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Can We Make Mars Habitable By Pumping the Atmosphere Full of Oxygen?


In a roundabout way, yes. But first we must heat that atmosphere, since the surface of Mars is about –58°F. “We know how to warm planets; we’re doing it right now,” says Robert Zubrin, the president of the nonprofit Mars Society, a group devoted to Martian exploration.

To make Mars more Earthlike, or “terraform” it, we just need to increase the greenhouse effect by adding fluorocarbons to the atmosphere, absorbing and trapping the sun’s rays. Tetrafluoromethane, or CF4, is a simple refrigerant that could work without destroying the ozone, as other fluorocarbons do.

As Mars warms, its frozen soil would thaw enough to release carbon dioxide, and more carbon in the atmosphere would further accelerate the greenhouse effect, bringing the average temperature up to 32°. Mars’s frozen underground water supply would melt and flow back into ancient riverbeds. And when the water reaches Martian soil, it would break down latent peroxides, releasing oxygen into the atmosphere—not yet enough to sustain human life, but enough to grow plants—which would further increase the supply.

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