10 Awesome And Wacky Space Technologies Of The Future

3-D-Printed Martian Homes

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To expedite a Mars trip, NASA has delegated Martian architecture to others by sponsoring a design competition for economically viable, 3-D-printed Martian habitats.

Just like Native Americans once used every piece of a kill, MIT students have advocated building homes out of the terrain and air. They began by reviewing popular science fiction films, including Gravity and 2001: A Space Odyssey, for architectural inspiration.

Ultimately, they decided on a humanizing, doughnut-shaped domicile. It inflates like a bounce house and uses a novel printing method that alleviates stress lines, allowing it to withstand the much higher air pressure inside. Every piece is made from materials extracted from Martian “sand” or the gases within Mars’ atmosphere.

However, the grand prize was awarded to Team Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office for their psychedelic Mars Ice House. It resembles an eerily translucent shark fin and is bolstered with locally sourced ice, as ice is the cheapest possible radiation shield.

The habitat will be seeded by an initial lander that touches down on a well-iced piece of surface and sinters a sturdy foundation. Then a tiny fleet of robots will set out to collect slush and erect protective membranes around the enclosure.

The robots—equipped with nozzles like tiny fire trucks—will spray the inner walls with a mixture of water, gel, fibers, and silica. Once frozen, the two icy sets of walls will contain the living environment. At that point, seedbeds contained in the lander will begin stirring to life to produce a garden of oxygen-bearing greenery for future inhabitants.

NASA’s Beach Ball Coronagraph

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In the effort to image the Sun’s corona—a solar lion’s mane of charged particles—one large obstacle remains: the Sun. Our star’s unabashed brilliance drowns out the wispy, much dimmer corona and must be dealt with creatively.

Enter the beach ball coronagraph, NASA’s super-black titanium occulter. This tennis ball–sized blotter will fly in front of a traditional spectrograph imager, creating a miniature eclipse to reveal the Sun’s extremities.

NASA’s current Sun-faring spacecraft, SOHO and STEREO, are equipped with flat-plate occulters, but the flat design allows an uncomfortable level of fuzziness. A spherical object like the beach ball coronagraph should significantly reduce this solar noise.

Courtesy of nature, the best solar occulter has already been provided to us for free. Sadly, it’s located about 400,000 kilometers (250,000 mi) away. Moreover, our finicky lunar companion only chooses to cross the Sun every so often, leaving us with only an occasional glimpse of the fleeting corona.

But NASA’s titanium tennis balls should replicate the Moon’s effect, floating about 2 meters (7 ft) in front of their trailing imagers.

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