Live From Mars was active July 1996-December 1997.

Teachers' Guide

Activity B.3: "To Terraform or Not to Terraform?"

Teacher Background

"Mars is interesting because it can be colonized." That's the provocative lead sentence of an article appearing in Space News, July 8-14, 1996, by Gary A. Allen Jr., an engineer at NASA Ames Research Center. Allen argues against focusing Mars exploration on the scientific search for evidence of past life, which he (rather dismissively) calls "exopaleontology." Instead he proposes colonizing Mars with human explorers on the fastest track possible as the best strategy, and references his own paper in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, JBIpS, arguing for a one-way mission to Mars delivering 940 colonists at a cost "comparable to simply exploring the planet." ("One-way"--you can see why we call this provocative! However, JBIpS was where Arthur C. Clarke first proposed Earth-orbiting satellites: it serves as a sounding board for ideas that at first seem improbable, some of which end up as mundane [sic] fact within 50 years.)

On a related topic, other scientists, respected NASA Ames exobiologist Chris McKay among them, discuss ways to terraform Mars, unlocking the oxygen and water now trapped in its frozen crust by seeding the poles with hardy microscopic plants, darkening the surface, heating up the entire planet as a consequence, and so recapturing the thicker atmosphere and warmer, wetter conditions which most scientists accept were once present on Mars. (This is the theme of Kim Stanley Robinson's three award-winning science fiction novels, Red Mars, Blue Mars, Green Mars.) Some researchers even argue that if there are still Martian life-forms, microscopic and trapped in the permafrost, they can be "captured" and put in cold storage, just as smallpox germs once were here on Earth. In short, build a protected zoo for microbes, and make Mars fit for humans. To others, this does not seem environmentally correct treatment of any legitimate, current inhabitants of Mars.


  • Copies of article: Allen Jr., Gary A. "Options for Exploring Mars" in Space News, July 8-14, 1996, p 13.


    Have students read (or read aloud with them) Allen's article. Allow time for students to share their initial reactions to the ideas in this article.


    Ask students to consider our current reactions to how European invaders treated the Native American peoples. Encourage students to review their Mars Mission Logbooks and the work they and their peers have done over the course of the entire project. Have them research the issues (encourage use of on-line as well as print resources), then group them in teams with similar perspectives, and marshal arguments to prepare them to debate, or discuss, or otherwise report on the issues involved in one or other of the two distinct but related propositions: "Humans should Colonize Mars rather than sending Robot Missions to Explore it for Ancient Life," and/or: "Humans should Terraform Mars, whether there are extant Martian Life-forms, or Not."

  • Expand/Adapt/

    If you lack on-line access, stage a debate in class, as a formal debate, or in the format of TV talk show. Or, prepare a class newsletter summarizing the various printed reports. Or contact local scientists, share your students' work with them, and ask them to come in to class to respond. Prepare students to receive and interact with "experts".

    On-line LFM will provide (moderated) opportunities for students to share their arguments and interact, both by asynchronous postings (e-mail, via the debate mail-list) and live WebChats to be joined by Mars experts. Depending on the level of interest, technologies and connectivity possessed by participating classes, LFM may facilitate CU-SeeMe or other forums to exchange comments between classes. Check the LFM Site in late Spring 1997 and onwards for the latest!

    As in all other Closing Activities, please record and share the most interesting student work with PTK by mail or on-line.

    As should be apparent, PTK and LFM do not consider Activity B.3 to be about "right answers" to the propositions, but more about appropriate questions and interesting arguments deploying information acquired during the project in thoughtful, convincing ways.

    Suggested URLs