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Know your Sol: History of Martian Terraforming and Colonization

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Herra Tohtori:
Excerpt from

Sol: A History
-Comprehensive Introduction to Modern History of Solar System-


Prof. B. Russell, Faculty of History
University of Cambridge / Federation Science Academy


H.T. Wright, Department of Martian Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences
Marineris Institute of Technology / Federation Science Academy

Chapter 18

Martian Terraforming and Colonization

Mars: Humanity's First Attempt on Planetary Alteration

The terraforming of Mars began in earnest when humanity discovered subspace travel. Not only did it cut travel time and costs significantly, it also provided humanity with sufficiently advanced energy production methods to generate a magnetic field on a planetary scale. When proof-of-concept testing was completed on the Moon, magnetosphere generators were installed on the Martian surface.

Once the magnetic field was established, efforts to increase the density of atmosphere could begin. Several suggestions were considered, among them shipping nitrogen from the Venusian atmosphere, which was eventually deemed too slow to produce actual results in meaningful time. Instead, genetically tailored, soil-consuming bacteria were developed. These bacteria are currently at work consuming oxygen-rich minerals in the Martian soil and releasing oxygen and traces of other gases into the atmosphere.

To avoid issues with building-consuming bacteria in the future, these bacteria have an inherent extinction trigger after a set number of generations, and scientists are taking samples of the population at regular intervals to keep track of possible mutations. However, use of concrete and glass as building material is impossible during the current phase of the terraforming process. Instead, plastic, composites, steel and other metals with a better lifetime expectancy are employed.

Additionally, several comets and asteroids with high water-ice composition were maneuvered to impact the vast, uninhabited deserts of Mars in order to increase the water vapour consistency of the atmosphere. After the initial impacts, these efforts were deemed a waste of resources and an unnecessary danger. Mars had large amounts of water ice under the surface already, and scientists predicted that with a warmer, denser atmosphere, that water ice would naturally humidify the planet again.

It is a little known fact that the pressure at the deepest recesses of Martian geography (Vallis Marineris, Hellas Planitia and Argyre Planitia) was above the triple point of water even before terraforming attempts. This meant that liquid water could exist - but at the low atmospheric pressure that prevailed during the early stages of the terraforming process, the water would evaporate during the daytime. However, being the deepest places on Mars, these recesses collected the gases released by the terraforming bacteria. Eventually, the atmospheric pressure at the bottom of these recesses was high enough to keep water from boiling during daytime and prevent freezing over night-time, as the increased density also increased heat retention. The bodies of water would still freeze over during wintertime in Hellas Planitia and Argyre Planitia. Being closer to the equator, Vallis Marineris has no seasonal variation of this scale in temperatures.

As soon as this phase was completed, water ice mining and vaporization began on several locations on Mars. Instead of transporting mined water ice to the deep areas, it was subjected to scientific research before the complete destruction of these ancient ice deposits. Surplus ice was subjected to electrolysis to increase oxygen partial pressures and the hydrogen and deuterium were stored for their various uses. The results of this research are available in a series of reports issued by the GTA Office of Human Habitation and (post-Isolation) the Federation Science Academy.

The main focus, however, was to increase the rate of melting and vaporization of these deposits. This was accomplished with an orbital mirror system designed to focus radiation on large ice concentrations. As the ice would melt and almost immediately vaporize, it would increase the humidity of the atmosphere, eventually starting a weather cycle in the deep areas of higher pressure. The places where this happened first were Hellas Planitia and Argyre Planitia. First, the precipitation fell in the form of snow, creating thick white cover on the bottom of the recesses. After the atmospheric thickness further increased, heat retention increased as well, and eventually the water melted and formed large bodies of water.

While liquid water was being introduced to the impact basins on the southern hemisphere, work began to construct a massive dam to cut the northeast end of Vallis Marineris from the large, recessed areas that cover much of the Martian northern hemisphere. Without this dam, introducing water to the canyon would just have let the water flow through it to this large area, where it would be spread too thin and vaporize too fast to be of any real use. This dam was named Rybolt-Urueta, in honor of the first human inhabitants of the Red Planet.

Soon after the weather cycle of water was achieved at the deep recesses, aquatic plant life was introduced to the planet, starting the ongoing process of biosphere insertion.

Above: an image of Mars in its current phase of terraforming. Notable features visible are portions of Valles Marineris and the Capri Delta, where water streaming over the Rybolt-Urueta dam complex forms rivers and ponds before eventually evaporating.

Life on the Red Planet

At stage one of biosphere insertion, algae from the arctic regions of Earth were introduced to the accumulated bodies of water. After several decades of oxygen production with negligible oxygen consumption, sufficient amounts of oxygen concentrations in the water and atmosphere of Mars was reached to support aquatic animal life and land plantation.

Arctic fish, crustaceans and algae-consuming animal plankton, as well as thick-leaved bushes, subshrubs and small conifer species were inserted to the Red Planet in this second stage of biosphere insertion, and green patches started to develop around the lakes in the impact basins as well as along the steep edges of Vallis Marineris.

By the time stage two of biosphere insertion was complete, the majority of the carbon dioxide in the old Martian atmosphere had been converted into biomass and oxygen. Because of the high oxygen concentration, the partial pressure of O2 was at level similar to high-altitude environments on Earth, such as the Himalayas on the Tibetan Plateau, or the Andes on South America. This meant that, while very unpleasant for new colonists, exposure to the Martian atmosphere would no longer be immediately lethal, and acclimatization would be possible with long term exposure to lower oxygen partial and absolute pressure.

However, it is typical for habitats to be pressurized to roughly 3000 metres of Earth equivalent altitude, with a more traditional nitrogen-oxygen atmosphere. These conditions provide a slightly higher partial pressures of oxygen than the Martian atmosphere, but due to higher total pressure, they are also significantly gentler on soft tissues such as eyes, ears, nasal and oral cavities, pharynx and lungs.  Prolonged exposure to the thin Martian air still requires the use of safety equipment to prevent dehydration.

As a result of these harsh conditions, the Martian population has already developed some limited traits similar to peoples living at high altitudes, such as Sherpas and Peruvian or Chilean indigenous people. Similar to these peoples, Martian people do not develop significantly higher red cell concentrations, but their bodies are instead otherwise acclimated to lower absolute pressure as well as lower partial pressure of oxygen. Most of the changes are still basic acclimation to the environment, which is not caused by the genotype - there has simply not been enough time for significant evolutionary differences to develop. Medical statistics do show that people who have high-altitude ancestry do tend to acclimate faster and better to the conditions on Mars.

Harsh life

Surface colonies on Mars faced many problems during their development. As the water levels are projected to rise and eventually cover the majority of the deepest parts of the planet, it would have made little sense to build a lot of static infrastructure. Instead, semi-mobile housing units were designed using existing cargo containers as a basis. These units each have individually functioning power, life support and social engineering systems. As the water levels slowly rise, settlements will re-locate to higher ground. Domed settlements were established in more permanently habitable areas, establishing the first Martian cities.

Main logistical facilities on Mars include heavy-duty space ports on the high shield volcanoes of Olympus Mons, Ascraeus Mons, Pavonis Mons and Arsia Mons. These space ports are equipped to handle all atmospheric-capable ships in the United Earth Federation fleet. They are located on top of the high mountains for several reasons, which are all tied to a single factor: altitude. The high altitude of these locations reduces atmospheric interference with operations, decreases the energy requirements of hauling cargo into orbit, and reduces the stresses of atmospheric re-entry on the ships operating from these bases. These bases function as the main cargo and personnel routes to the planet.

The mountain bases are connected to the population centres mainly via atmospheric transportation. In addition to this, some amounts of cargo and passengers are sometimes transported from Tharsis Mons bases to Vallis Marineris via monorail trains. The heaviest cargo is hauled to its destination with Chronos and Kadmos class spacecraft. Passenger traffic to Hellas and Argyre locations further from the space ports are usually conducted with ballistic-atmospheric shuttles. Short range traffic within the inhabited areas is usually managed with VTOL craft, though land transportation vehicles also exist.

Time of Troubles

Despite the initial successful phases of the terraforming process, the expansion of human life into the universe ironically began to undercut Martian colonization. More immediately habitable planets were discovered and colonized as a result of space exploration and the discovery of new subspace nodes. As a result, the priority of terraforming Mars diminished, and political pressure began to mount to abort the project as a waste of resources and effort. Due to this, the funding for the Martian colonies was reduced, effectively halting the biosphere insertion process. The active terraforming of Mars was put on a back burner, and the existing colonies were practically left to their own devices. And, indeed, for a while it looked like the critics had been correct; it was easier, faster, more convenient, less dangerous and much, much more pleasant to land on an immediately habitable planet and start full scale colonization. What could go wrong?

The short-sightedness of this policy was fatally exposed due to first contact with Vasudans. The subsequent fifteen-year-war was followed by the Great War, which culminated in the separation of Sol from its colonies in other star systems. Suddenly, Mars could no longer be considered the backwater colony it had become during the expansion phase of the GTA. The subsequent economic and political collapse of the Sol system left Mars in a unique position, because they had already lived decades on their own. By the time of the funding and resource cuts, they had already achieved a degree of self-sufficiency, and continued their lifestyle, slowly building, expanding and gathering more resources. A socialist/neo-Marxist ethos conflated with radical ecoconsciousness began to ferment in the Martian colonies, eventually leading to radical offshoots like the Gaian Effort.

In the mainstream, the colonies developed very advanced models to predict societal development and to maximize their productivity. There are rumours that these simulations were based on a 21st century program that simulated dwarves living in fortresses; however, these are only unsubstantiated rumours, no more. Regardless of their origins, these models were very accurate and effective, and some claim that they formed a significant backbone to the models used by Ubuntu to guide the development of the society and economy throughout the Sol system.

New Glory for the God of War

The formation of the UEF marked a significant upturn in the history of Martian colonization. Population increased rapidly, tripling since the end of the Great War. 250 million Martian citizens now live on the surface, and several hundred thousand more make their lives on orbital installations, in the Phobos and Deimos docks, and in the inner portion of the asteroid belt - technically part of Martian territory.

Although Mars is significantly less populous than Earth, its military - the Second Rim Fleet - is much larger than Earth's First Home Fleet. This is because of both tradition and necessity. The population of Mars considers space flight to be part of their heritage and culture. Additionally, 2nd Fleet is required to patrol larger distances between a much larger amount of celestial bodies than the 1st Fleet, as the majority of the Asteroid belt and the activity there falls within 2nd Fleet's jurisdiction. 3rd Jovian Rim Fleet has similar reasons for its size, as their jurisdiction area also covers the small outposts beyond the orbit of Saturn and the tumultuous Kuiper territories.

In addition to large increase in population, the production levels of Mars and its surrounding facilities have skyrocketed in the past three decades. The main orbital employer now are the UEF shipyards, which are responsible for much of the combat vessel production for the UEF military. The Martian industrial complex also hosts the Oxys-Ultor Threat Workshop, a major R&D and military production venture. Mars is also notable for the presence of the Solus Lacus Internment Facility, which became a processing site for GTVA captives and defectors during the opening stages of the Federation-Alliance war.

Above: A map of notable locations and inhabited areas of Mars in 2382.

Below: A rare wide angle image of Mars taken from medium altitude orbit. Notable locations visible are eastern parts of Valles Marineris and parts of Argyre Planitia to the South.


General Battuta:
Cookie for the first person to find and call out all the easter eggs and identify the minor plot clue in the map.

Seriously, zoom in on that map, it's awesome. Like how Lake Bastion is apparently located right next to SPARTAAAAAAAAAAA

Well, there are a bunch of GTD Orion names used as names of lakes in what looks like some sort of "New Greece"

Out of curiosity, when did you guys start writing descriptions like this?

I see a dworf fortress there   :lol:


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