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NASA Says Mars Can’t Be Terraformed, Elon Musk Disagrees

Anew study has poured cold water on Elon Musk’s plan to terraform Mars, but the SpaceX CEO isn’t going down without a fight. On Tuesday, Musk pushed back against a news article that claims there isn’t enough carbon dioxide available on the red planet to theoretically create an atmosphere with comparable pressure to Earth.
A Mars city.

Unfortunately, Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado Boulder and Christopher S. Edwards of Northern Arizona University found there’s not enough carbon dioxide to support either plan, with Mars’ total stores amounting to just 15 millibars of pressure — well below the 1,000 millibars found at Earth’s sea level. Destroying the planet’s sedimentary rocks, created while Mars was wet, would only release 12 millibars. Musk dismissed these conclusions on Twitter.

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Musk claimed in 2015 that humans could heat up Mars with artificial pulsing suns above the poles to encourage climate change. Another idea floated by Musk is to simply nuke the planet. Scientists have dismissed terraforming planets before, though. A March 2017 study in the journal Science used data from the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission to conclude the planet’s atmosphere is severely lacking in carbon dioxide and other gases.

Co-author Bruce Jakosky told Inverse at the time of the study’s publication that the finding “really kills the idea of terraforming, unless maybe we can import some gas [from Earth].” None of this is likely to put Musk off his next immediate Mars goal, which is to send two spaceships with supplies to the red planet by 2022. This would lay the groundwork for four rockets in 2024, two of which will send the first humans to Mars.

Whether the humans will pave the way for a terraformed second planet is another debate.