life on mars, now in post-modern style
A proposal for a Martian habitat wants to use the power of water for both structural support and radiation shielding.
Mars is pretty well known to be a dangerous place thanks to its extremely weak and waning magnetic field and barely-there atmosphere. Gamma and UV-rays hitting its surface can kill the heartiest bacteria on Earth but since we’re very eager to colonize it and are building the spacecraft to do it, a lot of very smart people are trying to figure out how to protect astronauts from the horrific effects of long term exposure to massive doses of radiation, and one company came up with the most stylish and efficient idea yet. Basically, it’s a self-assembling robotic igloo which unfolds itself when it lands on the surface of Mars, extracts enough water from the surface to cover itself in a shell several inches thick, and creates a self-supporting translucent radiation shield with panoramic views of the red planet. Inside, a secondary ice shell protects the astronauts’ habitat, in effect creating a home with a backyard for humans who may spend as little as a few weeks or as much as years on an alien planet, doing invaluable research and conducting experiments that will hopefully advance science and engineering on Earth by decades.
Of course there are a few things to keep in mind with this proposal. This ice house won’t be able to travel with the crew because it will take at least 400 days to extract enough water to freeze into its outer shell. It may also need a way to filter out perchlorate salts which make Martian water extremely and poisonously briny. The internal shell may be good enough to keep them out of the astronauts’ air, but having these salts contaminate space suits during basic maintenance tasks and brining them inside might be a problem. There is also some question about the maximum possible sizes and the time it will take to print and freeze a large enough habitat for missions of more than a few people. Right now it’s not even a proof of concept, just an idea, but it’s certainly a very interesting one for both aesthetic and functional factors. It’s living off the land by building our bases from natural surroundings on other worlds, it will look pretty and give astronauts sweeping views to battle the claustrophobia of an enclosed base, and since it’s made of water, it makes a perfect shield from lethal radiation. Hopefully it will be incorporated into a real mission design because it seems like a step down the right path.