Mars has stational liquid water on its surface, a CO2-rich atmosphere and its soil might lack some nutrients that plants need to grow there.

So, what is stopping us from filling a rocket with seeds and fertilizer and crashing it on the surface of Mars?

For one thing, I'd bet it will be way more interesting to see how life brought from Earth evolves in Mars that trying to figure out whether life eventually originated in Mars in the first place. Besides, it might never be proven beyond any reasonable doubt that there is/was life in Mars before we start terraforming the planet.

Also if someone, a government, company or individual, would start terraforming Mars on their own, what could be the implications? Are there any laws to prevent them doing that? What could the scientific community do to stop them?

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    $\begingroup$ Possible duplicate of Would terraforming Mars be possible? $\endgroup$
    – Phiteros
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 23:41
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    $\begingroup$ This question neatly explains the difficulty involved in terraforming Mars. Besides the reasons listed here, such an ambitious project is well beyond the economic means of any country or corporation, and the process would likely destroy any native martian life (if it exists), potentially robbing us of an important discovery. $\endgroup$
    – Phiteros
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ What is "stational liquid water"? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 0:16
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    $\begingroup$ "I'd bet it will be way more interesting to see how life brought from Earth evolves in Mars that trying to figure out whether life eventually originated in Mars in the first place." I'd bet you're wrong. I think we should put a moratorium on either colonisation or otherwise interfering with Mars until we've done a lot more exploring using (sterile) robots. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 14, 2017 at 0:40

3 Answers 3


A few of reasons for not mounting such a terraforming mission now are:

  1. Cost-effectiveness. It's expensive to go to Mars, and simply throwing some seeds and fertilizer at the place is too unlikely to yield a desirable result to be worth doing. All terrestrial life is adapted to terrestrial environments and ecosystems, especially complex life like plants. Microbial life might stand a better chance, but even then, Mars is a harsh place; radiation could very well sterilize any life left out on its surface, which is one reason the hunt for life there is looking beneath the surface.
  2. An actual terraforming mission would require much more than planting seeds. It would require the establishment of a whole web of life including bacteria and other microbes to form a balanced ecosystem.
  3. Mars is too dry.
  4. Even if the seeds die, there is a good chance the material we might crash on Mars will contaminate the environment to the point of thwarting any meaningful investigation of pre-existing life. To properly investigate and understand any possible past or present Martian ecosystem requires that we disturb it as little as possible. Charging in and turning the place into something else is not how you learn about what was there before you arrived; there is value in that knowledge.
  5. A decision to terraform is irrevocable. After the first material is introduced into the Martian environment, there will never be another opportunity to study Mars as it was before human activity because it will never again be as it was.

We may eventually attempt to terraform Mars, but only after we've given it adequate study to see if it currently harbors indigenous life, or ever had, and what that life is/was like.

If someone were to up and throw some seeds and fertilizer at Mars, they would be doing a great dis-service to planetary science. It is possible for someone with enough resources to launch a rogue spaceflight. Post-launch, you'd have to fend off all sorts of agencies tasked with terminating your mission and shutting down your mission control. Of course, this is all rather hypothetical.

  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Commented Mar 15, 2017 at 16:00

I may add also perhaps, the need for it. Today it is not seen by the world as important enough to do. As mentioned in many forms by previous commenters, there are definitely a lot of issues not yet solved, or at least not yet tested. However, I think the main reason at this point can be simplified to survival. It is not in the "collective" mind of humans yet that developing a permanent living space, or simply adding life (human or otherwise) is worth the current cost. Let us find a big rock heading towards earth, or a solar event that exterminated a large portion of life here and humanity may (probably) will make more plans towards permanent colonization beyond earth (mars as a possibility). There are many small to medium sized projects working towards goals similar to what you ask, as well as what I think your overall question might be geared towards (why the hell are we still just on earth?!?). Summarized: it is not (or not yet) perceived worth doing more than what we already are doing. Which I begrudgingly admit is probably a lot given that we've been a space fairing civilization for not even 100 years yet. Let's hope our "patience" and "care" on the issues doesn't take too long.


There’s a combination of things that make immediate terraforming to not be a feasible option. First, there’s the issue of the temperature conditions required to get plants to thrive on the surface. Nighttime temps on the surface are much colder than a late spring frost in the northeastern US and the lack of a thick atmosphere provides no means to retain heat overnight. There’s also the problem of a lack of liquid water on the surface. The other issue is the soil composition, which contains perchlorate, so the scope of what you could grow initially would be limited to items like switchgrass that could potentially sequester the perchlorate.

I think the first step is starting with a contained greenhouse-like habitat that would allow for the absorption of CO2 from the atomosphere. Then you would need to establish the system near the polar ice so you could harvest water from the surface. My system would start with seedlings and ground contact so that nutrients and byproducts of respiration could make their way into the Martian soil. The idea would be over time that you would generate plants that would adapt to the conditions. Eventually, then you could start working towards creating new equipment to slowly thaw oceanic areas and retain warmth at the surface.

Of course this only tackles the issue of plant growth. You would have to figure out how repeat this process a hundred-fold to fully transform the surface over a couple hundred year period.


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