Bold Mars architecture heralds a new era for spatial exploration

Bold Mars architecture heralds a new era for spatial exploration

Ahead of London Design Museum’s ‘Moving To Mars’ exhibition, we explore the future of space architecture on the Red Planet

There’s no life on Mars – yet. The prospect of humans going to the Red Planet could finally be leaving the realms of science-fiction: NASA plans a manned Mars mission by the mid-2030s; Elon Musk’s Space X aims to get there in 2024. It is not just about the journey, though. Given the challenging travel windows (Earth and Mars align once every two years; a one-way trip takes six to nine months), any visitor to Mars is going to be staying there for some time. Conditions are hardly hospitable, either. Mars’ gravity is 38 per cent that of Earth’s, there is virtually no atmosphere, so air pressure is negligible, solar radiation levels are dangerously high, and the daily temperature fluctuation can be as high as 150 degrees centigrade. Meteor impacts are also common.

These radically different parameters are generating radical new kinds of architecture and design. ‘Moving To Mars’, a new exhibition at London’s Design Museum this October, promises to be a major showcase for these new Martian arts; while US firm AI Spacefactory is creating a 3D printed experience of Mars life in the woods of upstate New York, completing this autumn to launch to the public in March 2020.

It is not just a design challenge; building on Mars is also a construction challenge. Transporting building materials 56 million km is out of the question. There is little choice but to work with the material available: Martian rock, known as regolith. The current thinking is to send autonomous robots in advance to process this regolith into a material suitable for 3D printing, then to construct habitats remotely, ready for the first human arrivals. Again, this is no longer as sci-fi as it sounds. For the past three years NASA has been running a 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, testing competing designs and materials, and moving the technology forwards – to the extent that new ‘interplanetary’ architecture practices are emerging, combining old-school design skills and space-tech expertise. §

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