An Arkansas architect has won a NASA competition to build habitable homes for Mars using 3D printing.
Trey Lane of Rogers competed with two teammates against 18 squads from around the world to claim a share of the $100,000 prize. As the first-place team, they received $20,957, according to NASA's website.
"We hoped we’d place as high as we could, but we figured there’d be a lot of good ideas," said Lane, who participated in a previous NASA challenge to design a waste removal system for a spacesuit. "We didn’t want to set our sights that high that early.
"They emailed me as I was getting ready for bed, and I started jumping up and down screaming. I wasn’t able to go to bed right after that. Maybe they should have told me in the morning, but then I wouldn’t have gotten any work done."
The team's design — which took about five months to complete — was inspired by 3D habitats in nature, such as a wasp's nest, a bee hive or a termite mound, Lane said. Team members acknowledged that inspiration with their team name, Zopherus, which is a genus of beetle known for having an iron-clad shell.
Similarly, the Martian habitat the team designed will be constructed from natural materials that provide strength and block radiation. A walking lander robot equipped with a 3D printer will build the modular home using Martian concrete — made from ice, calcium oxide and Martian aggregate — collected by rovers.
When the structure is finished in about 10 weeks, the robot will move to a new location and begin the process again. The completed dwellings will make up small compounds that will be used as living quarters, laboratories and communal spaces for exercise, meal preparation and gardening.
Printing materials and amenities like toilets and sinks will be stored in the lander until they are ready for use.
While there is no guarantee that NASA will ever use the plan to build habitats on Mars, the agency views it as a promising possibility, Lane said. The self-described space enthusiast added that the lander could be deployed in war zones to minimize the risk to human life or on other planetary bodies, such as the moon.
"It’s amazing to think that what we’re doing could make exploration at that level possible," Lane said. "Being a part of space exploration and humanity reaching out into the solar system was the best part of the experience."