What home designs can we expect if we colonise Mars?
Contributed by Alif Arif Iskandar Abd Wahab
Mars has a harsh environment, extreme temperatures, thin atmospheres, high radiation levels and dust storms. Beyond the fundamental requirements of a pressurised structure and radiation shielding, the designs for homes on Mars offer an extraordinary opportunity for architectural innovation. We also need to tackle the challenges of limited resources and the cost of transportation from Earth head-on even as business magnate Elon Musk is making the reality of a colony on Mars a step closer. We envision a synthesis of form and function, embracing the unique challenges of the Martian environment.
In my opinion, there are three main aspects of a Martian Home design - lightweight and modular structural elements, space modularity as well as flexible furniture and equipment.
Lightweight and modular elements will allow for efficient transportation and assembly, while still providing spatial elegance. These dwellings will feature advanced insulation systems, meticulously balancing the need for thermal regulation and environmental harmony. Other features would be creating Dome structures with transparent materials to allow in natural light and combat isolation. Modular units offer flexibility for different purposes, while vertical farming towers optimise food production.
We need to create a system where individual modules can serve specific purposes, like living quarters, laboratories, or recreational areas. These modules will be easily interconnected and reconfigured based on the needs of the inhabitants and the mission objectives. This flexibility will allow us to adapt to changing circumstances and scale up as the Martian colony grows.
A key feature of the home design is the usage of flexible furniture and compartments to ensure the spaces are used efficiently. These habitats will embrace advanced insulation systems, meticulously regulating temperature fluctuations while fostering environmental equilibrium, all in pursuit of a sublime living experience amidst the barren Martian expanse.
In crafting homes for the off-world Mars colony, comprehensive consideration of liveability becomes paramount. We must engineer an environment that harmonises with the human spirit, nurturing well-being amidst the inhospitable Martian landscape. Thoughtful integration of sophisticated air and water recycling systems will foster self-sufficiency, ensuring the preservation and conservation of vital resources. Adaptable interior spaces, crafted with ergonomic precision, will accommodate the physiological and psychological needs of inhabitants during their prolonged stay. Spaces for leisure, exercise and contemplation will be seamlessly woven into the fabric of these dwellings, encouraging a balanced and healthy lifestyle.
Certainly due to the extreme temperatures on Mars, maintaining a comfortable and habitable temperature range is essential. Insulation, heating and cooling systems should be implemented to regulate the internal climate. Energy-efficient solutions, such as passive heating and cooling techniques or advanced HVAC systems, can help optimise energy usage.
Thus, a proposed biodome with a properly shielded top and allowing natural light to enter into the home is key to liveability as it allows the inhabitants to experience, maintain/tend to the plants and ensure liveability as it is also the source of food and oxygen.
Sustainability is the guiding principle that underpins our architectural philosophy. Our goal even on Earth is to create habitats that maximise resource utilisation while minimising waste production, seamlessly integrating waste management and recycling technologies. These technologies will establish regenerative cycles, echoing the intricate harmony found in Earth's ecosystems.
Another key idea is the integration of biophilic design principles, emphasising the profound connection between nature and architecture. By intertwining nature with the built environment, we aim to nurture the psychological well-being of Martian residents. Green spaces, whether in the form of indoor gardens or vertical landscapes, will purify the air, evoke a sense of tranquillity and aesthetically enhance the living spaces.
To ensure sustainability in off-world homes, we must prioritise resource efficiency. By embracing waste reduction strategies and proper waste control measures, the ecological footprint can be minimised, creating a clean and sustainable living environment on Mars.
Allowing residents to personalise their living spaces and providing them with control over environmental factors, such as lighting and temperature, will enhance their sense of ownership and well-being. Moreover, maintaining a connection to Earth through reliable communication systems will help alleviate feelings of isolation and homesickness.
By embracing sustainability measures and incorporating elements that support psychological well-being, our off-world homes will offer a harmonious and nurturing living environment for Martian inhabitants. These habitats will not only enable long-term habitation but also evoke a sense of belonging and a feeling of home away from Earth.
The structural adaptations required for Martian habitats demand a careful and innovative approach, considering Mars' distinct geological characteristics and lower terrestrial integrity compared to Earth. Lower gravity and a thinner atmosphere necessitate new building techniques, materials and designs that can withstand the challenges posed by this alien landscape.
Understanding the impact of lower gravity on the structural components is paramount. Mars' gravity is approximately 38% of Earth's, affecting the loads and stresses experienced by the habitats. To ensure stability and long-term integrity, structures must be designed to withstand reduced gravity and potential impacts or vibrations.
Moreover, the thin atmosphere on Mars must be considered. With atmospheric pressure only 0.6% of Earth's at sea level, the forces exerted on the habitat's exterior surfaces differ significantly. The structural design must account for these pressure differences, distributing loads properly and ensuring the integrity of the habitat.
The properties of Martian regolith, and the soil composition on Mars, also require careful analysis. It differs significantly from Earth's soil, with loose particles and potentially different mechanical properties. Understanding the regolith's characteristics is crucial in designing stable foundation systems and anchoring structures to resist settlement or shifting.
By embracing these structural adaptations, engineers and architects can create habitats on Mars that are resilient, safe and capable of withstanding the unique environmental conditions of the Red Planet.
Alternative power source
Solar energy can be a viable and sustainable power source for homes on Mars. The planet receives abundant sunlight and solar panels can efficiently convert solar radiation into electricity. However, Mars experiences periods of reduced sunlight due to dust storms and its elliptical orbit around the Sun. Dust storms can block sunlight, reducing solar panel efficiency. Additionally, during Martian winters, sunlight is limited. Designing solar power systems with adequate capacity and energy storage capabilities can help address these challenges
NASA has also studied using a nuclear power fission system to be used as a back-up power supply during emergency periods. Another idea is to use a Solar Electric Propulsion system, whereby the power is beamed to the surface using a solar power satellite to a rectifying antenna receiver.
Within the habitat, especially if we designed it as a bio-dome architectural typology, communal spaces can be built in the centre and will serve as vibrant hubs for socialisation and bonding. These shared areas, such as dining spaces and recreational facilities, will foster a sense of community and encourage inhabitants to interact and collaborate. In addition, organising group activities, events and educational programs will further strengthen the sense of community and camaraderie among the settlers.
Through this integration of communication systems and community spaces, Martian pioneers will not feel isolated or alone. The design of the habitats will prioritise meaningful human interaction, while creating opportunities for personal growth, collaboration and shared experiences. The interplay of Musk's audacity and Foster's functional harmony will ensure that these Martian habitats become thriving social centres, embodying the spirit of innovation, sustainability and human well-being on the red planet.