MIT’s conceptualized Mars habitat makes use of ‘native’ silica on the alien planet


When it comes to Mars habitat conceptions, we have been witness to various innovative designs ranging from Fabulous’ Sfero House to Foster + Partners’ Regolith-Based Dwelling. Well, this time around, we have had a gander at another incredible design entry put forth in NASA’s recently-held 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge. The so-named Ouroboros conception was created by MIT students, and their aim was to design a ‘practical’, low-carbon habitat that can be set up on the Red Planet by the year 2035. In essence, it meant cutting down on the transportation load and cost from Earth to Mars. The designers worked around this limit by contriving a Mars habitat concept that would make use of the indigenous materials available on the surface of Mars itself.

In terms of the core design considerations, the Ouroboros (named after the renowned Ancient Greek symbol of a snake eating its own tail) is envisioned as a ‘simple’ toroid-shaped (roughly donut-like) inflatable dwelling that can be installed on this alien planet. But the ingeniousness of the scope lies in the building material that the designers plan to use. This entails a super-strong flexible composite that could be extruded from the abundant silica found inside a particular zone on Mars.

To that end, the Ouroboros Mars habitat is envisaged to be installed on a region of Mars aptly called the Silica Valley, an area with soil containing 60 percent silica – as analysed by the Spirit Rover. Interestingly, this discovery was made in 2007, with NASA back then even speculating how the bright-toned soil with its rich silica content, might have been thickened by presence of water. In this case however, the scientists are looking forward to make a specialized glass material that can be created from the molten silica (that is directly derived from the Mars surface).

The MIT team had additionally considered bolstering this fiberglass material with air-tight plastic, which would allow for safe and sturdy pressurized Martian cabins. In that regard, a group of engineering students have already contrived a procedure by which they can synthesize the polypropylene, thus resulting in a thermoplastic composite made of hydrogen and carbon dioxide, but created in an indigenous manner within the confines of the Martian environment. As a result, these two materials – the fiberglass and the thermoplastic composite, can then be fused together to to morph into a hardy, bonded structure for the Ouroboros Mars habitat.

Now, as we mentioned before, the entire design process is largely conceptual in stage. In fact, the MIT team has admitted how they were inspired by pop-cultural references like the movies ‘Gravity‘ and the ‘2001: A Space Odyssey‘. However in the end, beyond fantastical set-pieces, they decided to take the more human-oriented route that could potentially allow for practical projects on the surface of the Mars. As master’s of architecture student Nicole Ashurian, said –

They [the movies] were great inspiration, but they were scary too. Confronted with the vastness of space, the group placed emphasis on creating a habitat that would be equally comfortable as functional. [So] we decided we needed to bring some humanity to Martian space.


Silica-rich soil photographed by Spirit. Credit: NASA /JPL-Caltech / Cornell

Source: MIT / Via: Gizmodo

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