Before astronauts ever venture to Mars, materials for a red planet habitat will undergo space testing. The inflatable Mars Ice Home, designed by Clouds Architecture Office (Clouds AO), Space Exploration Architecture (SEArch), and NASA’s Langley Research Center, could protect explorers from radiation in the extreme environment of Mars – and the materials that could comprise the dome will soon be assessed aboard the International Space Station (ISS).


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Mars Ice Home materials are to be blasted to space in November 2018, as part of the MISSE-11 mission. On the ISS, materials for the habitat’s wall assembly will be flight tested for an entire year, and material samples will even be mounted on the station’s exterior to see how they respond after a long period of time in space’s harsh environment. They’ll then return to Earth, so scientists can scrutinize how the materials performed.

Related: NASA envisions ice dome home for future Mars dwellers

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Clouds AO said they are working with NASA’s Langley Research Center engineers on Mars Ice Home’s design, which they recently updated for a thicker ice wall. So far it appears the ice home could do a better job of shielding astronauts from radiation than aluminum; Clouds AO said in a statement, “Using raytrace analysis based on the Badhwar-O’Neill 2014 model, an effective dose of 89 millisieverts per year was measured near the core of the latest Ice Home design. This represents a 48 to 50 percent reduction in radiation from Galactic Cosmic Rays, and a significant improvement of shielding over typical aluminum pressure vessels.”

Ice can effectively protect humans from radiation, per Clouds AO’s design statement, and would also allow astronauts on Mars to live in a space with natural light, which would keep them connected to diurnal cycles. Water for Mars Ice Home would be sourced locally from the red planet, and could be repurposed as rocket fuel when it comes time to return to Earth.

+ Clouds AO

+ SEArch

Images via NASA and NASA/Clouds AO/SEArch