As futuristic it might sound, traveling to Mars is not that far away. Realistic plans are already made and companies like NASA engage various scientists, architects, and designers to create different projects for Mars habitats. Here’s one of them.
This article was written in cooperation with Xavier De Kestelier, Principal / Head of Design Technology and Innovation at Hassell. All photos taken by Naaro Studio. Exhibition shown in the pictures was open until 23 Feb 2020 in Design Museum, London.
Living on Mars
The distance is one of the biggest obstacles of going to Mars, obviously, but there are other problems that prevent us from going to the red planet. A spaceship with people that would go to Mars is going to be exposed to a high dose of radiation. And it’s going to be battling with it throughout the whole flight that can take several years. While the robots we’ve already sent to this planet have no problem with the radiation, humans have to be secured better.
Once people land on Mars, they have to rely on themselves. Phones don’t work on this planet, and you’re millions of kilometers from Earth. There’s at least 20 minutes delay in communication between these two planets, so anything happens on Mars you have to wait about an hour for the response. In life-threatening or other crucial situations, that time is just too long.
This is why the first Mars habitat has to be fully autonomous and there can’t be any surprises. The complex of buildings people will build there will have different sections, and one of them is a workshop where you make all kinds of stuff. Tools, clothes, robots, computers, and other practical objects. Humans can bring some of them from Earth, but in such a workshop one should be able to remake one tool into another. Say, a robot is no longer needed, so you can disassemble it, and use the parts to make something else adding materials available on Mars.
Here’s where machines like 3D printers, CNC routers, or laser engravers would come extremely useful. Since the space is crucial in such small places, machines like ZMorph VX All-In-One 3D Printer can become essential. The multitool machine combines three different methods of fabrication and still fits on a desk, so it’s a very handy addition to the Mars habitat.
Using 3D Printers on Mars
3D printing is a very convenient way of making new things, because you can create practically everything. Perhaps on Mars there will also be a method of reusing plastic to create recycled filament. With a high-quality 3D printer like ZMorph VX you can make new tools, fixtures, everyday objects, and other nifty devices. Add to that the ability of subtractive manufacturing with materials like nylon, wood, aluminum, or popular engineering plastics, and you have just one machine that can do the work of few devices.
Weight matters and instead of launching a few heavy machines into space, you can take just one (or more) ZMorph VX with additional toolheads for CNC milling, and laser engraving that weigh around 20 kg. It still is very expensive to take 20 kg into space, but it’s definitely cheaper than taking 3 different machines 20 kg each.
To conclude, ZMorph VX All-In-One 3D Printer would be a practical addition to a Mars habitat and a useful tool for people living there.
Hassell’s Mars Habitat
Hassell’s idea of inhabiting Mars can be divided into two stages. It takes inspiration from the American ancestors who drove from the east coast to the other side of the continent during The Great Depression. Only this time, we have to cross millions of kilometers and fly through space to reach a planet that can be seen as a very small dot on the night sky.
The first phase is to send automatic robots to the red planet. Not just regular Mars rovers, but so-called “ecosystem” of robots that can work both separately and together to fulfill different tasks. They start the mission with gathering regolith, a material widely available on Mars, and melting it to 3D print a shelter for the habitat.
The purpose of the 3D printed regolith shelter is to build a safe space protecting the actual habitat before space radiation and atmospheric factors. The actual habitat would be placed under the robot-made structure.
Phase two includes the landing of humans on Mars. The robots used in the previous stage of inhabiting the planet would be gathered in larger groups to form big platforms on which the equipment from newly landed spaceships is transformed into the regolith shelter. That includes the crew, all the tools that will be used on Mars, and the habitat itself.
Hassell’s proposition is to make a self-inflatable group of modules that will form a habitat complex with various sections of different purposes. There should be a room where the scientists and explorers could eat, store things, and use a workshop with machines like ZMorph VX, and others. Each so-called module would have an individual life-support system, and water and oxygen supply. The round form of the structure maximizes safety.
How Soon Are We from Inhabiting Mars?
The answer is – sooner than you think. It may not happen during our lifetime, but the futuristic visions of some science-fiction writers are not so futuristic anymore. One of the popular ideas of inhabiting Mars includes establishing a base on the Moon where spaceships could launch. It’s much easier to start a rocket from the Moon than from Earth.
People like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos and companies like Boeing invest a lot of money in space exploration research. Musk’s company SpaceX already did something that dramatically cuts costs of exploring space, namely, their rockets can be used more than once. The spaceship people used to land on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission could be used only once.
Unfortunately for people who crave space travel, there are no economic reasons for visiting Mars yet. Moon landing happened during the Cold War, when the USA and Russia were competing against each other who has better technology. Such missions require massive amounts of money and no country is willing to sponsor a Mars expedition if there’s no economic benefit. On the other hand, some governments are willing to invest in science research centers like Large Hadron Collider, so there is a chance. Otherwise we have to put faith in private companies and billionaires who would like to invest in this type of research.
Space Travelling and New Technologies
What might shock some people is that we use a lot of very old equipment in space. The ISS was put on Earth’s orbit in 1998. Astronauts get there using Russian Soyuz spacecrafts built in the 1960s. It’s high time humans refresh their space travelling gear and start using SpaceX rockets or other modern technology. Only with the state-of-the-art machinery we can turn our dreams of inhabiting Mars into reality.
One thing is certain – the first human base on the red planet will be using top-notch technology, and should be fully independent and reliable. We’d love to see machines like ZMorph VX on board, but we still have a long way to get to Mars.
What was once merely a dream, is slowly turning into reality. Hopefully, we’ll see first people traveling to other planets during our lifetime. Remember, it’s sooner than you think.
This exhibition closed on Feb 23rd. More info.