NASA says nobody—not even Elon Musk—can terraform Mars

By Tim Fernholz

Given recent trends, you may think humans have mastered filling a planet’s atmosphere with carbon dioxide and heating it up.

But scientists using data collected by NASA spacecraft say using this technique to make Mars habitable for humans is far beyond the technology we have today.

The problem is one of supply: There’s simply not enough carbon dioxide on Mars to create an atmosphere that traps heat and gases close to the planetary surface.

The idea of “terraforming” the red planet is to make it more Earth-like by increasing its temperature so that liquid water could exist, rather than freeze, with a greenhouse atmosphere more conducive to life. The vision has long inspired science-fiction authors and putative space explorers. When, in 2016, Elon Musk’s first presented his vision to go to Mars, few missed that images of the planet grew steadily greener as he unveiled the steps in his plan.

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