Space architects seek to replicate life on Mars in Dubai desert

Sebastian Aristotelis and a colleague spent two months in a lunar habitat module in Greenland - and now have their sights set on Dubai

Two space architects who spent 60 days living in a compact shelter in Greenland to simulate harsh lunar conditions want to design a Mars habitat for the Dubai desert next.

Danes Sebastian Aristotelis and Karl-Johan Sorensen were part of the Lunark mission, where they endured Arctic temperatures of minus 30°C and carried rifles for protection against polar bears.

The pair work at Saga Space Architects, a company that aims to make space liveable for future travellers through approaching habitat design from a human perspective.

To this end, they are eyeing the Dubai desert, because the dry climate and sandstorms are comparable to Martian conditions.

“Our team would love to do that. It's a very interesting environment. I've been to the desert several times,” Mr Aristotelis told The National.

“I lived in the desert in Jordan for 14 days because of the red sand. I wanted to experience that because it resembles Mars visually.”

The goal is to build habitats that could be used for space tourism or other missions in future, but with a design that helps counteract "monotony, claustrophobia and psychological stress", Mr Aristotelis said.

Sebastian Aristotelis pictured inside the Lunark habitat, which was created as a possible space home for future travellers. Courtesy: Lunark 
Sebastian Aristotelis pictured inside the Lunark habitat, which was created as a possible space home for future travellers. Courtesy: Lunark 

Elon Musk announced plans to take one million people to the Red Planet by 2050 and has sold multiple tickets for a lunar tourism mission.

And Nasa is trying to get astronauts back on the Moon.

The UAE announced plans for a city on Mars by the year 2117, and is currently building a Mars Science City in Al Khawaneej for research purposes.

Bjarke Ingels, another Danish space design company, proposed a design for the science city a few years ago, including massive biodomes.

The habitat designed and used by the Saga Space Architects, however, involved a portable and compact-sized structure that can expand at its final location – an ideal solution for future space explorers.

“What we knew from the beginning was that we needed to create something that could be transported in a rocket, but that would unfold after landing,” Mr Aristotelis said.

“That was one of the biggest challenges and inventions of the projects, but the habitat does unfold by 750 per cent after landing and becomes habitable. There’s a lot of different things we did to enable comfortable living.”

Features of the Lunark habitat

Mr Aristotelis and Mr Sorensen lived in isolation inside the Lunark prototype in October and November last year.

Lunark is battery-powered and has an aluminum frame that is covered in solar cells.

It has capacity for two people and weighs 1,738 kilograms.

A smart lighting system on the ceiling changes over the day to replicate a day and night, helping maintain the body’s natural sleeping cycle.

Bjarke Ingels, another Danish space design firm, had proposed a design for the UAE's Mars simulation city. The Saga Space Architects, however, offer a portable space home. Courtesy: Bjarke Ingels 
Bjarke Ingels, another Danish space design firm, had proposed a design for the UAE's Mars simulation city. The Saga Space Architects, however, offer a portable space home. Courtesy: Bjarke Ingels 

The team carried satellite phones with them and texting was limited to 160 characters.

Lunark had built-in sensors that notified them when anything needed to be repaired or checked.

“When we woke up, we immediately checked the dashboard and interface to ensure that nothing had happened overnight,” said Mr Aristotelis.

“We ended up monitoring everything constantly throughout the day, because during that time the habitat ends up becoming your entire universe. So, you become very sensitive to changes, like humidity and temperature.”

Life in the Arctic

They used thawed Greenland ice for water and also survived on protein shakes, soup and protein bars.

Similar to the toilet on the International Space Station, the Lunark had one that separates urine and faeces. It was built inside the habitat and had no running water.

Mr Aristotelis and Mr Sorensen alternated their sleeping schedules, so they could have privacy.

They also feared attacks from polar bears.

Ice provided a water source in Greenland, but a more creative solution would be needed for a Mars habitat prototype in the Dubai desert. Lunark 
Ice provided a water source in Greenland, but a more creative solution would be needed for a Mars habitat prototype in the Dubai desert. Lunark 

“In order to protect ourselves from the threat of a polar bear we carried rifles at all times when outside of the habitat,” Mr Aristotelis said.

“Thankfully, we never came face to face with one, but one morning when we woke up, we found fresh polar bear tracks in the snow that led right up to the door of the habitat. That was a really scary moment. It was difficult to concentrate that day when we knew it may still be roaming about nearby.”

What would a Mars habitat prototype look like?

While Mr Aristotelis has expressed interest in designing a Mars habitat for the Dubai desert, he did not reveal what features it could include.

However, because of the dry climate and sandstorms, challenges would include finding a water source and keeping the solar panels from being covered in sand.

UAE's mission to Mars – in pictures

Updated: March 15, 2021 05:22 PM

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