Here at HEXAPOLIS, we have talked quite a bit about the different Mars habitat concepts that designers and scientists have come up over the years. There was the innovative Ouroboros dwelling, conceived by MIT students as part of NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, which is built using the Red Planet’s silica reserves. The Sfero House is somewhat similar, with its outer structure made from iron ore extracted from the Martian soil.
NASA has recently unveiled yet another futuristic habitat concept, this time in the form of an ‘ice home’. According to the team, the inflatable dome resembles an igloo in design, in that it is actually covered in a thick layer of ice to protect the astronauts from the alien planet’s harsh surface conditions, including high temperatures and intense solar radiation. Speaking about the project, Kevin Vipavetz of Virginia-based Langley Research Center said:
After a day dedicated to identifying needs, goals, and constraints we rapidly assessed many crazy, out of the box ideas and finally converged on the current Ice Home design, which provides a sound engineering solution.
Lack of running water, extremely low temperatures and strong dust storms make Mars a hostile planet, while its thin carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere accounts for the presence of high-energy cosmic rays that could easily destroy cells as well as cause serious health issues, including respiratory problems and even cancer. The newly-conceptualized structure, dubbed as the Mars Ice Home, is designed to shelter the occupants from the planet’s severe conditions. The team added:
The Mars Ice Home design has several advantages that make it an appealing concept. It is lightweight and can be transported and deployed with simple robotics, then filled with water before the crew arrives. It incorporates materials extracted from Mars, and because water in the Ice Home could potentially be converted to rocket fuel for the Mars Ascent Vehicle, the structure itself doubles as a storage tank that can be refilled for the next crew.
Being hydrogen-rich, ice actually serves as a shield against harmful solar rays. Unlike the other Martian habitat designs, which usually require some type of construction, this light, inflatable dome is extremely easy to install, relying on a lot of the planet’s native resources for its operations. As pointed out by the scientists, the best way for humans to actually inhabit the Red Planet would be to live underground. The Ice Home could therefore offer shelter to astronauts, while they await the construction of sturdier abodes. Sheila Ann Thibeault, a member of the research team, said:
The materials that make up the Ice Home will have to withstand many years of use in the harsh Martian environment, including ultraviolet radiation, charged-particle radiation, possibly some atomic oxygen, perchlorates, as well as dust storms – although not as fierce as in the movie The Martian.
The entire process of inflating and installing these structures would take around 400 Earth days, and could be completed entirely on Mars without having to send prefabricated structures from here. This approach, the researchers believe, is a lot more feasible than sending heavy digging and construction machines before the astronauts arrive. Kevin Kempton of the Langley Research Center explained:
After months of travel in space, when you first arrive at Mars and your new home is ready for you to move in, it will be a great day.