There’s good news for Matt Damon, and anyone else who might run the risk of being subjected to the oxygen-sparse freezing barrenness of Mars: a team of designers and engineers is actively developing plans to establish habitable colonies on the planet. LA-based Mars City Design is a venture that aims not just to put humans on Mars, but to help foster full-fledged self-sustaining cities there. They started by crowdsourcing concepts; next they’ll mentor and refine; finally, they’ll actually build. While others are making films, these folks are making moves. Here’s what CEO and Founder Vera Mulyani has to say of their Mars colony mission:
“It is not enough to just travel to Mars and survive. Now we must develop a way in which we can sustainably live and love on Mars. It is essential that we call on a new generation of thinkers and innovators to make this a reality.”
The initiative kicked off with a competition (now running annually, with the next one taking place from September 2016 – January 2017) in which participants were asked to conceptualize designs for a viable human settlement on the Red Planet. Entries were scored based on their ability to address the adverse conditions on Mars, innovation, ability to solve/avoid problems faced on Earth, and presentation. The shortlisted projects showed a great deal of diversity in their approach to the Martian mind-bender.
Project Dandelion proposed a closed-loop life support system that starts with using regolith—the loose upper layer that forms the Martian surface—as the primary source for nutrition and energy. Neurosynthesis takes inspiration from neurons in the brain to create inter-connected nodes which include housing units and a river system within the colony. Vertical Farms addresses the challenge of agriculture in a Mars colony with an aquaponics arrangement in which plants draw nutrients from fish effluent.
Encouraged by the innovation and interest the competition garnered, the organizers turned to Kickstarter to raise funds to conduct a workshop for the shortlisted teams. The campaign successfully reached its $30,000 goal with pledges from 123 backers. Thanks to that, the Mars City Design Workshop is now a go. It will bring together some of the top minds in aerospace, engineering, and architecture to mentor the finalists. The list of speakers includes Buzz Aldrin, whose Buzz Aldrin Space Institute has already been immersed in researching means to establish a Mars colony.
The workshop will be an opportunity for the teams to iterate on their ideas based on feedback from mentors and fine-tune their concepts. The most exciting part of the project will come after that process, when the top three teams’ Martian settlement designs will materialize into to-scale prototypes using 3D printing. The sample colonies will be laid out in the Mojave desert. They will be used as an early test run for an establishment that might eventually become humanity’s first extraterrestrial abode.
Why all this excitement over establishing a base on the fourth rock from the Sun? Check out Dr. Robert Zubrin’s brilliant explanation below. The real question is what Hollywood will turn to once Mars isn’t the uninhabitable wasteland it used to be. Hopefully not another Bourne movie.
Prateek Jose is a writer and engineering undergrad from India with an unhealthy obsession for obscure historical trivia. Conversations about absurdist fiction and the technological singularity make his day. He’s already uploading parts of his brain to servers by writing for websites such as this one.