I saw The Martian on Friday. Great adaptation of a great novel. Poor astronaut Watney had so many ordeals with his inflatable habitat. If only he’d had one of the new Martian igloos! (Insert paid programming here—“but wait, there’s more!”)
Back in May, NASA announced a competition challenging innovators to design 3D printed habitats for space explorers—including Mars missions—using indigenous materials. It currently costs about $10,00 per pound to send stuff into space, so building with what’s already on-site would be much more efficient. The winning proposal, announced just a few days ago, uses water ice. Creators SEArch (Space Exploration Architecture) and Clouds AO (Clouds Architecture Office) call their innovation the MARS ICE HOUSE.
Frozen H2O crystals afford more advantages than just availability. Ice also works as a radiation barrier. Traditional space habitat concepts often confine their hypothetical residents to subterranean warrens, shielded beneath layers of regolith. The igloo design enables above-ground living. It also recreates some Earth-like comforts, including a “front yard” pocket and recreational parks with vertical hydroponic gardens.
So there’s an novel idea for Martian housing, and perhaps even the materials to do it (the ice house’s first prize win coincides nicely with the discovery of liquid water on the Red Planet). But NASA has another challenge yet to overcome: inventing a 3D printer that can work reliably in extreme extraterrestrial environments!