By 2024, Elon Musk — the co-founder of Tesla and founder of SpaceX — aims to colonize Mars. For people to live on the Red Planet, safe and secure habitats will need to be designed. That’s where a team and engineers and architects from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) comes in.
The group recently won first prize for architecture in this year’s international Mars City Design competition. Space reports that the contest asks participants to invent habitats that could one day be installed on the fourth planet from the sun. The competition was sponsored by NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA).
Similar to previous contests, the Mars City Design aims to solve the problem of living on the harsh, oxygen-deprived planet in a sustainable manner. From limited cargo to its scarce resources, there are many challenges to colonizing the Red Planet. With MIT’s winning design, however, perhaps it will be easier than thought.
The Redwood Forest is a collection of “tree habitats” that are connected through a system of tunnels called “roots.” The roots would ensure safe access to other habitats, private spaces, and transportation, explains a statement from MIT. The tunnels would also provide dwellers protection from cosmic radiation, extreme changes in temperature, and micrometers impacts.
The team’s vision calls for building about 200 of the tree habitats. Each would house up to 50 people, meaning 10,000 pioneers could live in one settlement. There would be private and public spaces, as well as plants and water harvested from the northern plains of Mars.
The team was led by MIT postdoctoral researcher Valentina Sumini and MIT assistant professor Caitlin Mueller. Nine students also participated. Said Sumini in the statement:
“On Mars, our city will physically and functionally mimic a forest, using local Martian resources such as ice and water, regolith (or soil), and sun to support life. Designing a forest also symbolizes the potential for outward growth as nature spreads across the Martian landscape.”
Just like in a real forest, every “tree” in the group would be vital to transporting water throughout the system. Additionally, each dome would have soft cells that would fill with water. This would protect inhabitants from radiation, prevent the structures from overheating, and supply water to both the fish and produce farms. Each dome would also have solar panels to generate clean energy. The power would be used to charge hydrogen fuel cells and split water to create rocket fuel.
The MIT engineers and architects agree that the Redwood Forest could be utilized on Earth, as well as Mars. Similar architecture could make harsh environments — such as high altitudes or even the sea floor — livable, they said. The habitat’s proposed gardening would also make them self-sufficient.
Of course, the number one priority is designing habitats agencies like NASA and ESA can take advantage of when colonizing Mars. Says the competition’s website: “It is not enough to just travel to Mars and survive; now we must develop a way in which we can sustainably live and love on Mars. It is essential that we call on a new generation of thinkers and innovators to make this a reality.”
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