NASA has selected five finalists in a contest to design a habitat for a potential future mission to Mars. Called the 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, NASA whittled down the finalists from 18 teams, awarding up to $21,000 in prize money to take the designs further.
“We are thrilled to see the success of this diverse group of teams that have approached this competition in their own unique styles,” said Monsi Roman, program manager for NASA’s Centennial Challenges, in a statement.
“They are not just designing structures, they are designing habitats that will allow our space explorers to live and work on other planets. We are excited to see their designs come to life as the competition moves forward.”
The contest began back in 2014, with teams initially putting together renders of their ideas. Then in 2017, they had to create parts of the habitats to prove they could work. And in the latest phase of the competition, the team had to model their habitats, and autonomously 3D print some of their parts.
In the future, it may be that some of these habitat designs are used by Martian explorers. Key to that goal is ensuring the habitats can be constructed easily with the limited resources available on the surface of Mars. And they must provide adequate protection and living space for the astronauts.
Each habitat had to have at least 92 square meters (1,000 square feet) of space, big enough for four people to live in for a year, according to TechCrunch. They must also be able to be constructed before the astronauts actually arrive on the surface, hence the autonomous aspect.
First place went to a team called Zopherus, whose design revolved around using “Martian concrete”. Another was based around a vertical cylinder, while a third used a high-strength plastic to let light in. One was designed to be built on slopes, and another used an inflatable vessel.
You can watch videos of all the designs below. The teams will now fight it out for a prize purse totaling $2 million in 2019, as they attempt to build one-third scale models of their final ideas. And who knows, maybe astronauts will one day rely on these designs to survive on the Red Planet.