On Friday 28th September we were treated to a fascinating talk about terraforming Mars by Simon Goodwin, a theoretical astrophysicist from Sheffield University.

He explained why we need to consider inhabiting Mars primarily as a form of risk management. It would take only one hit from a large asteroid to devastate civilisation on Earth and having a second planet colonised would give us a much needed backup plan.

I thought the talk would be full of science fiction and distant possibilities long into the future. However, Simon showed that the technologies needed for such a massive challenge already exist. The missing piece in the puzzle is political and financial will.

Putting aside this problem, Simon showed how we could thicken Mars’ atmosphere and make life there possible. Whilst it is still accepted that the chance of finding life on Mars is possible, we have lichens on earth that would be able to digest the Martian regolith (and so create organic material) and we have the technologies needed to thicken the Martian atmosphere and make it habitable.

We would have to overcome many huge challenges to do this successfully such the massive problem of exposure to solar radiation and managing the psychological issues that would affect an early human population. Also, Mars would need to be self-supporting very quickly as supplies would be difficult to deliver.

By the time the talk was over it was clear that we could – if the will exists – see people living on Mars this century or next.

Our thanks to Simon for taking the time to give the talk and answer our questions. I hope we see Simon return to deliver another of his talks in the near future.