Sep 25, 2015 | By Kira

There has been a lot of talk of buzz in Hollywood about Matt Damon’s latest blockbuster, The Martian, based on a novel about a lone astronaut who must survive the harsh realities life on Mars. Well, it turns out that storyline may not being science fiction for long. NASA and America Makes recently announced their 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, inviting scientists, researchers and engineers to develop a safe, secure, and sustainable housing on Earth and beyond, and Foster + Partners New York’s modular design has just been selected as one of 30 finalists.

Foster + Partners’ vision is to build 93 square-meter habitats that could house up to four astronauts at a time, using 3D printing technology and regolith—the loose soil and rocks that make up the Red Planet—as the building material.

According to the firm, their plan involves sending an array of semi-autonomous robots to Mars before the arrival of the Astronauts. Three types of robots would be used: large ‘Diggers,’ responsible for digging 1.5 meter deep craters in the regolith; medium-sized ‘Transporters’ who would move an inflatable module overtop of the crater; and finally a series of smaller ‘Melter’ robots, who would cover the modules with loose Martial soil, and then fuse it into a solid material, building up the structure layer by layer just as it’s done with 3D printers here on Earth. Once finished, the hardened regolith would form a permanent shield that protects the settlement, and the astronauts inside, from excessive radiation and freezing temperatures experienced in Mars’ weak atmosphere.

In view of the vast scale of the mission, the proposal has taken into consideration every possible aspect and complication, from delivery and deployment to construction and communication issues, in order to ensure a successful mission. For example, to reduce the need for manpower on Mars and human input, the habitats will be delivered in two stages before the astronauts even arrive. In addition, the large number of robots, the modularity of the habitat, and built-in redundancy mean that even if one robot fails, or if a single module is damaged, others will already be in place to fulfill the task.

“Given the vast distance from the Earth and the ensuing communication delays, the deployment and construction is designed to take place with minimal human input, relying on rules and objectives rather than closely defined instructions,” said the developers in a press release. “This makes the system more adaptive to change and unexpected challenges – a strong possibility for a mission of this scale.”

To go the extra mile, Foster + Partners have even considered the psychological and physiological demands that such a mission could put on the astronauts themselves. Because they will have little-to-no communication with anyone other than themselves, and very few creature comforts for potentially years on end, the habitats have been finished with ‘soft’ materials and enhanced virtual environments, creating as much as a positive living atmosphere as possible in a harsh, desolate planet.

The winners of the NASA and America Makes 3D Printed Habitat Challenge will be announced this weekend at the World Maker Faire in New York. We previously covered some of the other finalists here, as well as the SFERO project by French firm Fabulous, which was unfortunately disqualified, since the contest is open only to American residents.

Importantly, this contest is not just about devising ways for us to live on Mars—it’s about finding more safe and sustainable ways for us to live right here on Earth. The potential of ideas such as Foster + Partners’ 3D printed habitat and other 3D printing solutions is that it offers completely unique solutions for delivering raw materials, or using the materials on hand, even in resource-poor countries or ones affected by natural disasters, potentially saving hundreds of millions of people who currently live in unsafe slums or worse. Now that’s what we would call a giant step for mankind.




Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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