One of the problems of living on Mars is a minimal atmosphere that will make future inhabitants susceptible to harmful radiation from the Sun. NASA is currently working on many solutions to this problem, and the latest could come in the form of an ‘ice house’.

According to research done at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, the best building material for habitats on Mars may unexpectedly be ice.

“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 Langley senior systems engineer Kevin Vipavetz, facilitator for the design session.

The interior of the Mars Ice Home concept. Credit: NASA Langley

Recently revealed, the ice house concept is a large inflatable dome surrounded by water ice. The theory behind this dome is that the ice will shield inhabitants from harmful UV radiation. The unit is lightweight and can be assembled with basic machinery (that mars astronauts would have at their disposal), before the crew arrives the outer bladder of the dome is filled with water and kept as part of the structure when it freezes. The dome is also expected to hold up to Mars’ harsh weather:

“The materials that make up the Ice Home will have to withstand many years of use in the harsh Martian environment, including ultraviolet radiation, charged-particle radiation, possibly some atomic oxygen, perchlorates, as well as dust storms – although not as fierce as in the movie ‘The Martian’,” said Langley researcher Sheila Ann Thibeault.

A cutaway of the Mars Ice Home concept. Credit: NASA Langley