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Red Planet Redux


“Mars is the great challenge of our time.”


Mars Desert Research Station

Mankind has always looked beyond our lonely rock for new frontiers, casting messages out into the black, hoping for a response. When we sent our first pioneers to the Moon, many of us dared to look just beyond - out to other planets, stars, systems.

Universal colonization is somehow a very human dream.

Mars habitation - from Total Recall-like dome cities to full-blown terraforming - is our proof-of-concept for a much bigger adventure. And, for the Mars Society, the allure is irresistible. They are determined to make man officially multi-planetary.

Sure, we’ve had astronauts for decades now. But even the transcendent experience of looking down on our little blue orb from space hasn’t prepared us for long, lonely years in the cosmic abroad.

Enter the Mars Analog Research Station project (MARS), a global network of operational explorations in some of Earth’s most inhospitable environments. Victor Luo, from NASA/JPL, has used our camera to scan a prototype research habitat: the Mars Desert Research Station, a preliminary exploration of the type of structure that might one day litter the surface of Mars. Its design is built for compactness, durability in harsh Martian conditions, and stringent cargo weight limits. (This particular specimen was inhabited by Crew 144.)

All of the technological challenges aside, some speculate that the biggest hurdle will be man’s natural aversion to loneliness. Programs like the MDRS are aimed at assessing the feasibility of living on Mars, and answering questions about the human challenges of interplanetary life. It examines how best to live and work in extreme isolation.

The scan below is of the MDRS, which represents a test for a 1-year trip to the Canadian Arctic to simulate isolation in preparation for future Mars missions. It is a first step in exploring how man will survive and thrive in a Martian environment.

Big names in space and entrepreneurship are already bringing the red planet within our grasp. The exciting success of recent missions, which confirm layers of ice just below Mars’ dusty surface, have only encouraged us to venture upward, with developments in engine and fuel technology intended to do just that.

And for those of us stuck here on Earth, there’s always virtual reality. As Matterport virtual environments move onto virtual reality platforms like Oculus, it might soon be possible to actually create a realistic sense of how the station will look and feel on another planet by knitting together our scans of earthbound structures with the photographic and topological data we’ve already collected from Mars.

This could change how astronauts train, and how we all imagine our place in the cosmos.


Read On…

Learn more about the Mars Desert Research Station and the Mars Society.

Do a deep-dive on what we know about Mars and the rest of the solar system in this online course.

Spend a few hours roaming around the Red Planet on Google Mars.

Hero image courtesy of ESA/DLR/FU Berlin.