There is high excitement over the human mission to Mars; however, the challenge of housing astronauts securely from extreme temperatures and radiation is a mega challenge, especially when they are required to camp many months on the Red Planet.

During summer, the temperature at the Martian surface hovers at 70 degrees Fahrenheit (21 degrees Celsius) at day time and sinks to minus 100 F (minus 73 degrees Celsius) during night, according to reports.

Lengthy stays on Mars may spell huge risk from galactic rays radiation as high-energy rays could hurt skin cells and damage DNA, raising cancer risk and vulnerability to acute radiation sickness.

Rationale Of Choosing Ice

Taking the challenge of protecting explorers from the harsh Martian environment is NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. To build the explorers' habitats, the center is working on a unique building material — ice.

Known as "Mars Ice Dome," the concept has the backing of industry and academic designers who are working alongside NASA experts at the Engineering Design Studio in Langley.

The idea was picked up by the Space Technology Mission Directorate's (STMD) Center Innovation Fund from a slew of entries.

"After a day dedicated to identifying needs, goals and constraints we rapidly assessed many crazy, out of the box ideas and finally converged on the current Ice Home design, which provides a sound engineering solution," said Kevin Vipavetz, who is the design facilitator and a senior systems engineer.

Benefits Of Ice Dome

In terms of functionality "Mars Ice Dome" is similar to a shell of water ice engulfing an inner tube. The advantages are manifold — it is lightweight for easy transportation and easy robotics allow faster deployment. Water can also be filled up prior to the arrival of the crew.

It is highly utilitarian as well. The Ice Dome uses Martian materials and the water can also be converted to potential rocket fuel for the Mars Ascent Vehicle. This makes the "home" a storage tank and adds the flexibility of refilling the tank for the use of upcoming crew.

In short, Ice Dome has a deft balancing of protection from radiation by enlarging the thickness of ice to thwart radiation exposure and in allowing light to pass through the ice and surrounding materials.

In its execution, the icy shelter uses the property of water as a hydrogen-rich substance in resisting the risk of galactic cosmic rays to the hilt.

Alien Search

Meanwhile, Ellen Stofan, NASA chief scientist said Mars human mission would boost the search for life beyond Earth.

Addressing a workshop in Irvine, hosted by the National Academy of Sciences, she said Mars mission is all about seeking answers to many crucial scientific questions.

"To me, we're going to Mars, because Mars holds the answers to such fundamental scientific questions that we're trying to ask," Stofan noted.

The NASA chief scientist said humans in Mars are capable of doing more while searching for signs of life. They are better placed than a rover. An example is humans capability in operating drills deeper than the Curiosity rover. In the latter's case, the plumbing limit expected for the Mars 2020 rover is 6.5 feet (2 meters).

The workshop, titled "Searching for Life Across Space and Time," attracted many scientists who had been working to find signs of alien life within and beyond the solar system.

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