Is creating a livable habitat on Mars and eventually terraforming (i.e. creating an Earth like atmosphere) it possible? As progress is made in the field of science and aerospace engineering the answer that emerges is a "maybe yes". But why would we want to inhabit Mars? Is Earth not good enough? With a rising population, there are currently 7 billion of us on this planet; chances are we will eventually run out-of-place to accommodate us all. Added to that is the chance of a planetary disaster which advocates the need to look for an alternate home.
Mars at present is a barren, desolate planet, with no signs of visible water or even a magnetic field to protect from solar activity. Then why is it our best bet for a second home for mankind? Though water is not visible on the planet, chances are it might be trapped in the polar ice caps, both carbon and oxygen is present in the form of carbon dioxide, nitrogen is also present. Thus all the elements needed to sustain life are present on Mars though the composition by percentage of each is much different from on earth. Still, Mars as we see today might resemble Earth as it did billions of years ago, right up until photosynthetic bacteria developed.
The habitation of Mars can be done in two ways. For smaller populations man-made systems can be built so as to sustain life within and protect from the harsh atmosphere of the planet. For this purpose structures, such as domes, can be built on the surface, or habitats created within canyon walls, or even in lava tubes (hollowed out spaces under the surface, which were once passages for lava flow). The last two options have the advantage of using the terrain to provide protection from radiations and other harmful space elements.
Another idea is the terraforming of Mars, which would be huge task and could take thousands of years, even millenniums. Several ideas have been proposed as to how this can be done. These include; the construction of large orbital mirrors to heat the planet, building greenhouse factories or crash ammonia rich asteroids in to the planet to raise greenhouse gas levels. All of these ideas are extreme and still require further research and innovation.
The dream of living on Mars might not be a possibility for this generation or even the next but it is no longer the far-fetched idea it once seemed to be.