Here's one vision for the two-bedroom apartment of the future: A modular, hexagonal building with two baths, basic appliances, and walls that happen to be able to withstand -80 degree temperatures, constant space radiation, and frequent dust storms. This is a home designed for Mars.
The beehive-like building can be arranged in multiple configurations; this one includes a garden and a 3-D printer room. Underneath the apartment, a container filled with heated water would keep the building warm and an air purification system would provide oxygen. Outside, panels made from depleted uranium would keep radiation out, and the shape of the walls would help minimize heat loss.
The model, called the Queen B, is the brainchild of 3-D product designer Noah Hershberger, who won a recent challenge from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Makerbot to design a bio-shielding dwelling for the red planet. Though Mars architecture it might seem like a job for a rocket scientist, NASA wants to get more people thinking about what a future there might look like.
"Innovation in spacecraft engineering often depends on out-of-the-box thinking, with ideas taken from people, nature, prior prototypes, and everyday experiences," says Tom Soderstrom, chief technology officer at JPL. "In the future, robots and eventually human explorers will need to manufacture tools, make repairs, and even build habitats in places far beyond Earth, for purposes not even imagined yet. Involving citizens allows novel ideas to come forward."
For the designer, it was a chance to explore 3-D architecture. "I was thinking more about the style and using imagination to showing a possible future," says Hershberger. "The physics is really another problem for another team of people who would know a lot more than I do. I am merely sketching out how space could be divided."
The building is intended to be 3-D printed from a concrete-like mixture of Mars dust and a binder. "3-D printing is becoming increasingly critical to building and rapidly prototyping spacecraft parts and tools on demand and at competitive costs," Soderstrom explains.
Hershberger also used a 3-D printer to plan the design. "I actually developed the floor plan after printing the modules," he says. "I sat there and played with the various arrangements for several hours, photographing along the way. Then I looked at what would work the best and used that as my design."
Several aspects of the design would need more development to work, like how Martian air could be separated from breathable air in the entryway. The design would also likely be expensive in its current form.
"I focused on the 'dream' in the same way that a concept car would get sketched out and eventually made down the line," Hershberger says. "I know the science would have to catch up a bit, but I believe it could be created."