With NASA hoping to land humans on Mars in the early 2030s, the race is on to develop systems which may make such a feat possible. Life for humans on the Red Planet will be fraught with danger and challenges both big and small; one of the early dilemmas to resolve will be the creation of viable housing.
In order to fulfil this rather complicated and diverse range of requirements, four researchers from NASA’s Langley Research Center have suggested a surprising yet remarkably effective solution – an icy ‘igloo’ dome, featuring an inflatable torus, similar to an inner tube, surrounded by a shell of water ice. The ice, according to NASA, is an “excellent shielding material for galactic cosmic rays”, while many communities here on Earth, such as the Inuit, have long used it to construct their homes. A layer of carbon dioxide gas will provide additional insulation.These homes will need to not only create a tolerable environment for human life in terms of air composition, humidity and temperature, but also protect those dwelling inside from a plethora of issues including high levels of radiation (both ‘ultraviolet’ and ‘charged-particle’), violent dust storms, atomic oxygen and reactive perchlorates. What’s more, they have to be transportable with relative ease, as well as quick and simple to assemble in a harsh environment more than a few miles from home.
NASA senior systems engineer Kevin Vipavetz stated that, “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.”
The required ice is believed to be readily available under the Martian soil, with around 400 days of harvesting required to fill the igloo. Once assembled, the structure is designed to stand for years at a time.
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