Step aside, Nanook: NASA has announced a Mars base concept that reinvents the igloo.
The variable distance between Mars and Earth means astronauts may have to stay on the surface of the Red Planet for many months. That means living quarters are required to keep the crew safe from wildly varying temperatures and radiation.
Dubbed the Mars Ice Home, the new structure consists of a doughnut-shaped inflatable living area, surrounded by a dome filled with water. This freezes to form a thick wall of ice, providing more than enough protection from the dangerous levels of cosmic rays that bombard the surface of Mars – and, if split into hydrogen and oxygen, the water can double as fuel for the return rocket.
“All of the materials we’ve selected are translucent, so some daylight can pass through and make it feel like you’re in a home and not a cave,” said lead researcher Kevin Kempton.
Because the structure is light plastic, this base would be easy to transport, while the heavy content – the water – could be sourced on Mars. The habitat would be sent ahead of the astronauts and gradually filled from water deposits on the planet. It’s estimated that, at a likely cubic metre a day, this would take 400 days.
The Ice Home is just one of the base concepts investigated by NASA’s Langley Research Center, holding out the hope of a comfortable stay on Earth’s nearest planetary neighbour.