Energy Blog: World of Tomorrow-2035: Terraforming and Colonizing Mars

In a Climate Changed World: Chapter 2 – By Andy Silber
September 11th, 2035
Space City, New Mexico

Orion_docked_to_Mars_Transfer_VehicleI take my last breath of REAL air. Sure, I’ll still be breathing nitrogen, oxygen and trace amounts of most everything else. Eventually it will be made by plants. Or we all die. But never again will I breathe “Earth air”. Never again to see an Earth sunrise or sunset or an ocean. I doubt I’ll even see a lake, but there is some hope for that.

I board the space plane to take us to our home for the next 6 months. The Martian Exploration Program (MEP) calls it the Orbital Transfer Vehicle, but everyone else calls it The Ark. But no animals, though later trips will be bringing eggs and maybe even live animals. Just humans for now, 2 by 2. Mating pairs. Chosen based on our skills, genetic makeup, diversity yada, yada, yada. Oh yeah, political connections and money don’t hurt. We’re supposed to be the best of the best, but many of the most impressive people in the training program just disappeared. One day they’re part of the program, the next they’re gone.

[see author’s note at end][read Chapter 1][Read Chapter 3]
It is amazing how quickly this all happened. When the northern bog fires started in 2027, we all realized how bad things were going to get. We cut CO2 emissions to near zero, but the atmospheric levels didn’t drop. If we put out the fires, then we’d get methane, which is worse, so we let them burn. But the more they burn, the warmer they get, the more the methane thaws and the more the world heats.

Then the jellyfish took over the oceans. Fish stocks collapsed. The GMO kelp and plankton has reversed the trend, so we’re not going to suffocate. The kelp is processed into something resembling chewy tofu called MariFu, which is only a slightly better name than what everyone calls it: Soylent Green. The pH levels in the ocean are slowly returning to normal and we are all hopeful that healthy oceans will return. But for now, the oceans have stopped absorbing CO2. That’s part of the reason atmospheric levels aren’t dropping.NA with ice melted

Ever since humans finished colonizing Earth we have dreamt of moving to Mars. Venus is too hot, the Moon too small, but Mars, there’s hope there. We just have to terraform it: create an atmosphere we can breathe, or at least walk around in short sleeves. The CO2 that has caused such wreckage on Earth would be perfect for the job. Too bad we can’t just carry half of our atmospheric CO2 and methane with us.

Then someone had a brilliant idea. We were already mining asteroids for precious metals; how about water, a powerful greenhouse gas, for Mars. We might get some methane as well. A robot fleet was sent out to the asteroid belt to nudge icy planetoids onto a collision course with the Red planet. Three have already struck and two more should hit before we land. The humidity in the air has increased from near zero to that of Antarctica in the winter, the lowest found on Earth. By the time we arrive, it should be close to Katmandu in the winter. Still no oxygen, but warmer nights and more comfortable “space suits”. From this point on, the meteors will all strike on the unpopulated side of the planet. Some day we might want to mine the minerals from them, but for now we’re just happy to have the water.

Our settlement is named Ylla, though some of the geekier among us call it Terminus. They’ll be 500 of us living in temporary structures while we dig a more permanent home. That’s what I’ll be working on. I think troglodytes might be a better name for us than astronauts. The Martian rock will protect us from the cold and radiation. Since Mars has no magnetic field and a thinner atmosphere than Earth, the surface gets much more particle radiation from the Sun than Earth.

There is lab equipment, shelter, food, water and fusion reactors there already. Solar power isn’t great on Mars since the solar irradiance is one-quarter of Earth’s. We’re bringing enough fuel for 30 years with us. By then we should figure out how to get more locally.

TerraformedMarsGlobeRealisticOur underground village will have greenhouses for air and food and to treat our sewage, research labs, bedrooms, communal kitchens, and a medical clinic. It will also have a nursery. No kids for now, but once our warren is complete, we’re expected to breed.

I’m not sure how I feel about raising kids in a cave, but I know I don’t want to do it here. Over the last 10 years people have been moving to higher ground. Refuges are everywhere. Some places are pretty horrible, like the mountains between Bangladesh and India or Egypt. The most interesting are the 2nd wave Afrikaans, refuges from The Netherlands welcomed to South Africa by the black government: one side gets capital and highly educated workers; the other a home above sea level. Since the US has large amounts of land above sea level, we’re doing OK, but the maps look funny with Florida missing. The food system is highly stressed. The North American breadbasket has moved north, the Sahara desert has expanded south. Scotland is an up and coming wine region, though the melt from Greenland is weakening the Gulf Stream and that is likely to reverse to warming trend in Europe.

Once our village is complete, we start working on the home for the next wave. The plan is 500 more colonists every year, until…who knows. An interesting thing we’re bringing is a constitution. For the first five years we’ll be run like a forward operating military base with command being MEP headquarters in Lima. For the following five years we transition to self-rule and a Parliamentary system with a preferential voting system. It’s assumed that at some point we’ll have to be totally self-sufficient, no one knows when.

A critical mission is figuring out something, probably a GMO algae, that can live on Mars and make oxygen. That’s where my wife, the biologist, comes in. She was part of the team that worked on the GMO plankton. I know she’s why we’re on this ship. The hope is they can create one that can spread across the globe and form the basis of an ecosystem. Then they’ll focus on something that can eat the algae plus other plants. I’m hoping we quickly get to a grass or something a cow can eat, because I’m not wild about the idea of being a vegetarian for the rest of my life.Blue-green_algae_cultured_in_specific_media
Dam safety briefing. You’d think after 18 months in the training program we could skip the safety briefing. Has anyone in a space plane every used their seat as a floatation device. We’re taking off from New Mexico and headed east. By the time we’ve over a body of water bigger than a pool, we’ll be10 miles up and moving at Mach 3. Time to buckle up and head to our new home.

I’m trying something different than my previous blog posts here. Rather than describing current technologies or policy questions or what I think we should do, here I’m delving into speculative fiction: what do I think might be in store for us if we continue on our current path. This is definitely not a best case scenario, but I don’t believe it’s the worst case either. On a scale of 1 (your grandchildren are going to live in a world that resembles “The Road” ) and 10 (Technology will save the day and it’s not too late), I’d probably give this a … now that would be a spoiler. 

I’m writing this in installments in the spirit of Dickens and Bradbury’s “The Martian Chronicles”. Unlike them, I’m not a great writer, so I don’t expect to win a Nobel, Pulitzer, Hugo or a Newbery. But maybe this will be made into a mini-series on SyFy. Also, for fans of classic science fiction, I’ve thrown in some references or out-right theft. 

I hope you enjoy the first piece of fiction that I’ve written that wasn’t assigned in school. – Andy Silber

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply