The world's first Mars show home

25 January 2017

Interview with 

Marek Kooler, Royal Observatory, Greenwich

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Graihagh Jackson donned her space suit to see the first Mars show home ever with Marek Kooler...

Graihagh - There’s no airlock!

Marek - Well there is now. This is the airlock.

Graihagh - But there's no cruckuchoo..

Marek - Do you want to do the sound effects?

Graihagh - I mean that was pretty good, right?

Marek - That's pretty cool, okay. So we're standing outside the Mars home and it looks like an igloo made of red martian bricks basically. But we're going to go inside now and first we have to go through an airlock, which will probably be cannibalized from one of the spacecraft. So we’re using everything once we get to the surface of Mars… so welcome to the Mars home.

Graihagh - Thank goodness. It's absolutely freezing on Mars.

Marek - Here we are in the Mars home. We’ve got everything an astronaut could possibly need. It’s quite a compact environment but also designed to feel as spacious as possible. It's quite a compact environment but also designed to feel as spacious as possible. We've got a little kitchen area down here with a microwave...

Graihagh - I see a pie!

Marek - There is a pie that would probably be freeze dried for the journey. But also there’s a little bit of salad which, hopefully, is grown here on Mars in martian soil. There's also a coffee maker and I think, hopefully again, that  would be quite hipster to maybe grow your coffee in martian soil. So it would be absolutely hipster authentic coffee.

Graihagh - I’m a foodie, so if we’re going to live on Mars, good grub is paramount.

Taking food to Mars, carrying anything over that distance is very expensive so the rations will be very carefully controlled. And the logistics beforehand will be worked out so that everybody gets exactly the right amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, etc., all the vitamins they need. Of course, the idea is that we’ll be able to grow crops on Mars in covered greenhouses. We know already that we can grow Earth plants in simulated martian soil with fertilizer added and get things like potatoes and tomatoes that are actually edible. So hopefully they’ll be growing things there as well to add variety to their diet but they will be having a very controlled diet. So they’re not going to get fat and they’re not going to be eating junk food.

Graihagh - Gosh. I was just thinking,  as soon as you said fat I just had an avocado for lunch and I’m thinking… no avocados on Mars.

Marek - Who knows, maybe avocados will grow really well in martian soil, in which case, that could be your end of the week treat - half an avocado.

Graihagh - The other thing that’s paramount? Sleep.

Marek - they’ve got a rest area, so this is where astronauts can relax and to also personalise their area. You’re going to have to take everything you need with you. But to keep costs and transport down, probably what they're going to have is a lot of 3D printing. So, over here in the corner we have a 3D printer just by the desk and that will be able to print out all sorts of different tools and even personal items that the astronauts might want to personalise their space. So, instead of taking everything with them, a new tool can be downloaded from Earth. It will take a few minutes for the radio signal to transmit the data but then they can just print out here on Mars So very, very useful technology that, I think, will make things a lot easier for the astronauts.

But, also, they're going to be working hard out on the surface and if you come over here you can see we have a selection of....

Graihagh - Oh rocks!

Marek - ... geologists tools and rocks so geology is going to be a big thing. We're going to want to understand the geological history of Mars, and also to look for things like fossils of past life and even evidence of current life.

So we’ve got here some rocks. These actually are real samples belonging to Professor Sanjeev Gupta from the Imperial College who is a geologist.

Graihagh - They’re not from Mars.

Marek - Well, he’s a geologist and he works on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover mission. So these rocks are specially chosen to be the most similar rocks we can find on Earth to Mars rocks so they’re about as good as you can get.

Graihagh - Okay. And the final thing I want to talk about is the spacesuit. Because we think about space suits as these clumpy great big michelin man style things and what you've got over there is nothing like that.

Marek - Space suits on Mars I think will be a lot more slimline, and probably a little bit sexier than the ones that we’re used to seeing from the International Space Station or the Apollo missions. Those spacesuits are completely pressurised and it is like being inside a balloon if you like. The ones on Mars are going to use mechanical support to keep you held in against the lack of external pressure. So they're going to be a lot more like wetsuits perhaps with external support structures, maybe even a little bit of mechanical additions to help you to move around. They’re going to be quite constrictive, they’re going to really hold you in - a little bit like wearing a corset.

And then, of course, you'll have a helmet which will need to be pressurised and I think there are still issues to be worked through about how you marry the pressurised helmet bit with the more skintight wetsuit part of the suit. But certainly they’re going to look a lot different and, hopefully, be a lot easier to move around in. It will still be an effort though - you’re going to be working against the pressurisation and constriction of the suit. So it will be quite good exercise when you’re out there too and possibly quite tiring.

So everything you could possibly need is here. Downstairs, under the room we’re in now, would be a sleeping area possibly for about for people. And then, also, tunnels underground to connect you to other parts of the base and other Mars homes.

And also, of course, we've got a little bit of greenery in here. So this is great because it's a way of growing food. It also provides a little bit of oxygen and also I think it just give you a sense of being back home.

Graihagh - Home!

Marek - Absolutely. The psychology of the astronauts will be hugely important. So it's not just about their physical health, it is about their mental health. They're going to be working in very close quarters for several years. They all need to get on and I think they’re all going to need a little bit of personal space to go and chill out and relax. So one of the other things we have in here is virtual reality headsets so they’re going to be able to take some time out to go on a virtual reality trip home. Interact with friends and family. Just feel that they're not completely cut off from life here on Earth.

Graihagh - Now it's all very sleek and slimline and it's very compactly designed. But do you think this is realistic? An interpretation of what living on Mars might be like?

Marek - Who knows over the next couple of decades how people will decide to design the interior of these places but I think this is a pretty good guess. It's a bit like sort of Martian Ikea if you like. It's all very sleek,very kind of Scandi, quite stylish.

Graihagh - Orange and white...

Marek - Orange and white. Quite bright kind of cheery colours. I would certainly be quite happy to have this as my office and I think, actually, it's nicer than a lot of London flats. So I think they're going to be pretty happy here, you've got all mod cons. And you're also going to be part of one of the greatest adventures that humanity has ever undertaken.

Graihagh - Your name will go down in history books.

Marek - Absolutely!

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