As NASA ramps up talk of a manned missions to Mars, it is turning to the public to help build the infrastructure to keep us there. The freshly launched In Situ Resource Utilization Challenge puts the call out for clever ideas to use resources already found on Mars to help carve out a human presence on its surface.
Each piece of material gleaned from the Red Planet and put to use in building infrastructure will mean less that needs to be ferried some 140 million miles (225 million km) from Earth. NASA says this could equate to savings of more than US$100,000 per kg (2.2 lb) of cargo on each launch.
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So it is set to award $10,000 to the brightest design idea for building a structure on Mars that uses in situ materials, along with $2,500 for two second-place submissions. The designs could consist of surface materials like rocks or soil, or even draw on the planet's water supply, like the recent winner of the agency's 3-D Printed Habitat Challenge Design Competition.
"In situ resource utilization is key to our exploration of the universe," said Robert Mueller, senior technologist at Swamp Works, a lab at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. "We must find ways to make what we need once we are at our destination. For example, the soil on Mars could be used to make modular structural building blocks to make shelters, landing pads and other useful structures. We are looking for creative and novel solutions from all types of people."
NASA is taking submissions until December 3, with winners to be announced in late January 2016.