Here is a fictional science fiction story regarding the Terraforming of Mars, a project theory at NASA which involves turning Mars into a warm, wet climate similar to earth. The theory is real, but the story is not. It’s definately a fun read though. Check it out below.
Click here to view the article that sparked the story
The Terraforming of Mars
by Frank Romano III
Twenty-three ran his cold, dry fingers through the strands of bright green grass in the small compartment next to his bed. The strands softly stroked his skin; stimulating the senses in a way he previously could have only imagined. Then, in shock, he withdrew his hand, hitting the side of the window, as the bright light above the compartment began to burn his skin. He hadn’t felt such warmth in a long time. It took a while for him to realize what it was; to wake up his nerves.
He brought his hand to his chest, letting the new warmth of this fingers touch his heart. He closed his eyes, keeping his hand steady and breathing slowly; trying to keep as much of the energy as close to him as possible. The warmth was new and soothing; yet, nostalgic and depressing.
It was then when he felt a pit in his stomach that he hadn’t felt in a long time.
He had been working so hard for the past three years to remove the image of his wife from the depths of his mind. It was something he had to deal with, and he knew it the minute he accepted the mission. It wasn’t that he tried to stop loving her. No. He told himself he would never do that. But, he had to do something to give himself the chance to move forward; past the depression; past the longing. Before the mission, he had never longed for anything in his entire life. And longing hurt. Especially after three years.
Three years of hard, long, dangerous work. It was hard for him to believe it was finally over. He’d never have to look at that planet again. Ever.
And he tried not to for the past fifty days. There was a small window near the rear of the vessel where the bright, red wasteland could be seen. It was the D-Section; a small area of the ship where he kept his baggage and some other supplies. He had already planned everything ahead, he had everything he needed with him. He wouldn’t need to go into that section until he landed.
Instead, he occupied himself near the front of the vessel, where he could gaze upon earth as he arrived closer to it every day. Closer to Susan.
It had been so long since he’d seen her face. While working on Mars, they were allowed to send electronic mail transmissions back to earth once every month. It was devastating for everyone to be away from loved ones so long, but, development was not yet at a level on Mars where something as basic as a telephone could exist between four billion miles. If it could, it was simply too expensive. There were already over 300,000 workers on the red planet, and the project was already devouring too much money. No government was going to throw in the extra funds to develop a massive communication system when it wasn’t essential, at least, to them.
For Twenty-Three, however, it was essential. One letter a month wasn’t enough. Susan sent him many. All of which he received in bulk amounts. He could never read them all. He wasn’t allowed that kind of time. After a while, he just stopped reading them; tried to block her out of his memory. It was too painful. She became a virus he couldn’t cure.
NASA wanted it that way. They were breeding workers with nothing to loose and nothing to gain; sheer numbers to work tirelessly until the project was finished. It would take over a century. The Terraforming of Mars was the single biggest project of mankind to date. It was more than a project, it was a power. A power mankind had dreamed about for centuries.
Twenty-Three looked back to the small patch of grass in front of him. He felt ridiculous for forgetting something as simple as heat. But, it was hard for him to believe the warmth. It had been so cold on Mars. The Terraforming process was only three years underway and Mars was still over two hundred degrees below zero. The project leaders tried to make the conditions as warm as possible. The best they could do, however, was usually about thirty five degrees Fahrenheit; just above freezing. Three years of nothing but cold, dry, air.
He had even forgotten what the sun felt like. But, he reminded himself, that light above the grass wasn’t the sun; just a representation. He slowly moved his hand back through the window and under the bright light. The warmth came again, but this time, he was more prepared. He retracted his hand and touched his face, letting the heat sooth his cheek. Being around the grass was relaxing. Finally, something alive after the vast, barren landscape of dry rock and dust. Even in the vessel, everything around him was cold, dark metal and plastic.
A while back the Russians did countless studies on space flight. They found that after a few weeks in space, stress levels within the vessel would sky-rocket; making the astronauts prone to accidents and reducing their performances. The Russians had a solution. By providing a small garden for astronauts to care for (of either wheat, grass, or other small plants), astronauts could focus their attention on something other than the vast loneliness and emptiness of outer-space. It also allowed for them to work together more efficiently and make conversation amongst themselves.
On the way to Mars, that theory proved itself more true. Twenty-Three had a crew of four on the vessel along with him. All together, they were the first five people going to Mars to start the Terraforming process. All five of them worked together for years at NASA. However, after so many days in space, tensions began to inevitably run high. So, they all focused their attention on the small garden. It was the little piece of home they could all share.
But, now, he was alone on the ship back to Earth. If his three fellow crew members would have survived during the three years of labor, they would be accompanying him home. But they didn’t. And everything was scheduled, everyone had to serve three years; no more, no less. They were the first to arrive, now, the first to leave. That meant he was alone.
He gazed ahead at the grass and was suddenly angry with it. It wasn’t real. This wasn’t the real environment for grass to grow. He looked at the light above the grass and was mad at himself for confusing it with the heat of the sun.
Why does man always believe he can possess the power of creation?
That’s what this whole Terraforming project was about; to make Mars warmer, to make it a place for humans to thrive. It was once such a place; a wet warm climate similar to Earth’s. Scientists believed it could become that place again. That’s why NASA was going ahead with this project at such an alarming rate.
Over fifty years ago, Dr. McKay of the NASA Ames Research Center began to realize the potential of Mars. He found that the planet had all the necessary elements to support life: water carbon and oxygen (as carbon dioxide), and nitrogen. Carbon dioxide is the most important element in creating a thick atmosphere similar to Earth’s. It was believed that there were reserves of CO2 frozen in the south polar ice cap of Mars. If melted by global warming, the CO2 would rise into the atmosphere, constructing a planet like Earth; where life could flourish.
The project would be a long, difficult process, taking centuries to complete. In order to support life, they would need to distribute large amounts of ammonia into the soil, creating a proper environment for plants to grow. If there was sufficient plant life, over centuries, enough oxygen would be produced to support human life. Otherwise, humans would be forced to wear gas masks for a majority of the project.
The way in which NASA decided to warm the planet was a simple one. By producing halocarbons on Mars, the project would start global warming, or, a “greenhouse effect”, to give the planet life. By using structures similar to nuclear factories on earth, the halocarbons could easily and sufficiently be released into the atmosphere.
Twenty-three cringed at the irony. The very same technology destroying Earth was going to save Mars. He tried not to think about it. He pushed his arm forward and lifted his body into the air. He had become very good at maneuvering in zero gravity. He had practiced for years back at NASA during his training.
On Mars it was different. The gravitational pull on Mars was more like the moon. Twenty-three had used both feet to move when he strolled Mars’ terrain. It was sort of a skip, like a horse or a dog. It had been a little while since Twenty-three had been in zero gravity. But, to him, it was like riding a bike.
He moved past the grass garden and hovered toward the control deck of the ship. He could see Earth large and vivid through the thick glass. He glanced at the control panel to make sure everything was still in order. Suddenly, a voice crackled over the radio.
“Twen…chhh…three. Are you…chhh…Are you there?”
Twenty Three accepted the transmission and adjusted the frequency. He looked behind him and reach down to the floor to pick up his headset. He placed it on his head and began to speak.
“Houston, this is Twenty-three. What seems to be the problem?” Twenty-three began to strap himself into the pilot chair to stabilize.
“You’re going to be entering the exosphere in an hour. Prepare for landing and make sure to double your daily exercises.”
“Certainly,” Twenty-three said, forgetting about the exercises, “I’ll make sure to do them right away.”
“Very good, over and out.”
Twenty-three heard a tap as the transmission ended. He sighed deeply and gazed into space. The Earth was so close, he could feel it. He could almost feel Susan in his arms. The thought of her depressed him and excited him once more.
Thoughts of dread replayed in his mind.
Had she moved on? Will she think I’ve changed? Is she even still alive?
He unhooked himself and drifted back to his bed, past the small green garden. Strapped under his bed was the exercise equipment. He was required to do about two hours worth of exercises each day. For the past fifty days since Mars, however, he was only able to keep up his heart-rate for about a fifteen minutes before feeling exhausted. He figured it was because of all the work over the three years that had been tiring him out.
He began setting up the exercise equipment when he realized he hadn’t eaten yet. The last thing we wanted to do was land on Earth famished. So, he set down the equipment and maneuvered himself up and left toward the back of the ship where he kept the food.
He entered the small section and kicked his legs down to stand upright and search for something to eat. He glanced around looking for some of the all-too-familiar silver packets of mush he’d become so tired of consuming. But, there wasn’t any left.
I can’t be out. I thought I brought enough over here.
He didn’t want to think about where he’d have to go. The food was usually kept in the section of the vessel where he kept his baggage. Since the ship was equipped for five people, there was plenty of meals to go around. Before liftoff, Twenty-three decided he did not want to venture into that section of the ship. He didn’t want to have to lay his eyes on the red planet he had come to hate. So, instead of keeping the food where it belonged, Twenty-three moved his share to a different section; B-Section. The problem was, he apparently didn’t move enough, forcing him back into the section he promised himself he wouldn’t visit.
Twenty-three took a deep breath; focusing on what was to come. He slowly kicked from the floor, propelling himself a foot forward out of the section. He then grabbed and handle and turned himself subtly towards a small duct which led to the back of the vessel. His maneuvering became an uncontrollable float. He couldn’t understand why he felt so helpless and afraid. He was away from it now, it couldn’t hurt him anymore.
He reached the back of the vessel, where he needed to glide up through a tube-like passage into the section above. He kicked off from the floor and boosted himself through the passage. He hadn’t realized how hard he pushed because he would’ve hit his head on the ceiling of the D-Section if he hadn’t stopped his glide with his arms.
Quickly, he began searching for some food packets. He found one easily and started to turn around. As he did, the small circular window caught his eye and, as much as he dreaded to look, he couldn’t resist a glance. He gazed forward and saw Mars; now a tiny planet billions of miles away. He moved closer to the window, shocked at what he saw. The planet was still very red, but there were small blotches of a faded red where the halocarbons were being released. It was already starting, and it scared him.
But, for the first time in three years, Twenty-three finally felt distant from the planet. It seemed so small and insignificant now. He looked at it once more before he descended back down, it no longer mattered to him. All that mattered was Susan. He felt a surge of energy and focus that he hadn’t felt in three years. He would see his wife again, and he would never have to worry about Mars again, ever.
With this new encouragement, Twenty-three descended fast through the passage to the front of the vessel where, in full view, Earth stood large and bright. He would be entering the atmosphere in less than an hour. He never felt better in his entire life.
Susan had been waiting at the Edwards Air Force Base in California for nearly five hours. She wasn’t exactly sure when her husband was supposed to land, but they assured her it would be sometime in the afternoon. She had waited three years for this day.
John had stopped writing her after a while. She wasn’t sure why but it made her heart ache every time she would see his picture hanging on the wall. She tried not to think of the worst.
He was probably very busy. They probably didn’t let him write. They probably didn’t even send them to me.
It made her so angry. NASA was very secretive about what was happening on Mars. There was so little she knew. There was so much she wanted to know. Not because of her interest in space, but because she was deathly afraid of what was to become of her husband. John didn’t even tell her what was going on before he left. They’ll kill me if I tell you, he would say.
She didn’t care, she just wanted to know if he would be alright. When she didn’t receive anymore letters, she immediately thought the worst. It had been a year and a half since the last letter. It took her a while to realize that, if anything had happened, NASA would have told her. Then, another fear consumed her thoughts.
Maybe he doesn’t want to write me anymore?
For the past three years, everything about the situation drove her crazy. She tried not to think about it. Then, a week ago, the phone rang and NASA reminded her John was finally coming back from the mission. She didn’t need to be reminded, she dreamed of it everyday prior.
Now here she was, sitting at the air force base, resting her face in her cold hands. Suddenly, she could hear footsteps. A man in a suit with a NASA nametag was approaching her. He had short gray hair and a hard, rigid face with a square jaw.
She stood up, her eyes red and watery. She used her finger to tuck her dark brown hair behind her ear. The man came to her side.
“Ma’am, you may want to have to seat.”
“I’m fine,” she said, “is there something wrong?”
The man sighed and looked into her eyes, he began to bite his lip.
“I’m very sorry,” he said slowly, resting his old hand on her shoulder, “but John didn’t make it on the way down.”
Susan began to breathe heavily. Her eyes watered up again and her head seemed to fall with her tears. She tried to balance it, resting it on her right hand as it was uncontrollably wavering. It was hard for her to understand what was happening, but she felt the man’s hands on her arm and back as she fell.
She tried to maintain her balance. She shot her leg outward so she wouldn’t topple over. The man tightened his grip while she tried to keep her head on straight.
“I’m very sorry,” he said softly.
Susan began to regain her senses, she slowly sat back down on the bench behind her and tried not to cry. She didn’t want to cry. She didn’t want to feel the pain she was feeling. She knew it would never go away.
“How- how did it happen? Tell me how it happened.” She panted.
“The landing was successful. It went fine, but he stumbled and fainted as we helped him out of the vessel. We rushed him to the medics, but he didn’t make it.”
Susan couldn’t control her sobbing.
“Why?,” she was breathing heavily, “why couldn’t he walk? Why?”
“I brought Dr. Conners here to explain it all to you,” said the Man, still trying to soothe her by holding her arm.
Susan looked up to see a man in a white coat who kneeled down to her level.
“I’m very sorry Mrs. Williams, it seems John’s heart wasn’t strong enough for earth’s gravitational pull.”
Susan tried to look at the doctor and control her sobbing. Conners moved in closer taking her hand in his.
“You see, the heart gets smaller and weaker in low-gravity environments. John’s heart was fifty percent weaker than that of a normal person. Because of all the time he spent on Mars and on the spacecraft there and back, his heart didn’t have to work nearly as hard as it would have if he had spent that time here.
“Earth’s gravitational pull is strong. Simply standing on Earth exercises your heart and your muscles. Being in low-gravity environments is like laying down in a bed. And, John was gone for three years. The minute he stepped foot on Earth, his heart simply couldn’t take the pressure, and he collapsed.”
“It’s impossible to re-engineer the gravity on Mars so it’s the same as Earth,” said the man from NASA. We just can’t do that. We can’t artificially create the perfect environment for man to grow.”
Susan didn’t want to hear anymore. She leaned over and let herself cry into her hands.
“Mrs. Williams,” said the man as Dr. Conners began to walk away, “someone is coming now with John’s things, please, let us know if you want to see him. Let us know if you need anything.”
Susan couldn’t stand. She couldn’t move. The man was already walking away before she could even lift her head. From afar, she could see a man dressed in camouflage approaching her with two duffle bags.
She was trying to dry her eyes when the man came. He set down the duffle bags next to her, but also, a small patch of grass in a little container.
She looked over at the grass, now turning brown and rotten under the sun.