Terraforming, literally meaning 'Earth-shaping', is a branch of geoengineering that strives to change the environment of a hostile world in such a way that it becomes habitable to a sentient species. This usually involves changing the characteristics of the atmosphere and hydrosphere in order to introduce a biosphere. The process commonly takes several centuries to a millenium to fully complete, although many 'half-terraformed' worlds exist where one can survive with no more technological aid than a thick coat and a facemask.

Terraforming is a long, difficult, and expensive process. It is not uncommon to see a project fail, leaving behind worlds with runaway greenhouse effects, surfaces pummeled into molten slag, enough radioactivity to kill a baseline human in seconds, or a hell of super-high-speed storms.

The process

The terraforming process typically focusses around achieving the following goals, in order:

  • Removing any large-scale hazards (Corrosive atmosphere, constant lightning storms, etc.)
  • Ensuring comfortable surface-level atmospheric pressure
  • Ensuring comfortable surface temperature
  • Ensuring all the requisite materials for a biosphere are present
  • Ensuring a breathable atmosphere
  • Creating an ecosystem to maintain post-terraforming conditions and provide a food chain (See: Biosphere Engineering)

The first step in a project is usually to redirect several asteroids or comets to deposit certain materials (Most commonly water, oxygen and other volatiles) on the surface and into the atmosphere, although this may also be achieved in some cases by triggering volcanic activity. Orbital constructions may also be used to alter the amount of sunlight that hits the surface. Often a mixture of these three is used to establish an environment capable of hosting simple life.
The next step is to seed the world with microbes or microscopic Von Neumann machines designed specifically for a certain task in terraforming. These are most commonly used to make the first steps in creating fertile soil and a breathable atmosphere by sealing certain compounds into solids and freeing others into gasses. Surface-based structures and engineering may play a role at this stage as well, pumping aquifer water to the surface, re-routing rivers, or creating artificial sources of heat, rain or wind. It is usually at this stage that a significant surface population forms.
Finally, the process of finished by several decades of large scale biosphere engineering, carefully setting up a self-balancing ecosystem. It is this stage that fails most frequently.