10 bizarre proposals for 3D-printed NASA bases on Mars

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We've selected 10 of the most unusual and far-fetched proposals for Mars housing submitted as part of NASA's 3D Printed Habitat Challenge.

A shortlist of 30 designs has been chosen for the 3D Printed Habitat Challenge, launched in May by US space agency NASA and America Makes, the country's national additive-manufacturing innovation institute.

Entrants were challenged to develop "state-of-the-art architectural concepts that take advantage of the unique capabilities 3D printing offers", but also offer comfortable living spaces for future Red Planet inhabitants. A prize of $50,000 (£33,000) will go to the winning design, to be awarded at the 2015 World Maker Faire in New York.



Foster + Partners' has already unveiled its submission – a 93-square-metre habitat that could be assembled a team of semi-autonomous robots using loose soil found on the planet's surface.

Other designs on the shortlist include a doughnut-shaped house, a structure composed of upside-down ice-cream-cone-shaped rooms, and an underground domed structure that appears to take its cues from Middle-earth. Most have been submitted by anonymous design teams.

See Dezeen's selection of the 10 most striking and imaginative proposals below:


Donut House Mk. 1 by A.R.C.H.

Donut House Mk. 1 by A.R.C.H.

This ring-shaped structure offers "efficient extraterrestrial colonisation", and could be produced from basalt fibre-reinforced clay – impervious to fire, chemical degradation and radiation.

According to the team, "the roof is modelled on a gothic arch to minimise overhangs, and enable the structure to be manufactured in one operation, including electrical conduits and plumbing pipes."


The Cones of Mars by 3D Fabrication Technology

The Cones of Mars by 3DFABTECH

This Mars base could allow four inhabitants to take advantage of its various social spaces. The cone-shaped rooms are separated by tunnels, to create a "home-like design with privacy for the crew".

The pointed roofs are designed to minimise snow accumulation, protect against sandstorms, and contain a layer of salty Martian water to shelter the structure from radiation and extreme temperature.


The Radicle by Parallax

The Radicle by Parallax

Ambitiously described as "a seed for interplanetary colonisation", the Radicle is an expandable modular system that can be "planted" on Mars.

The habitat is constructed as a set of pre-fabricated foldable envelopes, that are deployed to create a working and living space, encased in a 3D-printed shell constructed from planetary resources.


Wazzu Dome (Domed Outpost for Mars Exploratio) by WSU 3D Printing Research Team

Wazzu Dome by WSU 3D Printing Research Team

This partially underground dome-shaped structure is "whimsically reminiscent of J R Tolkien's Hobbiton homes", said the design team in a statement.

Ceilings and foundations could be constructed simultaneously, lessening the build time, while being underground would offer inhabitants greater protection from the planet's challenging environment.


RedWorks Habitat by RedWorks

RedWorks Habitat by RedWorks

Another underground habitat, RedWorks has been "adapted from construction principles of ancient cultures, such as pit houses and pueblos as well as natural constructs like the shell of the nautilus".

The structure could be built upwards from the base of its excavation pit, with multiple levels organised around a central support shaft.


Ice House by Search/Clouds Architecture Office

Ice House by SEArch/Clouds Architecture Office

The shark fin-shaped Ice House could use water as its core resource to create a multi-layered shell of ice that would house a lander habitat and gardens.

"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," the design team explained in a statement.


The Neo Native by MOA Architects

Neo Native by MOA Architecture

This sprawling structure has been designed to be printed as a single piece, and both the shell and interior have been "designed mathematically".

"We can create a shelter reminiscent of our earth-bound dwelling to remind us of our origins, and to replicate the human ideology, or we can create a living shell that responds to its environment and pushes the limitations of not only what we know but who we are," MOA said in a statement.


Mollusca L5 by LeeLabs

Mollusca L5 by LeeLabs

The somewhat slug-shaped glass membrane of LeeLab's Mollusca L5 habitat protects inflated habitation modules, and outdoor areas, including a "front yard" space.

The building can be adapted to geographical conditions and habitat requirements, as necessary, while the glass shell protects from weather, radiation, "small impacts" and high temperatures.


Unnamed by Rustem Balshev

Mars habitat designed by Rustem Balshev

"One day Mars will become an ordinary destination as our own Earth's continents and cities," design team Rustem Balshev said in a statement.

Their spiral-shaped habitat could be constructed by a nuclear-powered crawling extruder that would be tethered by laser to a "Shepherd Bot".

"For increasing demands of interplanetary species, the technology is being developed until the first settlement in a size of a city is built on Mars," the team said.


Unnamed by Team Staye

Mars habitat designed by Team Staye

Team Staye proposed constructing habitats by boring into the ice of the planet's Equatorial Frozen Sea. "Easy access to water, protection from cosmic rays, and warm daytime temperatures make this location ideal," they said.

The silo-shaped multi-levelled structure could be printed in cement, starting from the bottom of the bore hole and working up to the surface.


The full shortlist is available here.

  • I think I need to re-read The Martian Chronicles and cleanse my brain with a little speculative fiction.

    • sheperd

      Add “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress”.

  • pericles21 writes

    Mars residency requirements and solutions:
    1) Energy (lots), fusion power would be perfect but large array hi-efficiency solar will suffice short term.

    2) Water, with plentiful energy (solar or fusion) this is not a problem.

    3) Breathable oxygen, no problem as the abundance of water assures chemical availability of oxygen (electric or catalytic breakdown of water into oxygen and hydrogen).

    4) Cosmic ray protection, genetic “improvement’ would be nice (eg, teleomere self-repairing gene therapy pills or permanent alteration. Long term, multi-generational Mars residents will be genetically engineered to have lowered muscle mass (less gravity), dark skin for added cosmic ray shielding without protective suits, be adapted for lowered oxygen needs via bigger lungs or increased red blood cell counts, or possibly be genetically adapted to incorporate photosynthesising skin cells to convert unprotected sunlight into metabolic energy. Also, lowering solid food needs.

    Terraforming Mars would bring advantage of an earth-like atmosphere. But after a few generations, Mars residents will be biologically and physiologically different from Earth humans through necessary genetic engineering (natural adaptation at slow, Darwinian rates will be impractical).

  • Nez

    I feel really strongly about the Donut house and I don’t know why.