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The literal meaning of terraformation can be described by dividing the word into parts: terra—the earth, and formation—the process of giving form or shape. There is not as of yet a universal definition of terraformation, but it can be described most generally by the following definition:
“Terraforming is a process of planetary engineering, specifically directed at enhancing the capacity of an extraterrestrial planetary environment to support life. ”
The ultimate in terraforming would be to create an unconstrained planetary biosphere emulating all the functions of the biosphere of the earth—one that would be fully habitable for human beings.
The purpose and long-term goal of space exploration should be to permanently establish the human presence into space and to make conditions necessary to permit new civilizations to grow and prosper independently from the Earth. Migration and colonization to hostile environments have been traits of biological evolution for billions of years. A recent letter to the editor of Space News titled “Meaning of Life” expresses one reader’s point of view: “We should be going to Mars not mainly as paleontologists, but as pioneers. We should be going to Mars not to learn about its past, but to understand its prospects for our future.”
The major steps to fully complete terraforming Mars consist of the following: raise planet surface temperature, raise atmospheric pressure, make the surface wet, change atmospheric chemical composition, and reduce the surface flux of ultraviolet radiation.
The utmost treasure with a terraformed Mars is the birth of an independent space-faring civilization and the opportunity to expand human ingenuity. A colossal endeavor such as terraforming Mars will require an undivided global commitment. It may be opposed as a skeptical, exploitative undertaking and will certainly face several ethical, political, and legal barriers.
REFERENCES: Fogg, Martyn J. Terraforming: Engineering Planetary Environments. Warrendale: Society of Automotive Engineers, Inc., 1995.
Liss, Jeffrey G. “Meaning of Life.” Commentary: Letters. Space News (Sept. 9-15, 1996) Vol. 7 No. 35:14.