Mars colonization might still be decades away. That doesn’t mean humans aren’t planning for a seemingly inevitable journey to the Red Planet. Of course, anyone that wants to live on Mars permanently will need a residence that’s roomier than the spaceship they arrive in.
A New York-based architecture company called AI SpaceFactory has a solution. It developed an egg-shaped habitat that is 3D-printed from Martian rock. Despite its unassuming look, the habitat is able to stand up to the rigorous tests of life on Mars.
One of the biggest problems with living on Mars isn’t actually designing a habitat—it’s figuring out how to get it there. Space missions, especially long-distance journeys, need to be extremely conscious about their weight. Transporting the building materials needed to create a habitat all the way to Mars isn’t a feasible option economically or logistically.
That’s why the team at AI SpaceFactory adopted an on-site approach. The company’s 3D-printed Mars habitat greatly decreases the amount of cargo needed for a one-way trip. A large, Earth-built robot is required to actually carry out the printing process. While that needs to be transported to Mars, the rest of the materials come from the planet itself.
The “ink” for printing the habitat is made of crushed basalt (which can be extracted from Martian rocks) and a bioplastic produced by plants that can be grown on Mars’ surface. It is extremely durable and shields inhabitants from both radiation and extreme temperature changes.
AI SpaceFactory CEO David Malott says, “Mars is nine months away. And if you’ve seen the movie ‘The Martian,’ if there’s a disaster, there’s very little you can do in terms of getting someone to come back. So you need to build something which is much more robust… shock proof, able to withstand the elements.”
In other words, that means temporary inflatable structures are an inferior option to 3D-printed rock.
Malott also notes that building on Mars is far different from doing so on the moon. He says, “If something goes wrong on the moon, it would just take a few days to go out there, bring people back. If the house has a leak in it, you can send the replacements.”
Colonists of the Red Planet won’t have that convenience.
Letting Nature Lead the Way
AI SpaceFactory didn’t have to start from scratch when designing its space habitat. Instead, it took cues from nature when determining the egg-shaped design of its structure. The team says that the unique shape is “the most structurally efficient form.”
Malott explains that the structure’s efficient shape requires less material to build. He likens it to an actual egg, saying, “If you think about an eggshell on Earth, it is the way it is… because that’s a very efficient shape. The eggshell can be very, very thin, and still it has the right amount of strength.”
The 3D-printed habitat isn’t just efficient, though. It is also able to stand up to the endless challenges thrown at it by the Martian environment.
One of the biggest challenges is the fact that Mars has an incredibly thin atmosphere. In fact, its atmospheric volume is less than one percent of Earth’s. Obviously, any habitat needs to correct that issue by equalizing the pressure inside.
The problem is, when a habitat has a much greater internal atmosphere than its surroundings, it wants to expand outwards. Traditional approaches to combating this issue typically involve massive anchors that keep the habitat in the ground to resist the expansion forces. AI SpaceFactory opted for a double-walled design.
It’s a unique solution that allows humans inside to live in an Earth-like atmosphere without causing the structure to balloon outward. As a bonus, it also allows light to diffuse down between the two walls and illuminate the entire habitat.
Built for Humans
Typical space habitats aren’t exactly comfortable. Just think of the International Space Station (ISS). Its many corridors and pods feel more like the inside of a machine than a home.
AI SpaceFactory wanted to create a structure that is more than capable of standing up to the harsh Martian environment while also giving colonists a comfortable place to live. The giant, 3D-printed egg features an interior that prioritizes the needs of human occupants.
The ground level is essentially a wet lab that lets inhabitants conduct experiments while transitioning between Earth-like and Martian atmospheres. There is also room for staging rovers and other “outdoor” activities. Its second floor hosts a kitchen and dry lab. Above that, the third floor features a garden, sanitation pod (yes, the bathroom), and personal sleeping pods. Finally, the top floor has with a skylight and a recreation space where colonists can relax after a long day of being interplanetary settlers.
Each floor is connected by a winding staircase that follows the curve of the giant egg. Meanwhile, the fact that each level is shaped slightly differently makes it far more appealing than the boxy, tubular design of the ISS.
Long Way to Go
Despite the impressive design of AI SpaceFactory’s habitat, there is still a long way to go before humans set foot on Mars—let alone colonize it.
In the meantime, AI SpaceFactory has plans to replicate its habitat on Earth. Dubbed Tera, the structure will be built with 3D-printed basalt and biopolymers from corn and sugarcane. The company says that its material is 50 percent stronger than concrete. It is also compostable.
Currently, AI SpaceFactory is printing its first Tera habitat in upstate New York. It started an Indiegogo campaign last year to allow people to book an overnight stay in the unique structure. The company plans to build more Tera habitats in locations around the world.
Ultimately, though, the firm is keeping its sights set on building habitats away from Earth. When that will happen is anyone’s guess. Regardless, it’s interesting to see how future Mars colonists might be living.