more likely (if likely is an appropriate term this complete fantasy) that Mars' transformation would be these little beings' undoing.

So what will it be? Another haven for humans, or a pristine Mars for (hypothetical) wee Martians?

(BTW, my comment provider has had quite a quibble with his ISP, so commenting will reappear after BlogSpeak returns or I find another gratis provider worth integrating.)

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