Imagine living in the Sahara desert---though on Mars almost the entire surface has some form of water present---either locked up in the rocks, or frozen in its ice caps. That equates to almost the entire surface having a composition somewhere between 5-40% water no matter where you take a scoop of regolith. That, everyone, is pretty good for plants---and essential for any human settlement.
Now, terraforming Mars will take a long time---longer than any human life. But, taking bits of Mars into our habitats and settlements will be required to keep the flow of elements going to ensure humans maintain the ability to live and prosper. That’s where my plants come in.
Plants have been used by humans for tens of thousands of years. Shamans used plants to heal some of the deadliest ailments known to man---Malaria, for instance. Up until the 1980s, almost 50% of our medicine was derived from plants. Not to mention we need to eat them to survive. The first known human civilization, between the Tigris and Euphrates, built homes entirely out of wetland reeds---they evolved and adapted to living entirely on a wetland. How strange that an ape from the trees and savannahs finally took hold living over water---but that is another story…maybe for Chris.
Now a-days, most of us only see plants (aside from the ones we eat) labeled on shampoo bottles, lotions, and creams. But, rest assured, they are always helping us out---even when we forget to help them. They clean our air, clean our water, they provide countless homes for vertebrates, microbes, and occasionally a tiny human pretending they are riding a spaceship on a cool summer night. One cannot put a price on the plants we need to survive.
This ancient relationship will have to be carried with us towards the planets and stars. We must keep them alive to remind us of home, to fill our bellies, to clean our air, to clean our water, and to build with. Perhaps we will have a space-race for tulip breeders, or perhaps O-G Bonsai trees? Maybe.
So, what does the life of a terraformer consist of? I grow plants on Mars---er---like Mars. For now, it will have to be close enough.
--Josh Borchardt, Crew Biologist/HSO