Future Mars dwellers face a tricky architectural challenge: how will structures protect them from radiation in an extreme environment? Experts from NASA’s Langley Research Center, Clouds Architecture Office, and Space Exploration Architecture (SEArch) found a creative answer in ice. They designed Mars Ice Home, an inflatable shelter enveloped in a water ice shell that provides protections and views of the scenery on Mars, and it could be partly repurposed for rocket fuel.

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The lightweight torus-shaped Mars Ice Home could offer a sustainable, safe home for astronauts on the red planet. With its ubiquitous hydrogen presence, water is especially well-suited to protect humans from galactic cosmic rays – one of the largest risks astronauts face by staying on Mars for an extended time period, according to NASA. The high-energy radiation can damage human DNA and cells, putting astronauts at risk for cancer or acute radiation sickness.

Related: Foster + Partners unveils 3D-printed Mars settlement built by robots for NASA competition

Water is even easily obtainable on the red planet, giving new meaning to the idea of locally-sourced. Recent NASA research revealed a Mars water ice deposit holds a similar amount of water as Lake Superior.

The dwelling could be set up via robotics before astronauts arrive, which is helpful because with the current design, it would take around 400 days to fill the home with water. When it’s time to leave, water from Mars Ice Home could possibly be converted into rocket fuel usable by the Mars Ascent Vehicle. NASA says the home could double as a refillable storage tank as different astronaut groups travel to and off Mars.

In the past many researchers pointed to underground dwellings as a solution to architectural challenges on Mars, but the new NASA design eschews that idea in favor of a light-filled residence. Researcher Kevin Kempton said in a statement, “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…After months of travel in space, when you first arrive at Mars and your new home is ready for you to move in, it will be a great day.”


Images via NASA/Clouds AO/SEArch and courtesy of Kevin Kempton