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Fancy a trip to Mars?

Perhaps you’ve had quite enough of the housing situation in Exeter? Would you mind the 141 million mile commute to uni? Or maybe a change of scenery is in order?

Not to worry, NASA has the answer.

Since they sent up their first rover, the famous Pathfinder in 1997, NASA have been orchestrating and planning the first manned mission to the red planet.

Their most recent development is your new potential holiday cottage: the “Mars Ice Dome” or the slightly more appealing “Mars Ice Home”.

What we have here is an intriguingly simple concept, a large inflatable fabricated torus (like an inflatable rubber ring) that is completely covered by water and ice. The idea is that you get a very large circular cottage, made from PTFE and FEP (space polymers), that is covered in ice; it’s that simple.

As you can imagine, there are countless problems with living on Mars, aside from getting there and working sustainably, but where and how you’re going to live might not be a problem anymore.

Contrary to what you might think, the weather on Mars isn’t really the problem, the temperature varies between a minimum of -125 degrees Celsius at the poles and a maximum of around 20 degrees Celsius at the equator

The biggest problem for the living arrangements is the formidable presence of radiation.

On Mars, astronauts would be protected from the types of radiation you might be aware of, such as direct solar radiation and even galactic cosmic rays.

Solar radiation is heat, light and an unimaginable number of protons and electrons being spat out from our sun, capable of passing through your skin and generally misbehaving with your molecular integrity; they’re a problem.

Cosmic rays are bigger. They can be amassed of anything from high energy protons up to the largest of atoms and come from other Suns in the Milky Way or even from galaxies far, far away. They are capable or knocking apart atoms in whatever they strike, able to rupture spacecraft and shower high energy sub atomic particles (like protons and electrons) into whatever they strike.

That’s a serious problem!

Both types are very dangerous, and would be more of a concern than the lack of a washing machine if you were to move in

But fear not, the good folks at NASA think they have the solution.

Here, safe on earth and even up in the International Space Station, we are protected by the magnetosphere and, to an extent, our relatively robust atmosphere. The magnetosphere deflects the radiation and the atmosphere filters the leftovers. Mars has neither of these defences.

This is where the ice dome comes in, and why it is so clever.

The reason ice can combat solar rays and cosmic rays is that it is made out of H2O, and the hydrogen atoms in ice are just the right size such that they block, quite effectively, incoming protons, electrons, neutrons and anything else around its own size.

Mars planet by Wikimedia.org
Mars planet by Wikimedia.org

This artist’s impression shows what Mars could have looked like 4 billion years ago, with a vast ocean

This means that it can easily shield your new martian home from solar radiation and large, dome sized quantities will be able to endure galactic cosmic rays.

Furthermore, ice is ideal! It’s light weight, so the dome can be built easily with rudimentary robotics before you arrive.

In fact it was recently discovered that there is potentially large amounts of the stuff hidden beneath the surface of the red planet.

In addition, ice is of course translucent, so you would still get all of the natural sun light that so many student houses are lacking.

Just remember not to go outside without your space suit on. I hear the air is a little lacking…

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