Life On Planet Mars
I can’t stop thinking about NASA’s 3D Printed Habitat Challenge. Assuming the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will be ready for their manned mission to Mars by the 2030s (1), the organization has created a competition through its Centennial Challenges Program to foster the development of new technologies that additively manufacture a habitat using local indigenous and/or recyclable materials in space (2). The competition is broken up into a 3-phase challenge: developing the concept behind an architectural habitat built through 3D printing, defining the material technologies needed to manufacture the structural components from a combination of indigenous materials and recyclables, and finally an on-site build competition (building their design as if they were on Mars).
Essentially NASA is outsourcing idea generation of how we could eventually construct shelters for future human explorers on Mars for a total of 2.25 million dollar prize (6).
SHIT IS DOPE.
Well, that's what I originally thought. Until I lived in Ulaanbaatar Mongolia in the winter months... let me explain.
Living in Mongolia is a lot like what I imagine living on Mars to be like. While the temperature on Mars can range from minus -126 C (-195 F) in the winter at the poles, to 20 C (68 F) during the summer near the equator - the average temperature on Mars (- 60 C (- 80 F)) is only 20 degrees Celsius less than in a Mongolian winter (- 40 C / - 40 F).
While Mars’ temperature variations often result in powerful dust storms, in Ulaanbaatar their are timely bursts of pollution fumigating from families lighting up their coal burning stoves; once in the morning to heat their homes and a few more times in the evening when they return home. This phenomenon creates distinct bursts of smoke that worms its way through the city twice a day until a gust of wind blows it away (that is if your lucky on a good day).
I imagine that the buildings on Mars would similarly have dust clogging the hallways of their entrances. Although I hope NASA can develop a more sophisticated ventilation system - considering Mars’s atmosphere is 95% carbon dioxide compared to earth’s 0.03% carbon dioxide (3)… yikes.
I imagine we would be similarly trapped indoors, warned against going outside without the appropriate head and body gear - wearing 3 layers of heavy winter clothes and a handy dandy 3M N95 pollution mask to muzzle your face in Ulaanbaatar, versus a good old fashioned spacesuit on Mars. Although I hope NASA’s space suits don’t create the same condensation of snot and murky breadth around future Martians’ faces, as the pollution masks have a tendency to do here.
You see in UB I even hesitate to walk quickly if I’m running late for a meeting. I’m worried that even those extra breaths you need to catch as you shuffle your feet just a little bit faster outdoors will be one breath too many for that extra fine 2.5 microns of particulate matter that is hanging in the air. Even so, we are not sheltered from the smoke indoors. You carry it with you down the hallways, up the stairs, on your window sills, in your clothes and hope the little fan you have running with the sloppy black air filter hanging by a strap will help save your lungs, heart, brain, pancreas, and fetus from almost certain impact… (4)
Over the holiday break, I went to visit a friend in Zhuhai China, a fairly tropical climate. On my first night there I was dreaming about UB. What woke me from the dream was the soft sounds of birds chirping outdoors and the faint fluttering of leaves mapping out the breeze. Confused by this strange fantasy, even in a dream my brain clearly recognized the incompatibility.
So why do I keep thinking about NASA’s 3D Printed Habitat Challenge? Because despite all their ingenious technologies and capabilities of creating a safe and technically habitable space - I’m not sure even NASA’s most brilliant engineers will be able to recreate some of nature’s finest haptic qualities(5), even if they do eventually figure out a way to terraform Mars.
Nevertheless, I can't help but feel that I would miss the little pleasures that life has to offer on planet Earth. As I rose from Sufda's Ger in the Bayangol District, Ulaanbaatar extended itself before my eyes this morning. I watched the smoke close in on our valley as it creeped up the hill. For a little while we were lucky enough to take advantage of a bright blue sky and a warm sun. The kids and I ran around playing tag until the smoke signaled it was time for us to return indoors to safety - retiring to tame games that didn't require us to use our lungs so much. I drew their portraits and they drew mine, and I watched the air quality sensor as it rose to a whopping 1358pm indoors...
1) Contributor, Joseph Castro Space.com. “What Would It Be Like to Live on Mars?”Space.com, 17 Feb. 2015, www.space.com/28557-how-to-live-on-mars.html.
2) Hall, Loura. “3D-Printed Habitat Challenge.” NASA, NASA, 6 Oct. 2016, www.nasa.gov/solve/challenge/3D-Printed_Habitat_Challenge.
3) “Google Search.” What+Is+Mars's+Atmosphere+Made+of+Compared+to+Earth - Google Search, www.google.mn/search?rlz=1C5CHFA_enFR758MN765&ei=tAJzWpjTBcWa0gSr8ZfQBw&q=what%2Bis%2Bmars%27s%2Batmosphere%2Bmade%2Bof%2Bcompared%2Bto%2Bearth&oq=what%2Bis%2Bmars%27s%2Batmosphere%2Bmade%2Bof%2Bcompared%2Bto%2Bearth&gs_l=psy-ab.3..33i22i29i30k1l2.916.6375.0.65188.8.131.52.0.0.0.165.1950.0j15.15.0....0...1c.1.64.psy-ab..3.12.1560...0i22i30k1.0.cKCIBOQrt44.
4) Chodosh, Sara, and Kendra Pierre-Louis. “Here's How Air Pollution Kills 3,450,000 People a Year.” Popular Science, 30 Mar. 2017, www.popsci.com/air-pollution-death.
5) www.fosterandpartners.com, Foster + Partners /. “Mars Habitat.” Foster + Partners, www.fosterandpartners.com/projects/mars-habitat/#drawings.
6) Pti. “NASA Offers USD 2.25 Million for Building 3D-Printed Space Habitat.”Https://Www.deccanchronicle.com/, Deccan Chronicle, 19 May 2015, www.deccanchronicle.com/150519/technology-science-and-trends/article/nasa-offers-usd-225-million-building-3d-printed-space.