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Ice Home for Mars Explorers
Jan 10, 2017

According to NASA scientists, the first explorers on Mars may build their homes using the ice beneath their feet to effectively protect them from the harsh martian environment and provide a safe place to call home.

  • When astronauts set foot on Mars, they may stay for months rather than days as they did during Apollo missions to the Moon.
  • The surface of Mars has extreme temperatures and the atmosphere does not provide adequate protection from high-energy radiation.
  • These explorers will need shelters to effectively protect them from the harsh Martian environment and provide a safe place to call home.
  • According to researchers at NASA's Langley Research Centre in Virginia, the best building material for a new home on Mars may lie in an unexpected material—ice.
  • NASA researchers said, ‘Mars Ice Dome’, is one of many potential concepts for sustainable habitation on the red planet .
  • Langley’s senior systems engineer Kevin Vipavetz said, after a day dedicated to identifying needs, goals and constraints we rapidly assessed many crazy, out of the box ideas and finally converged on the current Ice Home design, which provides a sound engineering solution.

What is ‘Mars Ice Home’?

  • The ‘Mars Ice Home’ is a large inflatable torus, a shape similar to an inner tube, that is surrounded by a shell of water ice.
  • The ‘Mars Ice Home’ design has several advantages that make it an appealing concept.
  • It is lightweight and can be transported and deployed with simple robotics, then filled with water before the crew arrives.
  • It incorporates materials extracted from Mars and because water in the Ice Home could potentially be converted to rocket fuel for the Mars Ascent Vehicle, the structure itself doubles as a storage tank that can be refilled for the next crew.
  • Another critical benefit is that water, a hydrogen-rich material, is an excellent shielding material for galactic cosmic rays, and many areas of Mars have abundant water ice just below the surface.
  • Galactic cosmic rays are one of the biggest risks of long stays on Mars. This high-energy radiation can pass right through the skin, damaging cells or DNA along the way that can mean an increased risk for cancer later in life or, at its worst, acute radiation sickness.
  • Space radiation is also a significant challenge for those designing potential Mars outposts. For example, one approach would envision habitats buried underneath the Martian surface to provide radiation shielding.
  • However, burying the habitats before the crews arrive would require heavy robotic equipment that would need to be transported from Earth.
  • The Ice Home concept balances the need to provide protection from radiation, without the drawbacks of an underground habitat.
  • The design maximises the thickness of ice above the crew quarters to reduce radiation exposure while also still allowing light to pass through ice and surrounding materials.

All of the materials selected are translucent, so some outside daylight can pass through and make it feel like you are in a home and not a cave. Selecting materials that would accomplish these goals was a challenge for materials experts.

  • The materials that make up the Ice Home will have to withstand many years of use in the harsh martian environment, including ultraviolet radiation, charged-particle radiation, possibly some atomic oxygen, perchlorates, as well as dust storms.
  • In addition to identifying potential materials, a key constraint for the team was the amount of water that could be reasonably extracted from Mars.
  • Experts who develop systems for extracting resources on Mars indicated that it would be possible to fill the habitat at a rate of one cubic metre per day.
  • This rate would allow the Ice Home design to be completely filled in 400 days. 
  • The design could be scaled up if water could be extracted at higher rates.

Possibilities of Life on Mars

Earth is the only place that we know for certain supports life. Many claims have been made by observers who thought they saw evidence of life on Mars, but we now know they were tricked by the very difficult measurements. From Earth, even with our most powerful telescopes, we just cannot see enough detail on Mars to answer this question. We need a close-up look at the planet.

NASA is working hard now to discover whether there is life on Mars. The United States and other countries have been sending spacecraft to orbit or land there since the 1960s, and each mission teaches us more about this fascinating planet. We have learned that even though Mars is more similar to Earth than anywhere else in the solar system, and therefore is a good place to look for life, it is still different from Earth in many ways.

Interesting Facts about Mars

  • Mars is the fourth planet from the sun. 
  • It is the next planet beyond Earth. 
  • Mars is more than 142 million miles from the sun. 
  • The planet is about one-sixth the size of Earth. 
  • Mars is known as the Red Planet. It gets its red colour from the iron in its soil. 
  • Mars has two small moons—Phobos and Deimos.
  • Mars is very cold. The average temperature on Mars is minus 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Mars is rocky with canyons, volcanoes and craters all over it. 
  • Red dust covers almost all of Mars. 
  • It has clouds and wind, just as Earth does. Sometimes the wind blows the red dust into a dust storm.
  • Tiny dust storms can look like tornados, and large ones can cover the whole planet.
  • Mars has about one-third the gravity of Earth. A rock dropped on Mars would fall slower than a rock dropped on Earth. 
  • Things weigh less on Mars than they weigh on Earth. A person who weighs 100 pounds on Earth would only weigh about 37 pounds on Mars because of less gravity.

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