The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) could begin to develop a program in which the construction of “ice homes” is possible on the Red Planet.
Back in November, a research team from the University of Texas noticed that one particular region of Mars contains as much water in the form of buried ice as the Earth’s Lake Superior. In the Utopia Planitia region, in the mid-northern latitude of Mars, there is an ice layer of the size of New Mexico that is buried only 1 to 10 meters below the surface.
This discovery becomes vital for the NASA Langley Engineering Design Studio in Hampton, Virginia, because that particular team is in charge of figuring out how can humans design their habitat on the planet with the use of accessible materials. According to team leader Kevin Kempton, the construction of “Mars Ice Homes” seems like the most reliable solution.
What will these houses be like?
The concept of this constructions relies on the use of the buried ice water beneath Mars’ surface. It consists of an inflatable dome surrounded by an armature of iced water. According to the Langley Research Center, this particular construction can protect human explorers on the Red Planet from its potential dangers like high-energy radiation.
The senior engineer from the research team, Kevin Vipavetz, acknowledges that this solution seems like the most sustainable and practical one. The ice shell that will form the house would be light in weight permitting its mobilization with the use of robotic machines. NASA stated that this construction would also serve as a storage unit that could protect potable water or rocket fuel to be used in many vehicles.
When the Langley team started the discussion about which habitat solutions could be safer and sustainable, most of the proposals were about underground constructions. However, this would mean a dark place where daylight will be absent. The “Ice Home” solution traduces into an area where the crew is protected from radiation while they get natural light.
Kempton said that the engineering team is selecting translucent material that can improve the passing of the light through the structure, making the astronauts feel “like they are at home.”
Nevertheless, the construction of the “Ice Home” must be done several months before the crew arrives at the planet. NASA reported that there is a specific amount of ice water that can be pulled out from Mars surface in relation to the amount of ice water that the home actually needs. It would take about 400 days of robotic excavation to sustain the project, meaning about 36 cubic feet of water per day.
The Langley research team also worked on solutions oriented to the comfort the astronauts would have when working inside the “Ice Home.” The objective is for the crew not to use a pressure suit when they perform any maintenance duties like the managing of robotic and specialized equipment.
For this reason, the development team considered the usage of carbon dioxide gas. This odorless gas is present in the Red Planet, and it would be used as an insulation between the common spaces of the home and the thick ice armature.
“The materials that make up the Ice Home will have to withstand many years of use in the harsh Martian environment, including ultraviolet radiation, charged-particle radiation, possibly some atomic oxygen, perchlorates, as well as dust storms – although not as fierce as in the movie ‘The Martian’,” the researcher from the Langley Engineering Design Studio, Sheila Ann Thibeault, said this Thursday
The advantages of using Mars materials
Kempton has said that this inflatable home project not only will protect the astronauts effectively, but it will be one of the most efficient workplaces for the selected crew. He stated that the key activities to be conducted can be made successfully in this long-lasting structure and that the fact that it uses materials that can be found on Mars, then it reduces the amount of equipment that must be sent from Earth.
There are several difficulties of working in Martian territory, Kempton said. He addressed this issue by saying that as the Mars mission would be conducted for extended periods of time, there must be a place that serves to maintain all the robotic equipment that would be working in Mars’ complex environment.
In other habitat solutions, most of the investigation work would be conducted with the use of pressure suits. However, this condition declines the range of the work that can be made by the astronauts.
“Doing work while wearing pressurized gloves is a lot like wearing clown gloves, and simple things are hard to do and your hands get tired real quickly,” Kempton said about the use of pressure suits.
In the “Ice Home” solution, the crew will have to wear environmental suits, just to avoid breathing potentially dangerous dust. It seems like the “Ice Home” project fits the bill, Kempton concluded.