As CNet notes, Elon Musk, the irrepressible CEO of SpaceX and Tesla, tweeted, “Nuke Mars!” recently. Then he indicated that a t-shirt is going to follow.
In 2015, Musk appeared on Late Night with Stephen Colbert and suggested that a great, relatively quick way to make Mars into another Earth, the way the Red Planet was billions of years ago, would be to detonate a nuclear device over each of the poles.
The heat of the nuclear explosives would vaporize the frozen carbon dioxide at the poles and create a runaway greenhouse effect that would warm Mars up to a place where humans would survive out of doors without spacesuits.
NASA, needless to say. was skeptical of this brute force way to terraform Mars. The space agency has a much gentler way to restore Mars to someplace where humans can survive.
The scientific community has concluded, according to Phys.org, that Mars once had a magnetic field along with a thick atmosphere and bodies of water. For some reason, the magnetic field collapsed.
The solar wind took care of the rest, blowing away Mars’ atmosphere, depleting the water, and turning the Red Planet into a cold, dry, radiation bathed hell hole. However, with a little bit of technology, that situation can be fixed:
“In answer to this challenge, Dr. Jim Green – the Director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division – and a panel of researchers presented an ambitious idea. In essence, they suggested that by positioning a magnetic dipole shield at the Mars L1 Lagrange Point, an artificial magnetosphere could be formed that would encompass the entire planet, thus shielding it from solar wind and radiation.”
The shield is only the first step into making Mars into something resembling a New Earth.
“What they found was that a dipole field positioned at Mars L1 Lagrange Point would be able to counteract solar wind, such that Mars’ atmosphere would achieve a new balance.
At present, atmospheric loss on Mars is balanced to some degree by volcanic outgassing from Mars interior and crust. This contributes to a surface atmosphere that is about 6 mbar in air pressure (less than 1% that at sea level on Earth).
“As a result, Mars atmosphere would naturally thicken over time, which lead to many new possibilities for human exploration and colonization. According to Green and his colleagues, these would include an average increase of about 4 °C (~7 °F), which would be enough to melt the carbon dioxide ice in the northern polar ice cap. This would trigger a greenhouse effect, warming the atmosphere further and causing the water ice in the polar caps to melt.”
The process would only restore about one-seventh of Mars’ original oceans and rivers. Future colonists could crash comets on the Martian surface to import more water.
Eventually, genetically engineered plants could be sowed to start making oxygen and thus create a Martian biosphere.
To be sure the gradual method is not as exciting as setting off nukes, but it does hold a better promise of terraforming the Red Planet.
In the meantime, Musk has started testing the technology of his Starship rocket with which he intends to send settlers and supplies to Mars.
The stubby vehicle called the Starhopper has already risen 20 meters in the air and then descended, spewing out a great deal of fire and smoke. SpaceX intends to send Starhopper 200 meters into the air as soon as approvals are obtained from the FAA.
Ever ambitious, Musk would like to send the fully reusable Starship into low Earth orbit by 2020 or 2021. He intends to use the rocket ship, which will be boosted by an even heavier rocket stage, the Super Heavy, as a commercial launcher.
Musk has talked about landing a Starship on the lunar surface filled with supplies to prove to NASA that it could be used for the Artemis return to the moon program.
SpaceX also has been contracted to send a Starship around the moon with a Japanese fashion tycoon and a select passenger manifest of artists.
Mars is Musk’s ultimate goal. With in-orbit refueling, Musk thinks that he can send a 100 tons of cargo or 100 people to Mars with each trip. Slowly but surely, a Mars settlement would be built.
Musk has said that it is his ambition to die on Mars, “though not on impact.” The man cannot be faulted for a lack of ambition.