NASA is sending its strange 'Martian igloo' into orbit for a trial run

martian habitat space station test ice house 2
Clouds Architecture Office

Earlier this year, NASA announced details about its strategy to send astronauts to Mars, including specifics on a future manned lunar “pit stop.” And if Elon Musk plans to follow through on populating the red planet with one million earthlings, we are certainly going to need a space pad or or two to house these folks. Fortunately, NASA will soon be sending its prototype martian habitat to the International Space Station for a trial run.

Simply put, our reddish celestial neighbor is a rather inhospitable place for us delicate humans. Beyond the extreme temperatures — ranging from nearly negative 300 degrees Fahrenheit (F) to a crisp 86 F — the thin Martian atmosphere will not sufficiently shield astronauts from radiation. To protect humans from the elements, NASA has developed an inflatable domicile known as the Mars Ice Home: a shelter that predominantly utilizes — you guessed it — ice.

NASA’s Langley Research Center, Clouds Architecture Office, and Space Exploration Architecture teamed up to create this glorified igloo. The structure is essentially a big inflatable torus featuring a water ice shell. Water was chosen for the overall design for two reasons: Water is an exceptional shield against cosmic radiation and it’s also relatively abundant just beneath the martian surface.

martian habitat space station test ice house 3
Clouds Architecture Office

As an added bonus, seeing as this water could be easily be converted into rocket fuel, such a habitat would act not only as a shelter but also an in-situ gas station of sorts — a regular twofer. It has been estimated that this structure could be filled with water extracted on site at a rate of 35.3 cubic feet per day.

To test how such an apparatus performs in the unforgiving vacuum of space, NASA plans to send materials of said Ice Home to the ISS in November 2018. These samples will be placed on the exterior of the ISS for a year and will then be returned to Earth for analysis.

While NASA may have recently found a lovely subterranean lava tube on the moon to place a long term lunar base, this Martian bachelor pad should be at least slightly more aesthetically pleasing inside.

“All of the materials we’ve selected are translucent, so some outside daylight can pass through and make it feel like you’re in a home and not a cave,” explains Kevin Kempton, a principal investigator with the project.

Home sweet second home, indeed. (Never mind the terrifying global dust storms.)