Will NASA’s first Martian colony be built from ice? The agency has awarded the first place prize in its 3-D Printed Mars Habitat Contest to the visually stunning Mars Ice House, a sleek structure that aims to harness the Red Planet’s liquid water and low temperatures to build a “multi-layered pressurized radiation shell of ice.” The structure is essentially a series of nested ice shells. A novel “front yard” pocket between the structure’s outer shell and interior domes will allow Mars astronauts to experience a “truly unique protected neutral zone that is not entirely interior or exterior”. Just inside the front yard, a lush hydroponic garden will provide both food and oxygen to the structure’s residents.
Ongoing NASA research focuses on the potential negative effects of long-term spaceflight on the human mind and body — concerns that were not lost on the team behind the concept. Constructing the habitat from ice will allow natural light to enter the structure while still adequately protecting its inhabitants from solar and galactic radiation.
“While scientists have experimented with what could potentially be synthetic replacements for sunlight, artificial substitutes do not hold nearly the same circadian variance or ability to balance a crew’s mental and physical health as does experiencing the sun’s actual and unmediated daily cycles,” the project’s website explains.
Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office, the brains behind the concept, recently took home a $25,000 prize at the Maker Faire event in New York City, beating out 30 other finalists.
“The creativity and depth of the designs we’ve seen have impressed us,” NASA Centennial Challenges Program Manager Monsi Roman said in a news release. “These teams were not only imaginative and artistic with their entries, but they also really took into account the life-dependent functionality our future space explorers will need in an off-Earth habitat.”
From Mars Ice House website –
“The Universe is Awash with Water”
In probing the galaxy for knowledge about our universe and it’s origins, humanity has investigated various possibilities for enabling human habitation beyond Earth. Recent discoveries of water and water-ice in our solar system, such as water deposits on the Moon and Mars, give great promise to uncovering the presence of life forms as we understand them. As water is the baseline resource for future outposts on a number of extra-terrestrial carbon-bodies, NASA has adopted a “follow the water” approach towards exploration. As such, water, the essential building block of life, is our Team’s primary material resource in the formation of the ICE HOUSE habitat design. Given the predicted abundance of water in certain areas on Mars, our approach takes full advantage of its properties as an indigenous material that acts both as a life-force to sustain a human and plant ecosystem, and, when 3-D printed, as our primary fabrication material.
3D Printing with Ice
Ice habitats on Earth and 3D Printing with ice are not without precedent. In consultation with our Team’s expert scientific advisors, astrophysicists, geologists, structural engineers and renowned 3D printing experts, we have achieved positive experimentation with one to one ice printing and successfully analyzed structural models.
Through an understanding of the physics of phase change and the temperature and pressure conditions of the Martian environment, as well as an understanding of the physical deposition techniques required we’ve designed a process to turn subsurface ice into water vapor, vapor used to deposit liquid water, in an environment cold enough to print a form in solid ice.
Music: Star of the Conqueror by Dhruva Aliman