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A Team Creates a Prototype for a Human Habitat on Mars

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PHOTO COURTESY OF AI SPACEFACTORY

“Bright, inventive minds…are helping us advance the technologies we need for a sustainable human presence on the moon and then on Mars.”

—Monsi Roman, program manager, NASA, in a statement

The requirements list for a human habitat on Mars is lengthy: The buildings must be able to withstand extreme heat and bitter cold, shield colonizers from the sun's powerful radiation and be designed for on-site construction. In May, AI SpaceFactory completed a four-day simulation to prove its MARSHA project is up to the job. The startup, based in New York, New York, USA, edged out a project team from Penn State University to become winners in the latest phase of the US$3.5 million 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge by U.S. space agency NASA.

The team's project uses a 3D printer with robotic arms that can operate autonomously in a deep space environment. The structure's composite material is made from biopolymer-basalt fibers (which could potentially be harvested on Mars) and bioplastics (which would be shipped from Earth). The habitat also incorporates a lighting system that helps researchers and other inhabitants to maintain a normal circadian schedule. Though the project competition didn't mandate full-scale builds, the one-third prototype had to endure full-on durability testing, including withstanding 50,000 pounds (22,680 kilograms) of force to simulate the extreme weather on the red planet.

But this is just the start: The team is expected to use data from the simulation and testing to further refine its project plans in preparation for potential future missions. AI SpaceFactory also introduced an initiative to iterate on the MARSHA design and erect an eco-habitat in upstate New York where visitors can stay—no spacesuit required.

PROJECT

MARSHA by AI SpaceFactory

SCHEDULE

The four-day project competition took place in May. The team is expected to complete its Earth-bound build of a modified habitat later this year.

LIGHT IT UP

While many space-focused habitat designs have been squat or underground, the MARSHA team opted for an egg-shaped design with multiple windows and a skylight. “Humans much prefer to live above the ground with windows than burrowed into the ground or in caves,” AI SpaceFactory CEO and chief architect David Malott told Fast Company.

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