DARPA are seeking to intentionally change the climate on Mars in order to make it suitable for human habitation, this is the process known as ‘terraforming’. This will be done through the introduction of human-engineered organisms that will create the kind of ecosystem we require to sustain life. Genetically engineered plants, algae and organisms will be introduced as regular organisms would not be able to withstand Mars’ harsh climate.
Currently the red planet undergoes serious planet wide dust storms, has a very thin atmosphere and a cold sub-zero climate. As it stands we could not survive on Mars. However through the use of terraforming, the planet could be improved drastically to make it more hospitable to us. With the engineered micro-organisms to be introduced, over a number of years they could possibly thicken the atmosphere and heat up the planet in preparation for the arrival of humans. The gravitational field of the planet is also quite weak. However if man were to live on Mars it would have to be done within man-made structures regardless. Even in the event we terraform Mars there are still a number of other factors that could confine indoors.
DARPA aren’t the only ones looking to terraform Mars. SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has claimed that we will have people on Mars in 10 years. He also has the ambition of building a city on Mars. While he says that Mars is “a serious fixer-upper” it is still very possible. It will only serve to improve our chances of survival as a species as he explained to Stephen Colbert:
“a multi-planet species, humanity as we know it is likely to propagate into the future much further than if we are a single-planet species.”
These organisms are a long way away from being fully engineered and shipped off to terraform Mars. However they would still have use on Earth in the event of a man-made or natural disaster. These synthetic organisms could be deployed in an attempt to re-stabilise an areas’ climate and ecosystem. To terraform Mars would ultimately take a few hundred years but it could potentially be the defining test of our ability to survive as a species.