NASA is currently developing plans for sending manned missions to Mars. There has even been talk of establishing permanent colonies on Mars and even of terraforming the planet. Imagine a Mars of the future with oceans, lakes, and rivers– teeming with life, and enjoying a temperate climate. Mars could be the first experiment of the terraformation of planets throughout the galaxy which our species may one day inhabit.
But before we get too ambitious perhaps we should try our hand at terraforming some of the currently uninhabitable lands of our own planet. About twenty percent of all terrestrial land is desert, most of which is uninhabited. Why don’t we demonstrate our terraforming prowess on a vast terrestrial wasteland such as the Sahara before we attempt to transform another planet?
The Sahara is about 3.6 million square miles, about the same area as the United States. It has the highest sand dunes in the world– some as much as 590 feet high. The Sahara receives less than 4 inches of rain a year, and a large portion receives less than an inch.
Transforming the Sahara into lush, arable land may seem daunting, but why would anyone think that terraforming Mars will be less difficult? The Sahara is inhospitable, arid, and hot. Mars is inhospitable, arid, and cold. If we can demonstrate that it is possible to tame the Sahara then there might be reason to believe that we could one day do the same for Mars.
Think of the challenges. The winds of the Sahara can blow at hurricane force. When the rains come they are torrential. Dunes drift across the landscape like waves on the surface of the sea. And there are neither flora nor fauna in vast regions of the deep desert. How can humans improve such an immense wasteland?
The most feasible approach would be to begin at the periphery and transform sand to soil mile by mile. Water can be extracted from atmospheric humidity. Solar power is available year round. Resources are available and can be exploited, should anyone think it worth doing. Why do we think it is more noble to terraform Mars than to make the Sahara habitable? Millions of people could benefit today from the transformation of the Sahara. Any benefits the terraformation of Mars might return would only be realized in future generations.
Of course there are national borders to consider. The bulk of the Sahara exists within the bounds of a number of African nations known for instability and civil war. Perhaps the venture is just too risky to pursue.
But will it be different on Mars? Once humans begin to colonize Mars– or any other planet– claims to national sovereignty will be made, borders will be claimed, and battles over those claims will likely be fought. Anyone who thinks that Mars will provide a clean slate from which to build a pristine paradise simply hasn’t thought deeply about human nature.
There are a great many technologies that can be developed and tested today, here, on planet Earth for the terraformation of inhospitable lands. We don’t need to travel to another planet to prove them out– we can do that here, now. And millions of people could benefit immediately from such a bold vision today.
Copyright (c) 2020, David S. Moore
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