1) Earth microbes and soil organisms (worms) can live in hydrated martian soil. (https://news.nationalgeographic.com/2017/11/mars-soil-earthw...)
2) Food plants can grow in martian soil that has had said organisms added to it.(https://www.nasa.gov/feature/farming-in-martian-gardens)
3) The water to hydrate the soil is already on Mars.(this article)
4) We can build an artificial magnetosphere to protect an area from solar radiation.
So one trip to Mars that can land a small (< 100kW) power plant, organic amendments, tools, and material for a pressurized green house will be able to create a 'farm' on Mars. That is pretty neat.
 They designed it for spacecraft propulsion but it has the effect of a shield if installed in a ground station. http://earthweb.ess.washington.edu/space/M2P2/theory.html
Of course, it's a trade off and it's great news if we ever had to undertake a crash program to get at least a few humans and/or earth originated genetic material off planet with any hope of it surviving without extensive terraforming.
Explore Mars, in depth, ASAP, or someone will render the issue moot by starting their own terraforming project on the cheap. (Or the not so cheap. I don't believe Musk's colonization plans -if they ever come to pass- would be able to prevent contamination, no matter how hard they might try.)
Curious how this might work, given the energy required not only to escape Earth's orbit, but to get into another one around Mars and crash into it. It's my understanding that cubesats don't have anything that could do any of that stuff, and a larger craft doing the heavy lifting would be way more complicated.
It would take some serious engineering chops to pull it off, but it's not totally implausible.
Under works: Cliff climbing robots to look at ice and water flows, quads to survey large areas up close and quickly, and man more.
It's progressing as fast as it can, but is often sidetracks by the whims of new administrations (moon! no, Mars! no, Moon!).
The problem is that ensuring a sterile barrier so nothing gets out of your habitat-- especially when spacesuited living humans must pass through regularly -- is somewhere between incredibly expensive and just impossible.
We would be able to identify an extraterrestrial cell as surely as if it was carrying flashing lights and screaming "I'm an alien". While all life is based on information, and information needs to be somehow encoded in a, let's call it, genetic code, would that code be DNA and RNA based? would in encode proteins, and if so, would the building blocks be the same 20 amino acids that we have an Earth. Would the genes be encoded using the same nucleotites, and would "letter" in the genetic code be encoded by 3 nucleotides? If so, would always the same 3 nucleotides encode the same aminoacid as on Earth? etc, etc.
There are so many places that life could be different, that the chance of mistaking Martian life for terrestrial life is vanishingly small.
Personally I'd say no.
Furthermore, a mars station would allow science to be done directly on mars, rather than having payloads of material sent to and from earth.
But this concern is expressed in that series, and it is a real one. The first people we send to Mars will not be visitors. They'll most likely be colonists. They will die there. Once they start to truly colonize (if they survive) we will loose the ability to determine if any microbes we find are Terran or Martian.
Is it really necessary to preserve potential (but not confirmed) Martian life before establishing a beachhead?
Are we welcome there? Will we have to engineer some kind of virus that's friendly to our life support that wipes out these unfriendly lifeforms?
> The ice was likely deposited as snow long ago. The deposits are exposed in cross section as relatively pure water ice, capped by a layer one to two yards (or meters) thick of ice-cemented rock and dust.
"Ice water" would be something that is served in the restaurants on Mars.
Water has been confirmed by spectroscopy, thermal imaging and (previously) radar.
From the article:
"Compact Reconnaissance Imaging Spectrometer for Mars (CRISM) confirmed that the bright material is frozen water. A check of the surface temperature using Odyssey's Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera helped researchers determine they're not seeing just thin frost covering the ground.
Researchers previously used MRO's Shallow Radar (SHARAD) to map extensive underground water-ice sheets in middle latitudes of Mars and estimate that the top of the ice is less than about 10 yards beneath the ground surface."
This is really the first time frozen water (not just frost) has been SEEN with an imaging spectrometer!
Until a rover or other probe tests it directly, I'll remain skeptical.
We have long known that there is tons of frozen water on Mars outside of the poles. Through many individual discoveries we've learned about shallow subsurface permafrost over much of Mars; we've learned of a long history of sizable quantities of liquid water on Mars; and we've learned of subsurface glaciers of very ice that are almost entirely water ice by volume. The brines research is still an open question, as in all scientific research there is a back and forth between different interpretations of the given data, it's quite possible it will ultimately not shake out as a valid interpretation (but it's also a bit much to say that the brine theory has been "discredited" merely because an argument was made against it). Regardless, the existence of subsurface glaciers, of which this is an extension of, is a far less controversial result. We know Mars has subsurface water ice, we know some of that is in the form of glaciers, these are merely certain examples of those glaciers that are significantly exposed to the surface.
In 2015, there was this:
"NASA confirms the best-ever evidence for water on Mars"
From your link:
"This implies that RSL are not fed by large, near-subsurface aquifers, but are instead the result of either small ( < 120 km diameter) aquifers, deliquescence of perchlorate and chlorate salts or dry, granular flows."
Keyword there is "granular flows"
Here's another source for similar findings a few months prior.
"Granular flows at recurring slope lineae on Mars indicate a limited role for liquid water"
I too remain skeptical.
Basically Ceres is made out of ice - why would they need ice haulers to bring ice there; how could there possibly be a water shortage?
>The new study ... identifies eight sites where ice is directly accessible, at latitudes with less hostile conditions than at Mars' polar ice caps. "Astronauts could essentially just go there with a bucket and a shovel and get all the water they need," Byrne said.
That's so awesome.