DB: what are the next steps for the project?
AM: we are now working at the phase where we are exploring and doing prototypes of the core elements, such as the tunneling habitat. we are looking into developing that prototype here on earth. we are also at the phase where we are developing the actual design of what the buildings in the cliff are about, as well as the rest of the spaces. obviously, there is still a lot of work to be done. once the project is further developed from the design and architectural point of view, and we have the prototypes on earth, we will be able to experiment with some of the potential challenges that we will face when we are on mars.
for example, we have been working with the mars society to try to start simulating some of the first phases of implementation of a settlement with the characteristics of nüwa by doing a similar processes here on earth. we are also exploring the possibility of expanding the experience of nüwa here on earth by allowing potentially larger buildings with the same technology and systems that could allow for extreme environment tourism.
we are going in different routes, but the ultimate goal is to be able to learn most of the challenges that we will face when we actually go to build a city on mars. however, in order to do that, we need to develop the design further. secondly, we need to work with a bigger team of scientists to understand some of the things that we might have missed, and thirdly we need to a start envisioning the critical parts from the technical point of view that are still not resolved. therefore we need to involve the international community to find solutions. obviously, the fourth thing is we need funding to make this happen.
DB: in what ways can your research and analysis be applied to find solutions here on earth?
AM: there are so many interesting things that came up. from an urban point of view, in manhattan, if we include the built up area and the parks and the streets, we estimated that there is around 120 square meters per person (approximately 1,300 square feet). when we were working on the solution for nüwa, we were similar to that number. so we know that from an infrastructural point of view, we were able to provide a very dense solution.
but when we go to the agricultural component, there are huge differences. for example, the entire area associated with crops in nüwa is solved with a little less than 120 square meters per person (1,300 sqf). on earth, the equivalent amount of space that it requires to provide crops and the space for the crops associated with animals and farming is 600 square meters (60,000 sqf).
when we hear about the problems that we have in the amazon, and that they’re burning half of the amazon because they need a space for cows to grow, you realize that we’re spending so much land on earth to provide food for humans that scientists are saying is not required based on what we have done on mars. so we could actually implement that knowledge to make earth a much more sustainable place.
AM (continued): another difference is that on mars we need plants for oxygen generation, as well as other infrastructure, that on earth we take for granted. we started thinking that usually on earth we fragment, and we create beautiful parks, and then all the infrastructure goes separately. but when we were creating the common areas and parks for mars, we wanted to integrate some of those life support systems as monuments in those public parks. because when you’re on mars, you see that infrastructure like sewage plants is what’s allowing you to live. when you see those tanks that generate oxygen it makes you realize: wow, this is amazing, I’m living thanks to this! from the design point of view, an urban point of view, and the landscaping point of view, a lot of the things that here on earth we start putting aside, start to become the elements that give identity to a particular location.
it is the same with materials. when we started looking into materials, we realized how difficult, expensive, and unsustainable concrete is. because we have been using it for for so many years, we keep using it, but steel and many other solutions are much more sustainable. learning from building in extreme environments like mars helps us think outside of the box and be aware of what we could do differently on earth. we’re actually implementing some of those ideas with our other projects at ABIBOO. in that sense, by solving the needs of a settlement on mars, we are able to find solutions and ideas that can be implemented on earth.
DB: in terms of a time-frame, if everything fell into place, when could construction begin? when could people start going to mars and living there?
AM: there are critical paths associated with the schedule. we still don’t have the technology that is required for the generation of oxygen, and the technology associated with obtaining carbon from water and from CO2 on a larger scale is not available yet. the scientists feel comfortable about the science behind it, but still we have not been able to manufacture steel easily with water and CO2. these are two critical aspects for what nüwa will require.
we have the technology for the tunneling system and many of the other solutions are based on current technology, artificial intelligence, and robotics. we feel comfortable, the way that things are developing nowadays, that in 10-15 years, they could be actually implemented on mars. but one of the critical aspects is that nüwa is conceived as a permanent settlement and it is very different than a temporary solution. nüwa will require that we do on the ground geology analysis by astronauts. so until we send astronauts there, that can actually do the testing of the different requirements and the geological analysis of the different cliffs that we are considering, it will not be possible to take all of that learning and say we can actually build it. based on the information we have now, we feel comfortable that the rock is strong enough to provide the 10 meter diameters that we need. but again, in order to actually build it, it’s like on earth — we’re not going to go through a mountain without actually doing the proper analysis.
we feel approximately, based also on the schedule that elon musk has shared about the possibility of sending people to mars, that by september 2054, there is a window of opportunity that we can go from earth to mars. it’s very preliminary, and there is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of challenges that need to be resolved, but we feel that from a scientific point of view, 2054 could be when we are ready to start construction. then, because the system is very scalable, it can go very quickly. if the rest of the challenges that I summarized are solved, then we believe that by 2100, it could be finished. again, there are a lot of ifs, but I’m very optimistic it could be done if there is enough will and enough of a community trying to solve the challenges with oxygen and the transformation of materials from from CO2 and water into steel.
DB: how excited are you about the possibility of a permanent colony on mars?
AM: it’s fascinating to realize that we could actually see a permanent colony in our generation. it is realistic, but how realistic depends on the will and the amount of resources that we put into it. it definitely gives a lot of hope, also because of the things that we learn by doing this, that can be directly implemented on earth.
a colony on mars could expand what humans are as a species, but there are very few people that are going to go to mars. so all of this should be taken as a learning opportunity to make earth a better place. some people ask, why are we not solving the problems on earth before we go to mars? but we can do both. by solving one need we are getting information about how to solve the other. in that sense, it is fascinating and really, really exciting what can happen in the years ahead.
alfredo muñoz, founder of ABIBOO studio
authors: guillem anglada-escudé, alfredo muñoz herrero, miquel sureda, gisela detrell, ignasi casanova, david cullen, miquel banchs i piqué, gonzalo rojas, engeland apostol, sebastián rodríguez, verónica florido, philipp hartlieb, laia ribas, owen hughes pearce, david de la torre
contributors: jordi miralda escudé, rafael harillo gomez-pastrana, lluis soler, paula betriu, uygar atalay, pau cardona, oscar macia, eric fimbinger, stephanie hensley, carlos sierra, elena montero, robert myhill, rory beard
sponsors: ABIBOO studio, CSIC, UPC, university of stuttgart, cranfield university, IEEC, montan universitat loeben, university of portsmouth