As we look forward to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Artemis Program to send humans back to the Moon, there is already a bigger target in sight: Mars.
For years, humanity has dreamt of what the Red Planet might offer and hopefully, we will see humans land there within our lifetimes. Unlike other space missions though, these humans might not come back to Earth for years and NASA has already made its decision of where they will stay during this time.
NASA began planning on building a human habitat on Mars many years ago and even launched a public challenge in 2014 to shortlist design concepts. Open to civilian designers, the challenge sought ideas for 1,000 square feet (92.9 sq. m) of living space that could support four astronauts for up to a year. Previous space missions have focused on providing only essential requirements, but when you are 245 million miles (374.4 million km) away from home, you might need a lot more than just essentials.
NASA did finally pick the design, which was submitted by Hassel Studio, an architectural firm, and Eckersley O'Callaghan, an engineering design team. Their submission is quite unlike the other concepts that you have seen before and does not stand out on the Martian surface. And it has a good reason for that.
The Martian surface is nothing as favorable as the one we have on Earth; by constructing an outer shell, the team wanted to ensure the safety of the astronauts against radiation and dust storms.
It only makes sense to use the Martian soil to construct such a shell, and the team suggests sending an army of robots way in advance to identify a suitable site and begin the construction.
Versatile in their function, these robots could work individually or in swarms to accomplish the tasks leading up to the construction of the shell, which is likely to be achieved through 3D printing.
Once the outer shield is ready, the astronauts could arrive with inflatable pods that will house the living and working spaces, which will serve as their home-away-from-home, the designers suggest.