How to build your Martian dream house

Some day, humans will live on Mars. That’s the vision of some of today’s highest-profile forward-thinkers. This week, in an op-ed for CNN, President Barack Obama wrote that he hopes America will send humans safely to Mars and back by the 2030s. And late last month, SpaceX founder Elon Musk announced plans to colonize Mars within the next 50 to 100 years, with the help of the most powerful rocket ever, sending up a reusable spaceship that could carry a hundred humans at a time to the Red Planet.

But once the expat Earthlings land, what kind of structures will they live in? Scientists are working on myriad answers to that question (among others). One major obstacle to homebuilding on Mars is the limited capacity of any realistic spacecraft to carry all the materials needed to erect substantial, durable habitats. Ideally, the pioneers would use local materials, just as early European settlers in North America chopped down pines to build log cabins. With no forests on Mars, what can 21st-century space settlers use?

Frosty reception

There is water on Mars—most of it frozen. That’s one of the attractions that make the fourth rock from the sun a good candidate for colonization. (It also has an atmosphere to absorb radiation, a surface temperature range that could be bearable with the right protective gear, and a day/night cycle similar to ours at 24 hours, 37 minutes.)

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Source: Mars Ice House

So when NASA held its 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge last fall, one team of designers tapped H20 as its substance of choice to fabricate homes. Team Space Exploration Architecture (SEArch) and Clouds AO topped 165 entrants with their design, Ice House. The design takes a page from Alaska’s Inuit people, who for centuries have built temporary shelters out of snow during hunting expeditions. Envisioning a settlement in Mars’ northern climes, the NASA competition winners proposed that frozen water be harvested from the subsurface and run through a massive 3D printer to craft a sleek shell of ice that would cover the astronauts’ lander (which would serve as the living quarters), sealing it in a pressurized, habitable environment. Then another, still larger ice shell would be created to cover the first, not unlike a Russian nesting doll.

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Source: Mars Ice House

The multi-layered setup is designed for redundancy—you’d probably feel safer with a backup shell, wouldn’t you?—but the general purpose of the ice shell is to give the colonists a kind of artificial yard: they could obtain a feeling of being outdoors without having to suit up and venture out into the planet’s harsh environment. That’s because the translucent outer ice shell, while repelling cosmic rays, would let in sunlight, something vital to the colonists’ food garden, not to mention their sanity. And with temps in the region (Alba Mons) consistently below freezing, the shell would stand year-round without melting.

But what if the explorers wanted to conserve that water for other uses, like drinking it? Continue Reading ›

MIT students win Hyperloop competition

In November, we posted a story about SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk’s proposed supersonic transportation network called Hyperloop. This past weekend, Musk’s dream for the Hyperloop took another important step toward becoming a reality.

Elon Musk’s futuristic Hyperloop transportation promises to rocket pods through an above-ground steel tube at speeds of more than 750 miles per hour, allowing passengers to travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco in just 35 minutes. That’s faster than the one-and-a-half hour flight and nearly six-hour drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco. 

But how will these pods actually look and move through the tube, and how will they hit these incredible velocities without their passengers feeling any sensations of speed? Last year, Musk decided to leave these not-so-minor details to some of the world’s most innovative and forward-thinking colleges and universities as he launched a world-wide competition for the best pod design.

The judging took place this past weekend … and we have a winner!

Congratulations to the team of 25 brilliant and innovative students from MIT who took home the first place prize in the SpaceX Hyperloop Pod Competition at Texas A&M University on Sunday.

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MIT’s winning pod design features “a passive magnetic levitation system that incorporates two arrays of 20 neodymium magnets,” according to the team’s website. (Photo courtesy of MIT)

 

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The 25-member MIT team includes students specializing in aeronautics, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and business management. (Photo courtesy of MIT)

The MIT team’s pod design beat out 160 competing teams from 27 universities charged with creating the future capsule for the Hyperloop system. The remainder of the top 5 finishers included Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, University of Wisconsin, Virginia Tech and University of California (Irvine).

“It’s great to see our hard work recognized, and we are excited to have the opportunity to continue to push this technology one step closer to reality,” members of the MIT Hyperloop Team told the Boston Globe.

The judges were impressed by MIT’s 551-pound pod covered in carbon fiber and polycarbonate sheets. Accelerating at 2.4 Gs, the pod is designed to use magnets so it can levitate 15 millimeters above the track as it glides on a cushion of air. A fail-safe braking system was incorporated into the design, “meaning if the actuators or computers fail, the system will brake automatically,” the team wrote on its website.

Continue Reading ›

Musk’s Hyperloop inches closer to the future

With holiday travel fast approaching we have transportation on our minds. Check out Elon Musk’s Hyperloop, which could someday transport passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco at supersonic speeds. Stay tuned for future posts on innovation in airports, as well as the passenger-train project All Aboard Florida.

The CEO of electric carmaker Tesla and the rocket-building company SpaceX, Elon Musk, is now turning his attention to a supersonic transportation system called Hyperloop.

The CEO of electric carmaker Tesla and the rocket-building company SpaceX, Elon Musk is now turning his attention to a supersonic transportation system called Hyperloop.

When you inevitably curse your decision to drive, fly or take the train to grandma’s this Thanksgiving, take solace that some of the country’s smartest engineers are working on a better way to get there: Visionary billionaire Elon Musk’s supersonic ground transportation system. Like something out of a Jules Verne novel, Hyperloop pods travel through a steel tube at speeds of more than 750 miles per hour. But passengers being rocketed through the California countryside would feel no sensation of speed. The above-ground transit system is incredibly faster than the one-and-a-half-hour flight and nearly six-hour drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The 35-minute Hyperloop trip would make it possible to live in San Francisco and commute to L.A.

Hyperloop would travel more than two times faster than the world’s fastest train, Japan’s new maglev bullet train, which currently travels at speeds up to 366 mph. 

Best of all, Hyperloop is estimated to only cost $20 one way. Plus, it would be quieter and more environmentally friendly than existing modes of transit.

Continue Reading ›