Creating a viable colony on Mars will be the greatest challenge humanity has ever faced. Ignoring, for the moment, the dangers of traveling to the red planet, there remain many challenges once we have reached its surface.
Mars has no magnetic field and a thin atmosphere. As a result, the radiation reaching the surface is much higher than we receive on Earth. This means that the colony would need to be heavily shielded to protect the inhabitants. The most practical solution is to bury the colony, covering it with many feet of Martian soil.
The thin (about a hundred times thinner than ours) Martian atmosphere is primarily composed of unbreathable carbon dioxide, nitrogen, and argon. Anyone working on the surface would need to carry supplemental oxygen.
Mars is cold, very cold. The average temperature is around -81°F (-63°C). Heating the colony, vehicles, and workers is critical.
Dust is another problem. There are planet-wide dust storms that can last for months. Martian dust is very fine, like talcum powder. It can get into everything (Lunar dust intrusion became a problem during the Apollo mission.) It may also be toxic. The Mars Odyssey Orbiter detected high concentrations of perchlorates in the Martian soil. This may be a more difficult problem to solve, but technology similar to what is used today in industrial clean rooms could be applied.
There remains the biggest challenge, the elephant in the room that is rarely talked about because we have no control over it. Gravity.
The force of gravity on Mars is 38% that of the Earth. We are stuck with it. We have no way of changing that. What are the effects of this lower gravity? We don’t know, and we will not know until there are people living on Mars.
We do know that zero gravity is bad. It causes loss of bone and muscle mass and the loss of about 20% of blood volume. Without regular intensive exercise, an astronaut can lose up to 20% of muscle mass within 2 weeks. Bone mass can be lost at a rate of 1.5% a month, and this principally affects the spine, hip joints, and the legs. Bones can become brittle. The destruction of bone is responsible for an increase in calcium in the blood, resulting in a dangerous calcification of soft tissues and an increase in the possibility of kidney stones. The heart, like other muscles, also gradually degenerates, causing a decrease in blood pressure. Astronauts on the space station are required to spend at least 2 hours each day in intensive physical activity to reduce these probabilities.
These are some of the negative effects of zero gravity. How the partial gravity of Mars would affect the human body is unknown and unknowable until we get there.
In order to have a viable colony you can’t just bring in the entire population. There must be children. This is the biggest challenge. How would 38% of terrestrial gravity affect fertilization and the growth of a fetus? What about a child being raised on Mars? How would their bones develop, their heart, the entire complex biological spectrum that we call growth? We don’t know, and we can’t know.
The first child born on Mars, if fertilization and pregnancy can even take place, will be experiment number one.
If we cannot have children on Mars, is it over? Must we turn our back on the stars and bury our dreams of a space faring civilization? No! There is another alternative. That alternative is the Outpost.
We may not be able to have families on Mars but we can have them nearby. An Outpost-type habitat in Martian orbit would provide the necessary terrestrial conditions. Because of Mars’ lower gravity, commuting to the Martian surface would be relatively low-cost. Fuel could be refined from ice on the Martian moons.
Children could be raised in the equivalent of Earth gravity. They could play among the trees in the forests, swim in the lakes and fish in the streams. They would have access to libraries and museums. The sum total of human knowledge would be available in their homes. They could go on class trips to telescopically view Valles Marineris, the vast Grand Canyon of Mars — so long that on Earth, it would stretch all the way from California to New York, 2500 miles, over six miles deep and 125 miles wide.
A habitat such as the Outpost would carry the essence of our world and culture with us as we spread beyond the Earth.
As we move outward over the centuries and explore the universe we may never find another Earth. Humanity was born here. We evolved on its surface. A billion years of evolution have adapted us to our world. We will not find its kind again, but we can carry a semblance of it with us as we go. The Outpost and crafts like it will carry the seeds of our world, and however far into the infinite we travel, we will retain that which ties us to home and keeps us human.
by Anyi Wen
Have you ever moved from one house or apartment to another? If you have, think about how many belongings you and your family had to bring from one place to the next, to fill up your new home. Now, imagine if you were moving into space. What are the absolute essentials you would want to bring with you? Some of the things you would have to leave behind due to space limitations may be created through the process of 3D printing.
What is 3D Printing?
3D printing involves using a digital file to print out a three-dimensional, solid object using a special kind of printer called a 3D printer. Instead of printing out something flat like a normal printer does, a 3D printer uses hundreds or even thousands of layers to achieve a finished product. Learn about how the process works in detail by visiting 3Dprinting.com’s article, which is linked in the “For More Information” section.
Many of us may have limited experience with using a 3D printer, because the technology is so expensive. Normally, the printer and materials would be an investment of hundreds or thousands of dollars to start out. For casual use, free software such as TinkerCad is available. If you’re lucky, your school or local libraries may have some 3D printers for public use. Be prepared to sign up to be on a wait list or wait for 3D printing workshop events though, since you’re going to have some competition!
What is 3D Printing used for?
3D printing has many applications, both for business and personal use. Some artists 3D-print parts for their projects like David C. Roy does for his kinetic sculptures. Other businesses 3D print dental molds, furniture, machine parts, stage props, and more. If there’s a market for something, chances are that it can be 3D printed or people are working on figuring out how to 3D print them. More and more industries have been using this technology because it cuts down on labor, time, and costs — leading to increased profit opportunities (Sculpteo).
For people looking to 3D print items for collection purposes or everyday use, there are online databases such as Thingiverse where creators share their designs for free. Check out some of the interesting designs people have come up with!
A Life-Saving Technology
Sure, 3D printed things are pretty neat — but did you know that research is going into ways to use the technology to save lives? Recent advances in medical applications have made 3D printed medicine possible since 2015, with some limitations. This proves useful in cases where sizes and dosages of pills have to be personalized for patients, and 3D printing exactly what they need makes the routine of taking medication more convenient (S. Huang and J. Huang).
To address the issue of donor organ shortages, scientists have been working on figuring out how to 3D-print organ tissues. One of their findings was that Earth’s gravity makes 3D printing “soft human tissue (such as blood vessels and muscle)” difficult, but these tasks are possible in space where the lower gravity allows the materials to maintain their structures (Listek). Astronauts at Techshot’s BioFabrication Facility (BFF) have recently been able to use a 3D bioprinter to create viable human adult cells and a model of a human meniscus, which is a cartilage structure located in our knees. This development will benefit those who need treatment for arthritis and knee pain. Years in the future, we may see functional 3D-printed human organs being used for transplants.
People all over the world are thinking of creative 3D-printable inventions that can improve quality of life for those who are vulnerable to or doing essential work for the public through the coronavirus epidemic. Thingiverse users are taking on a “No Touch Challenge” by the site to design “a portable, 3D printable, multi-purpose no touch tool” that can keep frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic safe, posting their design ideas for items such as door openers and touchscreen styluses to the HackThePandemic page (MakerBot Thingiverse). Their forum includes designs for other useful safety gear as well, such as experimental face shields, masks, and accessories that can be added for comfort or accessibility.
Folks around the world are grateful for 12-year-old Quinn Callander’s recent work 3D-printing hundreds of ear guards from home and donating them to health-care workers and hospitals in need. This device hooks onto masks and is held in place around the user’s head, relieving the pressure from one’s ears. Designed for the comfort of workers who need to keep masks on for safety during long shifts, the ear guards are also extremely helpful for those who are physically unable to wear face masks that wrap around the ears (Ahearn). This bright student is making a positive difference during this difficult time, making safety gear more accessible and comfortable for as many people as he can.
Quinn’s inspiring story shows that anyone can make a difference with some creativity and dedication. Our organization, The High Frontier Outpost, is confident that students can think of some amazing ideas for how to make a space civilization in the future a reality. We would be delighted to hear about your experiences with 3D-printing and ideas for what objects should be 3D-printed for life in space habitats. Can you brainstorm, create, or find designs for features you’d like to see as a space habitant? Email us with your thoughts at email@example.com, and don’t forget to credit any sources that inspired you!
P.S. We’re looking for a catchy space-themed name for the Education section of our newsletter. Please email us with suggestions!
For More Information
3Dprinting.com. (n.d.). What is 3D Printing?
Ahearn, V. (2020, April 8). B.C. Boy Scout 3D prints ‘ear gears’ for COVID-19 masks.
Huang, S. & Huang, J. (2018, January). 3D printing drugs: more precise, more personalised. PharmaTimes Magazine.
Listek, V. (2020, April 9). Techshot’s Bioprinter Successfully Fabricates Human Menisci in Space.
MakerBot Thingiverse. (n.d.) HackThePandemic.
Sculpteo. (n.d). What can 3D Printing do?
V., C. (2020, February 9). Can all drugs be 3D printed?
Dr. Glaser got a patent for his idea in 1973, and soon after, NASA and the Department of Energy began a four-year study on the concept, which cost $19.6 million total (Portree 2014). As promising as the proposal was, several logistical issues prevented it from being fully executed in the 20th century. One such factor was the required size of the satellites. The Department of Energy estimated that in order for the project to be worth the cost, they would need 60 satellites in orbit with a collective generating capacity of 300 gigawatts (Portree 2014). A gigawatt is a large unit of measurement typically used for power plants; 1 gigawatt equals a billion watts, and can typically power 500,000 American homes. In order to produce such quantities of energy the satellites would have to be 10.5 kilometers long by 5.2 kilometers wide and would weigh 50,000 tons (Portree 2014).
Depiction of what space satellite construction could look like (Image Credit: NASA)
Though solar power satellites were once deemed too expensive to be worth further research, that isn’t the case anymore. Things essential to solar satellite construction, like artificial intelligence and autonomous robots, have all vastly advanced since the 1970s, making the construction of satellites in space much cheaper than before. The proliferation of private companies focused on space travel, like SpaceX, are bringing the cost of space travel down. Over the next five years, the United States, China, and Japan plan to invest a collective $600 million into government space solar power investments. Whether the programs are funded the full amount or not, this is still a significant indicator of the current interest in solar powered satellites. Perhaps not given their fair due in their day, solar power satellites could yet see their day in the limelight.
One of our primary efforts is encouraging students in the sciences. This involves providing the resources to advance students of all levels and abilities. We’re proud to be affiliated with Readorium, an award-winning program that engages students in grades 3-8 in strengthening their reading comprehension skills through the use of differentiated science texts (including some we’ve contributed to) and games.
We encourage educators to explore the program and see how learners will benefit from the personalized, fun, and thoroughly educating experience Readorium provides.
The creators of Readorium have generously made this program available for free to educators for the remainder of the school year. Let’s help all our students emerge stronger (readers) by the end of this difficult time.
When you register please mention High Frontier Outpost.
The obvious solution is to utilize material that is already there. A medium-sized asteroid would provide most of the necessary construction supplies. We save the cost of the ships and the fuel with the expenditure of time. A trip to the asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter, could take several years. It would be no danger for the crew because there would be no crew. The ships would be controlled by artificial intelligence, expert systems operating as a swarm of robot miners. They would find a likely asteroid and analyze its composition, anchor to its surface, slowly alter its orbit, and eventually bring it to the location of the habitat’s construction. Look forward to reading more about asteroid mining in a future newsletter.
One of the difficulties of working steel and iron is the formation of what is called scale. Scale is formed when the hot steel combines with oxygen. This so-called Mill Scale (because it is formed at a steel mill during manufacturing) must be removed before the steel is used. The best steel is vacuum cast. When it is melted in a vacuum, no oxygen can reach it; hence, no scale. The steel comes out shiny and clean.
To process the steel and space all you need is a large mirror to melt it. The vacuum is all around you. Glass is made from silicate minerals and these too are abundant. Our large mirror again serves the purpose.
The processing of asteroidal materials would yield a large amount of waste and slag. These could be crushed to form the raw material for concrete. There have been a number of experiments performed using simulated lunar regolith and Martian soil as a basis for concrete. Experiments have been done on the International Space Station to see how concrete would form in zero gravity.
Concrete can be reinforced with both steel and glass fibers. The reinforcement gives the material tremendous tensile strength, and concrete provides compressive strength. To give an example, a cement block wall can be built by dry stacking the blocks using no mortar. The wall is then given a thin coating of fiberglass cement on both sides. The resulting structure is stronger than a conventionally built wall using normal mortar. Thirty years ago, I built such a wall using a commercially available glass-reinforced cement. Despite considerable pressure from the soil bank it retains, it remains intact to this day.
Glass-reinforced concrete can be extruded, which means it can be deposited by 3D printing. Houses have already been built this way. Metal can also be 3D-printed, so the metal components can likewise be fabricated.
In the ISS, Made In Space has their flagship Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) on board to produce over 200 tools, parts, and assets in orbit.
You move inside the module. This one is residential. Constant motion surrounds you, hundreds of robots of all sizes and types intent on their tasks. It looks like some unearthly city, its residents, machines, not people. You see apartments with terraces and another area that will become a small park, with pits soon to be filled with soil and trees. There is a playground for children and a small stage where plays or concerts may be performed.
Inside a residential structure, there are more robots. A robot finishes a wall and pulls back. Suddenly, the wall rapidly cycles through a spectrum of colors and shows a test pattern. Satisfied, the robot turns to the next wall.
The apartment is large, but all the apartments are large. On Earth it is necessary to cram as many people as possible into a plot of ever more expensive real estate. Here, we make our own. If more space is needed, we build it.
Large sections of the Outpost are already occupied. Labs, factories, and residences are already operational. The vast interior is still unfinished. It can’t be landscaped until the Outpost’s shell is completed and sealed to hold an atmosphere. Some modules are greenhouses growing the trees and plants that will fill the interior.
This is a future that can happen. Help us design it. What do you think we need? If you were living in The Outpost what would you like to have? Let us know through our contact: firstname.lastname@example.org