Martian architects wanted: NASA calls for design ideas using existing Mars resources

Martian architects wanted: NAS...
NASA is looking to uncover some bright ideas about how materials already found on Mars can be put to use by human visitors
NASA is looking to uncover some bright ideas about how materials already found on Mars can be put to use by human visitors
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NASA is looking to uncover some bright ideas about how materials already found on Mars can be put to use by human visitors
NASA is looking to uncover some bright ideas about how materials already found on Mars can be put to use by human visitors

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.

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.

Source: NASA

The best place for people on Mars, is not on the surface, but underneath it. A nuclear powered tunneling machine could be the best piece of equipment to be delivered to the surface, prior to the arrival of humans. Perhaps equipped with a large laser to 'weld' the surface of the tunnel as it proceeds.
I agree with Nik that underground options potentially have the least labour and materials investment but the utilisation of an existing cave or crevasse might require less effort than excavation. Spray sealant might have less weight burden than the power train for a heavy duty laser.
Considering the extreme amounts of money, measured in Gazillions of Dollars, that could be saved with a winning design, paying out $10,000 seems to be paltry and not worth much effort. On the other hand, getting your name added to the time capsule may be worth something, too.
Volodymyr Lisivka
Dig hole, put big nuke, blow it, and wait until radation level will decline to acceptable level. Not fast, but effective.
Other option is to use Martian dust for huge laser sinter. Put laser on the mast in center of future building and "draw" building layer by layer. Layers can be added using dust blower. Then suck out any dust from building inner core. Same laser can be used to repair damaged sctuctures.
Energy savings is just as important as weight savings, and are inextricably linked, in such an endeavor into space, as the colonization of Mars. Therefore, both lasers and nuclear reactors may be less useful to our initial colonization efforts than one might imagine. Because of the harsh environment (climate and radiation), it is obvious that human habitats must be underground, or at least under sufficient roof/wall thickness to shield all life inside from the high level of detrimental cosmic radiation penetration. It should be just as obvious to all that a 3-D printed soil version of the classic emergency snow igloo of the Eskimo hunters, half dug into the surface and half domed over that round hole, is the most weight and energy efficient answer to immediate human habitation, but a gas-tight, double air-lock entry into such an 'adobe' structure is the real problem. I have the answer to that, but I would not sell it for $10,000, who is NASA trying to kid? I think that is the point, only a young child's mind is more innovative than our sub-average NASA scientists and also sufficiently naive to give those bureaucrats their good, but half-baked, ideas to steal. Next, no manned presence can long endure, there, unless they can start growing plants, ASAP! Most food crop plant are nearly as susceptible to harm from detrimental cosmic radiation as are animals. Tempered leaded glass panels and the framework to hold them up in a dome are way too bulky and heavy to ship them up there and inflated polymer films are too fragile and won't filter enough radiation. I have the answer to that, too, so call me, NASA, but only when you get serious! Finally, we should not even consider setting a single human foot on that planet, until we tractor guide a passing comet or two into it on a glancing blow, to its back side, to put it closer into the "Goldilocks Zone" and give it enough rotation for Earth-like gravity and a magneto-sphere and more heat, water and CO2 in a captive atmosphere, as the very first steps to terraforming Mars. Then, it needs a moon, to keep that 'life engine' going, even if we must tether an artificial moon/launch station there to do that job, and save us much launching fuel from the surface (we should have one of those in Earth orbit, also). It is all just that simple. First things, first! After we put humans, there, this best option for terraforming is no longer an option, unless we effect an expensive and extended evacuation of the entire planet, and lose all of the investment that we have already delivered to the Martian surface. Because idiots seem to be running our government, we are about to lose one of the best opportunities to properly direct NASA efforts and make good use of a highly suitable passing comet, in 2019. This first logical step to terraforming Mars could be done completely 'robotically', much cheaper, give us more time to plan a much easier path to Martian colonization, and would be good practice for us to avoid the inevitable eventuality of some near-World collision events, to protect all life, both here and there, also. The increased gravitational pull of Mars would also have a stabilizing effect on Earth's slide toward the Sun, which will eventually have a far greater effect on "global warming" than human-produced CO2 ever could have. Can I get a second to that motion? Anyone? Let's make a dead planet live and protect our own, at the same time! Maybe we need to enlist and re-direct the L-5 Society and the Mars One folks to get all the right and bright free-thinking privately-funded minds on Earth all focused in one logical cooperative direction, before it is too late to do the right thing, as is usual with our species. No national government will ever likely solve this problem for us, we are most likely to solve it thru the private efforts of an open-membership international cooperative space society, with the help of a few forward-thinking benefactors, like Elon Musk, perhaps. Mars One has a good idea on how private entertainment media enterprise could make a profit, here on Earth, while simultaneously capitalizing the effort in space, but Mars is just too big of a first jump, and is not yet ready for human colonization. The L-5ers (I guess they are called the National Space Society, NSS, now) had a good idea in Space Station Libre, as a near-Earth orbiting satellite, but we really need a 'tethering' fuel hose/space freight elevator to that space station to make all of our launches to Mars vastly more economical. The elevator would make it more accessible to a wider spectrum of "space tourists", also, and no space station colonist would be stuck there for life, as they would be, if we went to Mars, but it would be just as exciting to the mass of reality show-watching humanity on Earth. All the while, we should be 'seeding' the basics of life on the now more habitable Mars, from "Space Station Liberty". The first manned jump to Mars should be to anchor the fuel hose/freight elevator/tether, from an identical, or even larger, near-Mars orbiting space satellite/launching/docking station, Life, built and launched toward Mars, in complete and functionally autonomous, human life-supporting condition, by Liberty. Once we have Life and Liberty, we should pursue Happiness, as another, Liberty-built, artificial Martian moon, anchored about a third of the Martian circumference from Life. After the initial tethering, colonization of Mars becomes a piece of cake, with nothing but robotic shuttles of supply, and colonists, from the Liberty launching docks, returning to Liberty, from Mars, with valuable mined commodities or refined products, which are in short supply on Earth. A beautiful dream, but it all has to start by crashing a comet, or two, into a barren planet. Any better options?
Road tar
Agree with Guardian about dollar amount. The low dollar amount and very short deadline indicates a lack of seriousness and credibility on NASA's part. The payoff for viable proposals is huge, the structure of only 3 winners of low dollar amounts for a comprehensive scheme seems to discourage incorporating many "small" ideas from being submitted. Get serious, NASA..
Good points, Road Tar! More minds always equals more good ideas. Of course more bad ones, too, and I am not sure we should trust NASA to know which ones are which, just judging from their recent record. Did you see their new Road Map to Mars. Not impressed, nor inspired. It is a big job that will require lots of good ideas. With no mention of either rail guns for launching building materials into geo-synchronous low-Earth orbit, nor a fuel hose tethered construction hangar/docking station, nor a space elevator for personnel, I don't think those boys are living in the real world, under the same laws of physics as the rest of us. Or maybe they think Uncle Sugar is just going to keep borrowing money from the rest of the world to pay for their wild-eyed science projects. Anybody ready for a robotic Comet Crashing Party, yet?