This 3D-printed space igloo just won NASA’s Mars habitat competition

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Hot on the heels of the discovery that liquid water exists on the Red Planet, NASA has crowned ICE HOUSE as the winner of the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge for Mars.

The contest, sponsored by NASA and America Makes, sought innovative designs for a habitable four-person base 3D-printed from materials indigenous to Mars. New York studios SEArch (Space Exploration Architecture) and Clouds AO (Clouds Architecture Office) took home the $25,000 top prize for their space igloo-like design.

Unlike the majority of entrants that primarily used regolith, the layer of loose rocky material on the planet’s surface, SEArch and Clouds AO chose to harness a different abundant resource on Mars: water, in the form of ice. “ICE HOUSE is born from the imperative to bring light and a connection to the outdoors into the vocabulary of Martian architecture — to create protected space in which the mind and body will not just survive, but thrive,” write the designers in a project statement. Made up of a series of nested domes, the ice shell also stands out from its competition because of its transparency and location above ground, which helps to create a livable environment that connects the crew with their surroundings.

In addition to providing views, the see-through ICE HOUSE has access to natural light. The design team believes that exposure to the circadian rhythms of sunlight would be important to the crewmembers’ health. The space igloos can also double as greenhouses for vertical hydroponic gardens. “As the crew moves through their daily ritual, they’ll pass through the Lander, through a garden, and into their living or work space. We thought that this connection back to Earth, while they’re looking out over the Martian landscape, was really important,” says Michael Morris of the SEArch consortium.

The 5-centimeter-thick ice shell uses water’s absorption spectrum to help protect the crew against harmful radiation. The units were designed for Mars’ northern hemisphere, where temperatures stay below freezing throughout the year. The team has started 3D-printing a model of their concept in ice.

This 3D-printed space igloo just won NASA’s Mars habitat competition