A team of engineers and architects from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) has won the top prize for architecture in 2017’s international Mars City Design competition, which asks participants to design habitats that could one day be built on the Red Planet.
The competition, sponsored by both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), is one of many that asks participants to come up with creative solutions to the problems these agencies anticipate in the journey to Mars.
Like other contests before it, the Mars City Design competition aims to solve the problem of building livable and sustainable spaces on the Red Planet, from either the limited cargo astronauts would be able to bring with them or indigenous Martian resources. [How Will a Human Mars Base Work? NASA’s Vision in Images]
MIT’s winning design, which the team calls Redwood Forest, is a collection of “tree habitats” connected through a system of tunnels called “roots.” The roots would provide safe access to other tree habitats, private spaces and “shirt-sleeve transportation,” according to a statement from MIT. The tunnels would also provide protection from cosmic radiation, micrometeorite impacts and extreme changes in temperature.
Each dome-shaped tree habitat would house up to 50 people, and the team’s vision calls for building about 200 of them, to support a settlement of 10,000 pioneers. The structures would include private and public spaces as well as plants and water harvested from the northern plains of Mars, according to the statement.
“On Mars, our city will physically and functionally mimic a forest, using local Martian resources such as ice and water, regolith (or soil), and sun to support life,” MIT postdoctoral researcher Valentina Sumini said in the statement. Sumini and MIT assistant professor Caitlin Mueller led the team, which also included nine students.
“Designing a forest also symbolizes the potential for outward growth as nature spreads across the Martian landscape,” Sumini added.
Also like a forest, the “trees” in this collective would be vital in transporting water throughout the system.