To Terraform or Not to Terraform

By Edijoy Williams and Melissa Sterzinger


  • Students will actively engage in a five week interdisciplinary unit about global environmental change with 100% participation.
  • Facilitators will utilize a students-centered classroom to incorporate math, social studies, and language arts into a traditionally science centered topic, Earth and the Solar System.
  • Facilitators will modify curriculum to meet the needs of all students in the classroom.

Science Standards: 

  1. Examine problems using scientific inquiry.
  2. Integrate unifying concepts and processes in science experiences.
  3. Explore elements, compounds and chemical reactions
  4. Examine the components of our Solar System.

Activity Outline

An Asteroid is on a crash course towards the third rock from the sun! Astronomers have predicted impact occurring in just thirty days on a large city in the Northern Hemisphere-OMAHA, NEBRASKA. Governmental agencies foresee Earth undergoing catastrophic events: tsunamis, flooding, earthquakes, and volcanoes.

These will eventually result in Earth's complete destruction! Dr. Globalwarming has asked YOU, a Bryan Middle School student, to terraform the fourth rock from the sun!

Remember to have each part okayed with your mission controller, because you are the determiner of your own grade!!! To receive points for any activity you must complete it 100%!


I. Talk to Dr. Global Warming: LIBRARY ACTIVITY CENTER (80 possible points)

A. To effectively communicate with Dr. Globalwarming you need to familiarize yourself with terraform vocabulary. Using the school or classroom libraries define the following words.
_____Part 1 - 15 points
_____Part 2 - 5 points
_____Part 3 - 5 points

B. Dr. Globalwarming will be calling YOU to see if you can explain the differences and similarities between Earth and Mars.
_____Earth/ Mars Comparison Worksheet - 30 points

C. Dr. Globalwarming is looking for a partner to help him terraform, Mars, help him interview the finalists. Pick one to "interview"-

Dr. Buzz Aldrin
Kim Stanley Robbinson
Dr. Robert Zubrin

Include the following information

1. Name
2. Date of Birth
3. Educational Background
4. Current Job
5. Ethnic Background
6. Contribution to terraforming
7. Sources used

_____ Person Summary - 25 points

II. Martian Experiment: Research Center (250 possible points)

You MUST wear your hazard gear for all experiments. After you get it on, head for the research center to meet Dr. Globalwarming, the mission controller, and your research partner. Your research partner should have an equal mission goal to yours, so choose wisely!! Each research project will be performed using the scientific method including:

  • Title (BE SPECIFIC)
  • Question
  • Hypothesis (IF X then Y)
  • Materials
  • Procedure (15 steps + clean-up)
  • Data Table-

    1. graph with 5 trials
    2. take average of all 5 trials
    3. title of graph
    4. label axis of graph

  • Use provided lab sheets

    1. Beautiful Mars
    _____Lab sheet - 25 points
    2. Snuggle up
    _____Lab sheet - 125 points
    3. Wardrobe lab
    _____Lab sheet - 25 points
    4. Keeping Mars warm
    _____Lab sheet - 25 point
    5. Channels on Mars
    _____Lab sheet - 50 point

III. Live with Dr. Globalwarming: Discussion center (30 points possible)

MTV has asked you and three other scientists to participate in the following discussions on terraforming. Each discussion should last ten minutes. Be sure to fill out your role sheets, so the mission controllers can verify your presence at the discussion! The four roles are:

  • leader- keeps discussion going and on topic
  • recorder- takes notes on what is being talked about
  • reader- reads the given article to discuss
  • rule keeper- keeps everyone following the rules

On a sheet a paper write down the four roles and who is serving in that role, then make sure to keep good notes on what is being talked about. As a group write a summary of what was agreed upon in the group discussion.

  1. Discussion 1 - Why should we terraform? (environmental, economical, societal)
    _____ Role sheet /summary- 8 points
  2. Discussion 2 - What should we terraform? ( 3 things all group members must agree/defend choice)
    _____ Role sheet / summary- 8 points
  3. Discussion 3 - How can we terraform? (3 things to change and HOW)
    _____ Role sheet/summary - 8 points
  4. Discussion 4 - Should we terraform? (ethical reasons)
    _____ Role sheet/summary - 8 points

IV. Multimedia for the Millennium: Video/Computer Center (20 points possible)

Dr. Globalwarming is not up-to-date on the latest technology. This could seriously impact the success of your mission! HELP!

A. Video

  1. ____ 5 points
  2. ____ 5 points
  3. ____ 5 points

B. Animation on the WEB - provide a written explanation for each of the animations you find on this web page.
_____ 5 point

V. Gamebugs have invaded your Mission! Game Center (65 points)

Dr. Globalwarming enjoys a good time, find 3 other people to give the good doctor a few laughs, but the best laugh come from a Mars game!

A. Play Jeopardy
_____ Point sheet - 25 points

B. Design Your Own Game

  1. Type of game- You must choose one of these
    1. Card Game
    2. Board Game
    3. Quiz Show Game
  2. Requirements
    1. Game must be playable by 2 to 4 players
    2. Must have all questions and answers available
    3. Must involve information about terraform
    4. Must provide a written summary about the game and its rules
  3. Summary- write a two paragraph summary about your game
    1. Paragraph 1 - about game/ how it is about terraform
    2. Paragraph 2 - rules of game

_____ Game sheet- 40 points

VI. Create a Vision- Design station - Here you may work on your presentation (25 points)

_____ Participation Points - 25 points

VII. Terraform Conference (125 points)

Mission control has requested your presence at its emergency conference, to be held at Bryan Middle School. Choose one of the following presentations methods to present at the conference.


A. 3-D model using household items to clearly show three changes need on Mars to support life!
_____ 63 point
B. Color drawing showing three changes needed on Mars to support life!
_____ 63 point
C. Power Point Presentation-
_____ 10 point
D. Debate
_____ 125 point




metamorphic rock











flow patterns




mountain ranges





global warming


black body







greenhouse gases



greenhouse effect




outflow channels









Periodic Table


igneous rock




plate tectonics



polar caps









































topographic map

rock cycle

water cycle



water vapor








Scientific Method








surface materials


Earth Vs. Mars Comparison

Property Earth Mars
Land area (in millions)

Sea Surface Area (in millions)

Equatorial Diameter

Distance from Sun (in millions)

Length of Day Hours (Rotation)

Days in a Year (Revolution)

Axis Tilt (Obliquity)

Average/ Mean Density

Average/ Mean Precipitation

Mean Surface Temperature

Surface Materials

% of Atmosphere Gases



Carbon Dioxide

Water Vapor

Physical Features

Highest Elevation

Lowest Elevation

Mountain Ranges

Lakes, Rivers

Longest Canyon

Largest Impact Crater

Ice Caps

Visual Albedo

Largest Volcano

Beautiful Mars (You Are a Planetary Engineer) Lab


Now that you are the best of the best in the area of Mars. Bring people to Mars and colonize. Use everything that you know!


  • Paper
  • Colored Pencils
  • Metric rules
  • Picture of Mars from Space
  • Picture of Earth from Space


  1. 1. Define systems
  2. 2. Define colony
  3. 3. Define environment
  4. 4. Write science fiction story explaining Earth's environmental future 200 years from now.
  5. 5. Explain the scientific events that lead to explaining to this future.
  6. 6. Make a list in each area for the needs of the colony:
    1. personnel
    2. life support
    3. food sources
    4. oxygen sources
  7. 7. Write an experiment to test survivability of Mars but testing in a laboratory. Include:
    1. Title
    2. hypothesis
    3. materials
    4. procedure
    5. set up a data table)
  8. Draw the new colony.

Snuggle Up With Mars: The Greenhouse Effect Lab

(You Are an Atmospheric Scientist)


(Adapted from "Global Warming and the Greenhouse Effect" Great Explorations in Math and Science)

Ever been trapped in your parents car down on the south-side? Did you notice the temperature escalate inside the car? Did you feel that your end was close at hand? How did you cool down? If you can answer yes to any of these questions you know about the greenhouse effect in the atmosphere. The atmosphere around Earth is like the closed windows of a car. It traps the heat from the sun on Earth. However, unlike the car we can not open a window and cool Earth down.

Scientists have found that over 90% of the Earth's atmosphere are within about 10 miles of the Earth's surface. Imagine the Earth shrunk to the size of an apple. At this scale the atmosphere is only the thickness of the skin of the apple. The atmosphere of Earth is composed of 78% nitrogen gas, 21% oxygen gas, and 1% argon. Greenhouse gases are also becoming trapped within the atmosphere making it even more difficult for the Earth to cool down.

Mars on the other hand does not have an issue with the greenhouse effect and the terraforming project might benefit from such an effect.


  1. How do surface temperatures compare between a close and an open system when exposed to a heat source?
  2. Mars Connection: If we increase the thickness of Mars’s atmosphere will the surface temperature of Mars increase?


  • 2- plastic soda bottles
  • 12- cups of potting soil
  • 1 - rubber band
  • 1 - 6" X 6" sheet plastic wrap
  • 2- thermometers
  • 2- 100 watt light bulbs
  • 2 - lamps
  • masking tape
  • metric ruler


Day 1

  1. Define the above terms
  2. Assemble the greenhouse set ups
    1. Cut the top off both bottles
    2. Add 6 cups of potting soil to each bottle
    3. Tape a thermometer on the inside of each bottle ( make sure it touches the top of the soil
    4. On one container place clear plastic wrap over the open end of the bottle
    5. Use the rubber band to hold the plastic wrap in place
  3. Position the light bulb equal distance from both containers.
  4. Measure the distance each bottle is from the light bulb.
  5. Record the distance in cm
  6. Make a hypothesis using the above questions ( which will reach the highest temperature)
  7. Make three data charts like the one below in your notebook.
  8. Label charts the following: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3
Time in Minutes Open system temperature (in Celsius) Closed system temperature  (in Celsius)
















Day 2-4 Do the following each day!

  1. Record temperature
  2. Turn on light
  3. Record temperature every minute for 15 minutes
  4. Remove plastic wrap to allow container to cool for the next day
  5. Clean up
  6. Take temperature averages
  7. Graph temperature averages vs. time for each system


  1. Summarize what happened in each container.
  2. What caused the differences in temperature between the two containers?
  3. Discuss how this would impact the terraforming of Mars.
  4. Draw the current Mars and the terraformed Mars emphasizing the greenhouse effect.

About Terraforming - Why Should We Terraform?

From: Kenneth Silber, Why should humans go to Mars?

One reason is that the job market there looks pretty good. Martian society will experience a chronic shortage of labor, due to the small size of its initial population and the high cost of transportation from Earth. Hence, wages will be high, career opportunities will abound, and innovation will be rewarded. Paperwork, bureaucracy, and the quest for purely formal credentials will be kept to a minimum. Such are the exigencies of life on a harsh frontier.

Such ruminations might sound far-fetched, the stuff of some distant future, perhaps, but of no practical interest to anyone alive today. But that future may be closer than most people, including many space experts, currently think. In The Case for Mars, Robert Zubrin and Richard Wagner present a powerful and pragmatic argument for near-term exploration and colonization of our celestial neighbor. In their telling, the first humans could be on Mars within a decade, and many thousands could be living there by the mid-21st century.

Mars will need a thriving export sector to pay for its imports of manufactured goods from Earth. (Even with a high degree of automation, Martian society's labor shortage ensures that imports will be necessary far into the future. Furthermore, such trade will be desirable, given the rule of comparative advantage.) Fortunately, Mars contains a plenitude of natural resources with export potential. Deuterium, a fuel useful for today's nuclear-power industry and essential for future nuclear-fusion reactors, is a particularly promising candidate for interplanetary commerce.

Ideas as well as natural resources could make valuable exports, as Martian innovations in biotechnology and robotics are licensed for use on Earth. Indeed, the authors argue, investment in the Martian economy could begin even before any humans have set foot there. Mining rights, for example, could be allocated to any company that sends a probe to survey a piece of Martian territory to some specified degree of precision; such rights could be traded actively right now, much as land grants to trans-Appalachian America were bought and sold decades before settlers actually arrived. . . . In The Case for Mars,

Zubrin and Wagner proclaim that our distant descendants on a multitude of worlds, even with all their advanced capabilities, will still marvel at the boldness of those who began the great push into space. Science fiction has long been filled with such entertaining and inspiring visions.

What is Terraforming?

Transforming Mars will be a long and complicated process. But this is exactly the type of subject that interests space researchers like Christopher McKay of NASA Ames Research Center. First, greenhouse gases, like chlorofluorocarbons that contribute to the growing ozone layer on Earth, will be released into the atmosphere. This traps the heat from the Sun and raises the surface temperature by an average of 4 degrees Celsius. In order to achieve this, factories would manufacture chlorofluorocarbons derived from the air and soil. A single factory would require the power equivalent of a large nuclear power plant.

The increasing temperature would vaporize some of the carbon dioxide in the south polar cap. Introducing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would produce additional warming, melting more of the polar cap until it has been vaporized completely. This would produce an average temperature rise of 70 degrees Celsius.

With the temperature this high, ice will start melting, providing the water needed to sustain life. This water would raise the atmospheric pressure to the equivalent of some mountaintops. While this would be a survivable level, it may still require the use of an oxygen mask. The next step, which may take up to several centuries, would be to plant trees that thrive on carbon dioxide and produce oxygen.

The concept of terraforming a planet is an old standby of science fiction; it is the product by which a technologically advanced race manipulates the surface and atmosphere of an uninhabitable planet so that it becomes inhabitable. We humans know to our dismay that we have the capacity to modify the earth's environment, but could we perhaps exercise better judgment and terraform Mars? C.P. McKay et. al. have looked into this possibility:

"From our analysis, one could propose the following sequence of events: Production of CFCs (or other greenhouse gases) starts on Mars and the surface temperature warms up by about 20°K. The regolith and polar caps release their CO2 and the pressure rises to 100 mbar. One of two things could then happen. If there were large regolith and polar CO2 reservoirs. The pressure would continue to rise on its own. If these were absent, the CO2 pressure would stabilize, and additional CO2 would have to be released from carbonate minerals. At this point (perhaps between 100 and 105 years) Mars may be suitable for plants. If there was a mechanism for sequestering the reduced carbon, these plants could slowly transform the CO2 to produce an O2-rich atmosphere in perhaps 100,000 years. If sufficient N2 could also be released from putative soil deposits, and the CO2 level kept low enough, then a human- breathable atmosphere could be produced."

(McKay, Christopher P., et al; "Making Mars Habitable," Nature, 352:489, 1991.)

Comment. There is more to terraforming, but you get the idea from the above quote.

Now. J. Lovelock and others have speculated that our earth is much like a living organism that, with the help of the biosphere, maintains conditions suitable for life; that is, the Gaia concept. Terraformers of Mars would some-how have to induce Gaia to emigrate to Mars to regulate things there.

Or, since we are on a science-fiction kick, could it be that the earth itself was intentionally "terraformed" in the distant past and Gaia installed for our benefit -- or even someone else's benefit?

From Science Frontiers #78, NOV-DEC 1991. © 1991-2000 William R. Corliss

Customizing Mars Through Terraforming

Terraforming Mars refers to the idea of making the Red Planet more hospitable for its future inhabitants--humans. Huge mirrors surrounding Mars to reproduce an atmosphere; science fiction, right? No, this is one of the ideas on how to terraform Mars and make it more livable.

How can we make Mars livable? There is no water--no liquid water anyway. Mars has vast resources, such as oceans of frozen water, metals, minerals, and gravity. If we thickened the atmosphere by warming it up just a few degrees, life might be possible. How could humans heat an entire planet?

If giant mirrors made of thin foil orbited the planet, sunlight could be directed to Mars's south pole. In less than ten years, this could melt it. The rise in temperature would release carbon dioxide, which, because of its weight, settles on the surface and acts as a blanket. This carbon dioxide would raise the temperature even more, causing even more carbon dioxide to be released. All of this extra carbon dioxide would increase the air pressure, allowing us to create large habitats with inflatable domed structures. If we tried to construct a dome under Mars's present surface conditions, it would explode!

As the polar ice caps melted, how could the water be channeled to the equator? Schiaparelli spotted canals on the planet. Dried up river beds could be brought back to life and used for irrigation ditches. Is there any way to make the ice caps melt faster? Scientists believe that it might be possible to transport dark mass and dirt to the ice cap. The dark material would absorb sunlight which would heat the ice and eventually melt it. How long would this take? Around 800 years.

The air on Mars now is made up almost entirely of carbon dioxide. To turn the carbon dioxide into breathable air, plants could be transported to Mars. With the temperature raised and water available, algae would be able to survive. After a few decades, the algae would have created enough oxygen for more complex plants to grow. These plants would slowly spread, converting carbon dioxide into oxygen every day. In only about nine hundred years, humans would be able to walk around without spacesuits or masks.

Perhaps one day, the dreams of science fiction writers and the imaginative speculations of scientists will come true. Perhaps there will be life on Mars. And we will have become the Martians.

Mission to Mars and Debate Topics


  1. What are the goals of the first manned mission to Mars?
  2. If you were invited to join NASA's first manned mission to Mars, how long would you have to be away from school or work? How much of that time would you spend just getting there?
  3. In what way are the astronauts headed to Mars similar to the pioneers of the United States?
  4. Why do scientists feel reasonably confident that Mars can support life?
  5. What qualities will be the most important for prospective crew members on the first mission to Mars?
  6. What natural resource will provide the energy to power computers, space heaters, and all of the other electrical needs for the astronauts while they travel to and from Mars and while they work on Mars' surface?
  7. Why do astronauts spend so much time submerged in large pools of water here on Earth while training for their mission to Mars?
  8. How will the ultimate success of manned missions to Mars impact humanity?

Debate Topics

  1. Debate the pros and cons of having a consortium of nations working toward a manned flight to Mars instead of the single-nation model seen so often in the past in the efforts of the United States and Russia to explore space.
  2. Meteors, meteoroids, and meteorites are three terms that describe rocks from space under different conditions. Though these terms are not synonymous, they are often used interchangeably. Give proper definitions for each of these terms, then explain which one applies to the alleged Mars rock discovered in Antarctica by NASA scientists.
  3. The people chosen to go to Mars will be out of reach of the Earth, completely on their own. While all the people will be astronauts, should they have various fields of specialty, like botany, engineering, or geology, or should each person be a jack-of-all-trades? If we send people with different professional backgrounds, which professions are most desirable?
  4. Is it realistic to expect just four people to compose the entire crew? Imagine having to spend more than two years with the same four people, isolated from all other human beings. The psychological effects would surely be overwhelming. Can you think of activities that might help these people overcome their monotony? Why do you think a four-person model was selected for the Mars missions, as opposed to a two- or three- or five-person model? What would be the consequences of waiting until a larger group could go safely?
  5. Because of the fact that Mars may have once supported primitive life forms like bacteria, it's irresistible to imagine more advanced beings living there. What if you were one of the first explorers from Earth to arrive on Mars. Assuming you could communicate with any Martians you encountered, how would you explain why you had ventured to their planet to conduct experiments? Consider the encounters throughout history between explorers and the people they "discovered" as you formulate your answer. Would you have the "right" to visit Mars and conduct experiments there?
  6. Inevitably, with any new space exploration endeavor, some citizens question the wisdom and fairness of spending billions of dollars that could otherwise be directed toward solving innumerable problems right here on Earth. Analyze both sides of the issue to determine where you stand. Compare your viewpoint with those of your teachers, and family members. Do you see any response patterns correlating to gender, age, education, or profession?

Video Discussion Questions

  1. These study questions address important topics introduced by this program and are listed in the sequence in which they are covered in the video. Answers to focus questions are available.

    1. If the entire history of life on Earth were condensed to a one-year time span, when would our human ancestors have arrived?
  2. How is it believed nomadic tribes came to the Americas?
  3. How did the disappearance of large animals in the Americas at the end of the Ice Age possibly affect humans?
  4. How did climate presumably affect whether people settled in villages?
  5. What happened to the global population of humans with the rise of agriculture?
  6. What happened to human populations and natural resources as a result of the Industrial Revolution?
  7. How long would it take to make Mars habitable?
  8. Why did oxygen decline in Biosphere II? Why didn't the scientists know what was happening?

Jeopardy Questions

  1. 1. People- explain the career or what the person is known for stated in the
    form of a question.
    1. Climatologist- scientist who studies the climate
    2. Geologist- scientist who studies Earth's processes
    3. Kim Stanly Robbinson- Author of Red Mars, Blue Mars
    4. Dr. Buzz Aldrin- First mission to walk on the moon
    5. Dr. Zubruin- Founder of the Mars Society
  2. Chemistry #1 - Provide the chemical from the formula for each compound stated in the form of a question.
    1. A. CO2 - carbon dioxide
    2. O2- oxygen gas
    3. O3- Ozone gas
    4. NO2- Nitrogen Dioxide
    5. N2- Nitrogen gas
  3. Definitions-Choose 5 definitions out of YOUR notebook- No notebook = no reading
  4. Terraform- Answer the following questions in the form of a question.
    1. What organism would be used to decrease CO2? - plant
    2. Where would cities be built that would benefit most from the energy of the sun? - equator
    3. How would energy and heat be trapped around a planet?- greenhouse effect
    4. What gas would be needed to be increased to support human life? - O2
  5. Chemistry #2- Provide the chemical from the formula for each compound stated in the form of a question.
    1. Water- H2O
    2. Carbon dioxide- CO2
    3. Nitrogen Dioxide- NO2
    4. Ozone- O3
    5. Nitrogen gas- N2
  6. 9. Mars/ Earth Comparison #1- Answer the following questions in the form of a question.
    1. What gas is the largest part of Earth's atmosphere? - N2
    2. What gas is the largest part of Mars' atmosphere? - CO2
    3. What is the length of day in hours on Earth? - 23.93 hours
    4. What is the length of day in hours on Mars? - 24.0084 hours
    5. What is the number of days in a year on Earth?- 365-26 days
  7. Mars/ Earth Comparison #2- Answer the following questions in the form of a question.
    1. What is the number of days in a year on Mars? 686.98 days
    2. What is the shape of both Earth's and Mars' orbit?- elliptical
    3. What is the mass of the Earth in kilograms? - 5.98 x 1024
    4. What is the mass of Mars in kilograms? - 6.42 x 1023
    5. What is the highest point on Mars? -Olympus Mons
    6. What is the highest point on Earth? Mt. Everest
  8. Math to Compare Mars and Earth- Answer the following questions in the form of a question.
    1. What is the ratio difference between Earth and Mars distance to the Sun- 1 to 1.524 AU
    2. What is Earth's diameter in kilometer? In centimeters? - 12,756 km 12,756,000,000 cm
    3. What is the mass of Mars in kilograms? in grams? - 6.42 x 1023 kg, 6.42 x 1026 kg
    4. What is the total mass of Earth and Mars? - 12.40 x 1047 kg
    5. What is the percent of N2 is in Earth's atmosphere? - 78%
  9. Math to Compare Mars and Earth- Answer the following questions in the form of a question
    1. What is the percent of CO2 is in Mars' atmosphere?- 95%
    2. What is the difference between Earth and Mars axis tilt? 1.6 degrees
    3. What is the difference between the maximum surface temperatures? 0 degrees
    4. What is the difference between the mean surface temperatures? 61 degrees
    5. What is the difference between the minimum surface temperatures? 110 degrees