The space agency has drawn up the preliminaries for a next-gen scientific outpost a la The Martian. By the 2030s, we might be tossing reddish snowballs at one another tens of millions of miles from Earth. In the video above, NASA gives us a peek at what an extraterrestrial proto-colony may look like.
The planned exploratory area will have a radius of approximately 100 kilometers (60 mi) and include habitation modules, scientific buildings, a fleet of pressurized rovers, and mining equipment for the inaugural, four-man crew. Energy will be at least partially supplied by an array of small nuclear fission reactors to supplement the solar panels that will be rendered useless at times by opaque Martian sandstorms.
Over time, numerous crews will occupy this site, where they must grow their food, harvest Martian water, and even create the propellant for their return trip to Earth. Luckily, Mars looks out for its own. Most—if not all—necessary ingredients are readily available through mining either the soil or the atmospheric gases.
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NASA’s All-Terrain Hex-Limbed Extraterrestrial Explorer (aka ATHLETE) is a game-changing, exploratory mecha-spider that will be used to colonize the Moon. True to its name, each spindly limb features six degrees of freedom, enabling it to contort itself over rough, cratered patches of moonscape. Each limb is tipped with a retractable wheel for quicker locomotion over smoother terrain.
ATHLETE is also a handyman that packs a well-stocked tool kit. Its dexterous extremities can grip the scoops, drills, and grippers needed to give the Moon a full physical.
Primarily, though, the machine is a beast of burden built for heavy lifting. In the image above, it’s shown carrying a habitation module. Taller than a basketball hoop with its minimum height of 4 meters (13 ft), ATHLETE is an accomplished Olympic lifter, capable of hoisting 400 kilograms (900 lb) of gear over its head—in Earth’s gravity!
Most importantly, ATHLETE’s nimble frame gives it the agility needed to transport supplies, unlike the immobile, cargo-laden landers of the past and present.