After NASA’s discovery of water beneath the surface of Mars earlier this year, and the subsequent critical and popular success of the movie The Martian, it's safe to say that the planet named after the God of War is all the rage. Those revelations have led to speculative looks at how our neighboring planet could be colonized from numerous designers, such as Norman Foster.
Many of those plans, including those of SpaceX founder Elon Musk, involve dumping Earthen construction materials onto the alien surface, potentially starting an inclination for pollution of our new world before it is even occupied. Spanish architect Alberto Villanueva of IDEA Architecture Office saw this as an opportunity for design to intervene. Using Martian soil and the fungus mycelium, Villanueva proposes a strategy utilizing 3D printing and bioluminescence that has gained the attention of both NASA and the European Space Agency.
The first stage of the design involves involves freeing the water from its underground, frozen state. To achieve this, 3D printers will be dropped onto the planet’s surface and will construct slender metal structures from basalt and ferrous elements found in the Martian soil. These structures will harness energy generated by electromagnetic fields to melt the ice and draw it to the surface, creating a system of water-filled craters and lakes in about 4 to 6 months.
Phase two consists of constructing atmosphere-building towers printed from epoxy resin and the fungus mycelium, known for its structural capabilities and ability to withstand extreme conditions. The mycelium will be engineered to draw water from the newly constructed lakes, increasing the tower’s size through organic growth and converting carbon dioxide in the atmosphere into oxygen. Using to data from NASA, Villanueva has calculated that after about six months, enough oxygen would accumulate to create a small atmospheric layer to the planet, and in two years, humans would be able to breathe on the Martian surface.
Once humans have arrived, Villanueva suggests using the organic solution of bioluminescent bacteria to generate light. At this point the 3D printers can be calibrated to provide different types of structures for human use. The structures are designed to have a 5-year lifespan, after which they decompose, eliminating any negative footprint on the planet.
Villanueva recognizes that additional testing will need to occur before colonization can occur, and suggests remote sites like Australia, Hawaii and the Canary Islands. Because before design can get up and running on Mars, it has to take advantage of the new-found excitement for the red planet right here on Earth.