The dream of establishing a human colony on Mars goes back decades, and it will likely be at least many more decades before anything comes to fruition. But the immense technical challenge presented by human exploration of Mars has not deterred scientists from sketching out optimal strategies for long-term habitation on the Red Planet.
The latest iteration of the long tradition of speculative Mars bases is now in development at the Swiss university École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL). This concept focuses on constructing an igloo-like structure at the planet’s north pole. Forthcoming research in Acta Astronautica led by Anne-Marlene Rüede, a student at EPFL’s Space Engineering Center (eSpace), describes how ice and dust at Mars’s poles could be harvested to supply water, fuel, and building materials for a future base.
“The poles may pose more challenges in the beginning, but they are the best location for the long term since they harbor natural resources that we may be able to use,” said Rüede in a statement.
The modular structures of the EPFL design—a core, capsules, and a dome—would be constructed in advance by robots from onsite materials. The pressure-sealed dome would be coated in an ice shell three-meters thick for insulation and protection from radiation and meteorite impacts, which are common on the Martian surface.
Once living spaces and life support systems are in place, the EPFL team envisions a six-person human crew voyaging to the planet during the six-month-long Martian northern summer, when sunlight is abundant for solar power production (the Martian calendar has longer seasons than Earth’s calendar, because the Martian year lasts 687 Earth days).
The crew would spend around nine months further developing the artificial habitat. Some supplies would have to be sent from Earth, and would be intercepted in Mars orbit by a local base spacecraft fueled by Martian resources.
Much like Lockheed Martin’s Mars Base Camp design or SpaceX’s Mars colony concept, the EPFL habitat aims to anticipate the best procedures to establish a long-term human presence on Mars. Whether any of these concepts will ultimately get road-tested on Mars remains up in the air, however, so don’t get too attached to the idea of kickin’ it like some Martian Santa Claus in an igloo at the planet’s north pole.