Depending on who you ask, humanity is closer than ever to establishing settlements on the Red Planet. But what will our houses look like when we get there?
That’s the fundamental question behind a new Martian show home, opened Thursday at London's Royal Observatory, Greenwich. The museum display consists of a pod-shaped living space, set against a mock-up Martian landscape. There’s room to sleep, work, exercise, and grow small plants – but little else.
“This is a typical Mars home if you want to call it that, but it's really a survival centre,” science writer Stephen Petranek, who co-designed the display along with astronomers at the observatory, told Reuters.
The dome, which was built in tandem with the upcoming National Geographic drama “MARS,” will remain on display until Nov. 16. Mr. Petranek, who had previously authored a book titled “How We’ll Live On Mars,” worked as a consultant on the six-part series.
The home is more like a piece of concept art than an actual prototype. The pod doesn’t contain any of the technologies necessary to keep a person alive on Mars, but it does offer some ambitious ideas.
“It will make oxygen for people to breathe and it will supply its own water by sucking in the Martian atmosphere, which is about 100 percent humid most nights, and pull out water through a very simple dehumidifier mechanism,” said Petranek. “You'll have a 3D printer which will make almost everything that you need.”
In some ways, the dwelling looks like a miniature version of the ones used in NASA’s HI-SEAS missions on top of Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano, where the agency is conducting a year-long isolation test to eventually help prepare astronauts for life on Mars.
"Powered by solar panels, their home and lab is a simulation of what the first human explorers of Mars might set up on the Red Planet, possibly in the next couple of decades,"The Christian Science Monitor’s Lonnie Shekhtman reported:
The dome is 36 feet in diameter, with a volume of 13,570 cubic feet that allow for two floors. The kitchen, dining area, bathroom, lab, exercise area, and common spaces are on a 993-square-foot ground floor. The crew bedrooms make up 424-square-feet of the top floor; and a 160-square-foot workshop, converted from a steel shipping container, is attached to the outside of the dome.
It may seem a bit frivolous to design space kitchens and exercise equipment before we actually have all the technologies necessary for life on Mars. But small comforts will likely play a significant role in the physical and psychological health of future space travelers.
Recent studies of crew members on the International Space Station revealed that prolonged isolation may have negative effects on astronaut performance. That’s important to note, because not all future Mars settlers will be trained as thoroughly as professional astronauts are, and the flight to Mars takes at least six months.
“They get to miss the feeling of wind on their faces,” Gloria Leon, a University of Minnesota psychologist who advises NASA on astronaut selection, told the Monitor in August about the scientists on the HI-SEAS mission. “They miss the smells of nature, or the smell of food cooking. On a Mars voyage, Earth will be out of view. It will be the equivalent of twilight, looking out of the porthole. So there will be boredom – monotony, really – in terms of the environment.”