But for permanent settlement on Mars, there are three further challenges: First, high levels of radiation rule out simply staying on the planet's surface. Second, al- most no building materials can be taken to Mars. And third, astronauts will probably call their Martian houses home forever.
That is why Luciana Tenorio, 27, an architect from Peru, got involved in the Mars Society, an organisation dedicated to bringing humankind to Mars. Scrolling through the list of the people involved, she noticed a gap. “I realised that the only people who applied for these kind of programmes were biologists or engineers. I was disappointed not to see any architects or designers,” she says. “In the end, if you are going to design something on Mars – create some houses, for example – you need architects.”
Four years later, she’s working together with NASA scientists to design our Martian future. Tenorio focuses on how to keep astronauts happy, healthy, and dedicated to their tasks. Her design addresses the fact that astronauts cannot live on the surface of Mars without shelter since they would die from radiation poisoning. So far, many solutions to that have focused on underground living. That might address the physical problem but could cause mental health problems for the astronauts instead, Tenorio says.
To provide Mars residents with light, Tenorio designed a shelter that allows astronauts to live on the surface. She had to think out of the box: It will be almost impossible to bring anything big enough to construct a shelter on the space mission.
Mars has soil and rocks, but also frozen water deep underground. Water contains hydrogen, which is the best shield against radiation. “So I thought, why not print water walls?” Tenorio says. Tenorio is proposing a dome-like structure made of frozen water, drawn from underneath the red soil and printed with a 3D printer. The ice layers would be kept frozen by a very thin type of plastic.
“You would live underneath ice and have a blue-tinted view of the outside world,” Tenorio says. The ice houses are constructed like snail shells; they look like translucent spirals. She can even change the structure to make some windows: the settlers can look out on the Martian landscape. At the heart of the home is a greenhouse, so people can grow food for themselves. Around that, various rooms are built. Like normal houses, the struc- tures can differ in size and height.
Within two to three years, Tenorio will present her first prototype home in the desert of Peru, which has soil that is similar to the Martian soil. After that, it will take another twenty to thirty years of testing before they will be able to start building on Mars.