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To terraform is to transform an environment, such as a planet, into an Earthlike atmosphere, such that it can support human beings. It is a central concept of much science fiction about colonizing other worlds.

Jack Williamson coined the term in his novella “Collision Orbit” (Astounding, July 1942):

He had been the original claimant of Obania, forty years ago; and Drake was the young spatial engineer he employed to terraform the little rock, only two kilometers through—by sinking a shaft to its heart for the paragravity installation, generating oxygen and water from mineral oxides, releasing absorptive gases to trap the feeble heat of the far-off Sun.

However, the concept of re-engineering unsuitable environments dates back much earlier, both in fiction and technology.

At Chicon 6 in 2000, exhibits and programming called “Planet Chicago” included coverage, coordinated by Neil Rest, of “Terraforming Chicago,” the 19th-century real-world transformation of the city of Chicago, which featured adding to its landmass, raising the city’s elevation and reversing the flow of the Chicago River.

Fanspeak 1942
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