National Geographic looks at life on Mars with London model home

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New Atlas took a trip to Mars (OK, Greenwich) to find out what life might be like(Credit: Scott Collie/New Atlas)

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The idea of humans living on another planet was once the preserve of science-fiction writers, but today it doesn't seem so crazy. SpaceX and NASA are both planning manned missions to Mars, and human settlement is becoming a very real possibility. So, what would life actually be like on the Red Planet? New Atlas took a trip to the Greenwich Royal Observatory, where National Geographic has set up a model Mars home, to find out.

The National Geographic exhibition was designed in tandem with astronomers from the Royal Greenwich Observatory and Stephen Petranek, author of How We'll Live on Mars. It might be a compact display, but the design and materials chosen are rooted in reality. That means the materials mentioned should all be able to shield humans from the inhospitable environment on Mars, and take the tricky economics of space travel into account.

With those tricky economics in mind, the dome-shaped exterior is wrought in bricks made from martian soil, and the double airlock has been recycled from the spacecraft used to get to Mars. The team also suggests spacecraft air-scrubbing systems could be recycled, to minimize the amount of extra cargo that needs to be carried from Earth to Mars.

"We've got this amazing igloo-like construction, it's made of bricks fused from martian soil," says Dr. Martin Kukula, Royal Observatory Greenwich Public Astronomer. "The idea there is to use as much local resource as possible so we don't have to take much stuff with us. Of course, getting to Mars is a very long trip and very expensive, so we take as little as possible."

"Inside we are growing our own food, with plants we are growing in martian soil. But also it's designed to be a pleasant environment for the astronauts," he says. "This could be a three-year round trip with six months there, six months back and two years on the martian surface, so you want the astronauts to have a pleasant working environment as well as a safe one."

Underneath the red-brick skin, the show home is kitted out with everything astronauts could possibly need for a comfortable two-year mission. In the above-ground area, there's a television and daytime bed for unwinding, along with necessities like a 3D printer. Rather than needing to wait six months for new tools and equipment to arrive from Earth, the printer gives astronauts the ability to simply make their own.

The real action happens underground – home to sleeping quarters, storage and crucial oxygen-generating machinery. Rather than living in isolation, the team behind the home say inhabitants would be part of a wider colony, connected by a network of underground tunnels.

Visitors will be able to see the National Geographic show home between November 10 and 16 at the Royal Greenwich Observatory in London. A documentary-drama directed by Ron Howard will also air on the National Geographic channel this weekend. Set in 2033, it tells the story of the first manned mission to Mars through a combination of real interviews and fictional storylines.

Stephen Petranek explains the rationale behind the design of the model home to New Atlas in the video below.

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