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If you’re looking forward to the time when humans can colonize the Red Planet, you’ll be happy to know that NASA is envisioning what those Martian habitats might look like—and the results are incredible.

The space agency partnered with Bradley University for its Centennial Challenges competition and set a task of designing structures that could house astronauts and can actually survive the Martian terrain, weather and atmosphere.

All the entries of Mars-appropriate housing had to incorporate 3-D printing, as well.

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“They are not just designing structures, they are designing habitats that will allow our space explorers to live and work on other planets,” Centennial Challenges program director Monsi Roman said in a statement.

NASA and partner Bradley University of Peoria, Illinois, have selected the top five teams to share a $100,000 prize in the latest stage of the agency’s 3D-Printed Habitat Centennial Challenge competition. Winning teams successfully created digital representations of the physical and functional characteristics of a house on Mars using specialized software tools.

The teams earned prize money based on scores assigned by a panel of subject matter experts from NASA, academia and industry. The judges interviewed and evaluated submissions from 18 teams from all over the world and selected these teams:

1st Place: Team Zopherus of Rogers, Arkansas – $20,957.95

2nd: AI. SpaceFactory of New York – $20,957.24

3rd: Kahn-Yates of Jackson, Mississippi – $20,622.74

4th: SEArch+/Apis Cor of New York – $19,580.97

5th: Northwestern University of Evanston, Illinois – $17,881.10

“We are thrilled to see the success of this diverse group of teams that have approached this competition in their own unique styles,” said Monsi Roman, program manager for NASA’s Centennial Challenges. “They are not just designing structures, they are designing habitats that will allow our space explorers to live and work on other planets. We are excited to see their designs come to life as the competition moves forward.”

As NASA advances deep space exploration, reliable life-supporting habitats will be essential. But creating a structure on the surface of Mars is an extraordinary challenge considering the extensive limits on transporting materials and the differences in atmosphere and landscape.

The 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge aims to further the progression of sustainable shelters that will someday occupy the Moon, Mars or beyond by pushing citizen inventors to develop new technologies capable of additively manufacturing a habitat using indigenous resources with, or without, recyclable materials.

The challenge, which began in 2014, is structured in phases:

Phase 1, the Design Competition, required teams to submit architectural renderings and was completed in 2015. ($50,000 prize purse)

Phase 2, the Structural Member Competition, focused on material technologies, requiring teams to create structural components. It was completed in 2017.
($1.1 million prize purse)

Phase 3 (current), the On-Site Habitat Competition, challenges competitors to fabricate sub-scale habitats, and has five levels of competition – three construction levels and two virtual levels. For the virtual levels, teams must use Building Information Modeling software to design a habitat that combines allowances for both the structure and systems it must contain.

The construction levels challenge the teams to autonomously 3D-print elements of the habitat, culminating with a one-third-scale printed habitat for the final level. ($2 million prize purse)

“We are encouraging a wide range of people to come up with innovative designs for how they envision a habitat on Mars,” said Lex Akers, dean of the Caterpillar College of Engineering and Technology at Bradley University, NASA’s partner in this challenge. “The virtual levels allow teams from high schools, universities and businesses that might not have access to large 3D printers to still be a part of the competition because they can team up with those who do have access to such machinery for the final level of the competition.”

The 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge is managed through a partnership with NASA’s Centennial Challenges program and Bradley University. Bradley has partnered with sponsors Caterpillar, Bechtel and Brick & Mortar Ventures to administer the competition. NASA’s Centennial Challenges program is part of the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, and is managed at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

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The timing for the competition couldn’t have been better, as it was recently discovered that Mars has substantial amounts of water just under the surface.

A massive underground lake has been detected for the first time on Mars, raising the possibility that more water — and maybe even life — exists there, according to international astronomers.

Located under a layer of Martian ice, the lake is about 12 miles (20 kilometers) wide, said the report led by Italian researchers in the US journal Science.

It is the largest body of liquid water ever found on the Red Planet.

“Water is there. We have no more doubt,” co-author Enrico Flamini, the Italian space agency’s Mars Express mission manager, told a press conference.

Mars is now cold, barren and dry but used to be warm and wet. It was home to plenty of liquid water and lakes at least 3.6 billion years ago.

Scientists are eager to find signs of contemporary water, because such discoveries are key to unlocking the mystery of whether life ever formed on Mars in its ancient past, or if it might persist today.

“This is a stunning result that suggests water on Mars is not a temporary trickle like previous discoveries but a persistent body of water that provides the conditions for life for extended periods of time,” said Alan Duffy, an associate professor at Swinburne University in Australia, who was not involved in the study.

Being able to access water sources could also help humans survive on a future crewed mission to Earth’s neighboring planet.

This particular lake, however, would be neither swimmable nor drinkable, and lies almost a mile deep (1.5 kilometers) beneath the icy surface in a harsh and frigid environment.

Whether microbial forms of life could lie within is a matter of debate.

Some experts are skeptical of the possibility since the lake is so cold and briny, and mixed with a heavy dose of dissolved Martian salts and minerals.

The temperature is likely below the freezing point of pure water, but can remain liquid due to the presence of magnesium, calcium, and sodium.

“This is a discovery of extraordinary significance, and is bound to heighten speculation about the presence of living organisms on the Red Planet,” said Fred Watson of the Australian Astronomical Observatory.

“Caution needs to be exercised, however, as the concentration of salts needed to keep the water liquid could be fatal for any microbial life similar to Earth’s,” added Watson, who was not involved in the research.

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James E Windsor, Overpasses News Desk
July 31st, 2018

 

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