The dream of establishing human settlements on Mars has been building momentum for decades, buoyed on by science fiction visionaries and active robotic exploration of the Red Planet. With powerful figures like SpaceX CEO Elon Musk and president Barack Obama throwing in their support for the ultimate moving trip, humanity may finally be on the cusp of sending people to Mars, and even pioneering permanent inhabitation of our tantalizing neighboring world.
This will be a complicated and risky maneuver, which is why NASA is inviting interdisciplinary thinkers to participate in its 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge. This $2.5 million competition aims to crowdsource innovative Martian habitat designs that rely on 3D-printed and in situ resources on the planet.
As outlined in this new video released on Saturday, NASA wants to begin tackling three major questions: How will we build habitats on Mars? What will they be made of? And finally, can we use Mars's onsite resources to build them, or recycle our own materials to 3D-print habitat components?
The challenge is open to all Americans and green-card holders, and is currently accepting proposals for the second of three phrases. The goal of this phase is to "demonstrate a recycling system that can create structural components using terrestrial and space-based materials and recyclables," according to the project website. Proposals are due on January 31, 2017, and a total of $1.1 million in prize money will be distributed to the winners.
The third and last phase has not yet been scheduled, but it will focus on material fabrication of concept designs.
READ MORE: A Tale of Two Mars Missions
For some background, the first phase kicked off in 2014, and solicited architectural design concepts for sustainable Martian habitats. The top three proposals—out of a field of over 165 submissions—offered wildly different visions of Martian architecture. For instance, here's some concept art of the winning design, "ICE HOUSE," created jointly by Team Space Exploration Architecture and the Clouds Architecture Office. It's pretty much a radiation-resistant Martian igloo.
Second place went to Team Gamma, who relied on Martian regolith (surface rock and soil) as the key material for their habitat
Meanwhile, Team LavaHive won third for their "lava-casting" technique for repurposing common recyclable materials into the building blocks of surface habitats. The three winners were awarded a total $50,000 in prize money at the 2015 Maker Faire in New York—you can check out the remainder of the top 30 concepts here.
Given how imaginative and distinct each of these first phase finalists ended up, it will be interesting to see what the second and third runs of the competition bring to the fore. From striking igloos to cozy regolith homes to lava-domes, Martian architecture is already shaping up to be an exciting 21st century industry.
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