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"I don't know why I write science fiction. The voices in my head told me to!"
- Charles Stross

Airmakers  
  Machine to create breathable air from the constituent materials on an alien planet.  

You'll need some heavy equipment to terraform Venus. Like an airmaker.

The first airmaker on their tour was... a dark, crouching bulk on a stony ridge, its intake funnel like the rearing neck of some archaic monster. They pulled up beside it, slapped down their helmets and went one by one through the airlock...

The airmaker was one of the most complicated machines in existence. A thing meant to transform the atmosphere of a planet had to be.

The intake scooped up the wind and drove it, with the help of wind-powered compressors, through a series of chambers; some of them held catalysts, some electric arcs or heating coils, maintaining temperature - the continuous storm ran a good-sized generator - and some led back into to others in a maze of interconnections. The actual chemistry was simple enough. Paraformaldehyde was broken down and yielded its binding water molecules; the formaldehyde , together with that taken directly from the air, reacted with ammonia and methane - or with itself - to produce a whole series of hydrocarbons, carbohydrates and more complex compounds for food, fuel and fertilizer.

Huge as the unit loomed, it seemed pathetically small when you thought of the fantastic tonnage which was the total planetary atmosphere. But more of tis kind were being build every day and scattered around the surface of the world; over a million already existed, seven million was the goal, and that number should theoretically be able to do the job in another twenty Earth years.

From The Big Rain, by Poul Anderson.
Published by Astounding Science Fiction in 1954
Additional resources -

See also the first instance of the word terraform in Jack Williamson's 1941 story Collision Orbit.

I can't resist mentioning that the first time I ever heard of "making air" was in Jules Verne's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea:

How did the commander of this aquatic residence go about it? Did he obtain air using chemical methods, releasing the oxygen contained in potassium chlorate by heating it, meanwhile absorbing the carbon dioxide with potassium hydroxide?

Thanks to Winchell Chung of Project Rho for pointing this item out.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Big Rain
  More Ideas and Technology by Poul Anderson
  Tech news articles related to The Big Rain
  Tech news articles related to works by Poul Anderson

Airmakers-related news articles:
  - Who First Suggested Terraforming Venus First?

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