Mysterious Island Experiment Could Help Us Colonize Other Planets

A 150-year-old effort on the remote Ascension Island in the Atlantic may help us green Mars. Can it also help us save Earth?

Touching down here feels like landing on Mars.

Clay-colored lava rocks form football field-sized craters visible from my airplane window. Residences near the airfield are low-slung, white, and identical in shape, just like the space colonies in science fiction. There are 800 or so mostly British and U.S. citizens residing on this 33 square-mile island, which sits just south of the equator, about half way between South America and Africa. Hundreds of satellites pepper the craters, listening to U.S. test missiles, space junk, and things that are classified.

I deboard the military charter plane and walk down the U.S. Air Force’s Wideawake Airfield under a cloudless sky. I am over 1,000 miles from any continent. It’s hard to imagine that scientists from another century chose to build the planet’s first artificial ecosystem here.

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