NASA scientists are examining a high altitude forest on a Mexican volcano in an attempt to understand the practicalities of colonising Mars. They see forestation as a crucial step towards making Mars habitable.
They are examining Pico de Orizaba’s pine forest in order to better understand the effects of thin air and extreme cold on pine trees. The surface temperature of Mars is currently -55° Celsius, far too cold for trees to grow. However, scientists believe that by introducing global warming gases such as nitrous oxide and methane it should be possible to warm Mars to a temperature similar to that in which the Mexican forest currently survives.
A manned mission to Mars is at least fifteen years away, and serious attempts to colonise Mars would not begin for another fifty years after that. Though it seems like the stuff of science fiction, scientists do now think that it is more than just a pipe dream. There are, of course, many unsolved problems; cosmic radiation and a different gravity force would both be major obstacles. The six month journey also complicates issues, so it seems unlikely that we’re going to be booking skiing holidays on Mars’ 5 mile high mountains anytime soon.