Life on Mars has long been a favourite of science-fiction lovers and extraterrestrial enthusiasts. It’s, been the mainstay for horror movies and novels and, at times, if you think about for just long enough, it is a pretty scary concept. On May 4th, coincidentally on what’s become known as Star Wars Day, NASA announced that AI. SpaceFactory was the overall winner of their long-term 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge. They beat out Pennsylvania State University to take home $500,000, though Penn State also received a $200,000 prize.
The announcement came at the end of a massive, three-step competition that began in 2015. Between the first and fourth of May, the two teams battled it out in a long-haul live printing process. Working 10 hours each day, the teams used large-scale 3D printers to create their dwellings in front of a panel of judges. Once the buildings were complete, they were sent through the ringer to see how well each design stood up. Each of designs had to be a one-third scale version of their total design that could, theoretically, be made by robotics, like a 3D printer, out of recyclable materials found in deep-space places, like Mars or the Moon. Every aspect of the finished shelters was evaluated, including their durability, strength, material mix and usage, and leakage.
The competition began four years ago with more than 60 teams. Each phase of the challenge tested different aspects of the teams’ structures, from design to software to construction. The first phase focused completely on design, the second structural member, and the final was the on-site construction. The long-haul format allowed teams ample time to invest in their projects and the ability to utilize a number of specialists.
AI. SpaceFactory, created bowed-out ovals that coiled up from the floor to create a Martian habitat named MARSHA. The team received praise for their clever use of materials – a biodegradable and recyclable basalt composite created out of things found naturally on Mars. Their structure went on to excellently withstand the type of pressure, smoke, and impact resting that would be found in deep space. Ultimately, the material created proved to be stronger than their concrete competitors. The result is a sleek, vertical design with a high-tech inside that looks relatively exciting in comparison to what most Martian dwellings have been created to look like.
‘The final milestone of this competition is a culmination of extremely hard work by bright, inventive minds who are helping us advance the technologies we need for a sustainable human presence on the Moon, and then on Mars,’ said Monsi Roman, program manager for NASA’s Centennial Challenges, in a press release. ‘We celebrate their vision, dedication and innovation in developing concepts that will not only further NASA’s deep-space goals, but also provide viable housing solutions right here on Earth.’