Since the first telescopic observation of Mars by Galileo in 1610, the red planet has fascinated and called to Earthlings. Science fiction books and movies invite us to imagine what future missions to the Martian surface could be like. NASA’s Artemis Program plans to take the next man and woman to the Moon’s surface by 2024. The program also plans to establish a permanent outpost on or around the Moon within the decade. This program will give us a glimpse of what it will take to inhabit other planets like Mars. Of course, a trip to the moon takes a few days. Yet, Mars lies some 34 million miles from Earth leading to travel times of several months.
Mars on Earth
The establishment of a colony on Mars seems like a distant possibility. There are people right here on Earth preparing to go to Mars though. One of those people is Vera Mulyani. She is the President and Founder of the Mars City Foundation and CEO, Founder and Executive Director of Marschitecture of Mars City Design. She also teaches at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) for the first Mars focus Systems Engineering Course; Occupy Mars, Explorations in Space Travel and Colonization. For the last four years Mulyani has been concocting plans to build a sustainable city in the Mojave Desert in California to be a proving ground for human habitation of Mars.
Prototyping on Mars
This will be a full-scale, sustainable, self-contained model city. It will model what a Mars outpost could look like and how it could function. The Mars City will provide a place to test technologies we need to survive and thrive away from Earth. It will give us Earthlings the opportunity to see what it may be like to live in space. We had the opportunity to speak with Vera Mulyani. She shared the exciting prospects for her Mars City. She also shared lessons she has learned in the development and growth of her non-profit and startup organizations.
There’s a lot to think about when building any city. But, building a city that could be built on a planet ill-designed for human life is an entirely different challenge. The Mars City project will provide a new center for space activities. It will be dedicated to supporting the advancement of human settlement on the Moon and Mars. This space hub will provide an extraterrestrial environment that will facilitate indoor and outdoor equipment test labs and team accommodations. It will include work spaces, hotels and habitats, energy storage and advanced mobility services to deliver manufactured products. Its distinguished aesthetics and comfort of the overall architectural design will inspire and motivate the creativity of the inhabitants.
Making the inhospitable hospitable
“We are bringing together experts, companies and contractors to build a city in one of the most inhospitable and remote places on our planet. We will learn from the experiences so we can utilize what we learn to make smarter decisions as we ultimately build a city on Mars,” shares Mulyani. “There are things you cannot anticipate, but using our planet as a test case is a great way to demonstrate what is possible and create and test new technologies to support the infrastructure of a self-contained, sustainable city on Mars. We will also give citizens interested in space the opportunity to experience what it may be like as we become a spacefaring species,” continues Mulyani.
Four years of learning
Having an imagination and a vision of creating a prototype city for Mars may have seemed farfetched even a few years ago. Yet, as the interest in space grows, Mulyani’s dream is becoming a reality. With over $30,000 in crowdfunding and $500,000 in private funding as a small pool to start from, Mulyani has exposed the brand internationally, to a total of 100 million people. Mulyani is raising another $5M to start building the first 3D printed habitat structures.
“It’s scary to take something that is in your imagination, a vision, and try to turn that into something tangible. What I’ve realized in this process is that it is easy to find reasons not to continue forward, particularly in the early stages. If you can overcome the early obstacles, things begin to click and come together. Time and persistence take care of many roadblocks.” – Vera Mulyani, President and Founder of Mars City Foundation
Lesson 1: Start with imaginaton and a big vision
Everything created started with an idea from an individual and ultimately took shape. You need to start somewhere. So, why wait? According to Mulyani and many other entrepreneurs we have spoken with, the rest takes care of itself. Momentum eliminates barriers faster than anything else.
Time makes a difference
“It’s scary to take something that is in your imagination, a vision, and try to turn that into something tangible,” says Mulyani. “What I’ve realized in this process is that it is easy to find reasons not to continue forward, particularly in the early stages. If you can overcome the early obstacles, things begin to click and come together. Time and persistence take care of many roadblocks,” comments Mulyani.
Lesson 2: Break down perceived walls
Mulyani expects to break ground on Mars City in 2021 and plans to complete the project within 3 years. The interesting thing about the space industry is the perceived and real barriers to entry. Space is expensive and the ecosystem that supports it is limited in terms of breadth of players and access to those players. It has improved in recent years with more players coming into the market, yet the challenges still exist.
“My education and experience are in traditional architecture and not in the space industry,” explains Mulyani. “I spent three years of my career specifying windows for commercial development. Those three years were a turning point for me. There had to be something more meaningful I could do with my skills and expertise. I couldn’t imagine spending my entire career focused on one small segment of architecture. My dream was to do something that would make an impact and contribute to a meaningful cause. I had always been fascinated with space. Mars City gave me the perfect outlet to tie together my profession, an area of fascination for me and contribute to the revolutionary goal of making humans a spacefaring species. It wasn’t as difficult to develop relationships and create the connections that have helped me take my architecture expertise and extend it to the space industry,” shares Mulyani.
Lesson 3: Tap experts
People like to share their expertise. When you are passionate about what you do, you enjoy sharing your passion with other people. The good news is that experts are everywhere and it is easier than ever to connect with them.
“We have been fortunate to connect with veteran astronauts, organizations like NASA and universities like CalTech, MIT, LMU, Carnegie Mellon University and Colorado Mining University. Plus, the more we connect, the more connected we become and it has a multiplying effect on how well-known we are becoming. The level of interest we are getting in our projects is exciting,” explains Mulyani. “In addition, having people that have worked in space and within space programs has been invaluable. Plus, universities like those we have been able to engage with, have test facilities for simulating lower levels of gravity,” continues Mulyani.
Lesson 4: Create multiple revenue streams
Mars City has come together largely with crowdfunding, bootstrapping and a large dose of persistence. There’s also several potential revenue streams that Mulyani will have access to as the new city takes shape.
“We see opportunities for tourism, education, testing lab facilities, scientific research, health and wellness, green tech and space tech development, movie production, office and manufacturing space, employee housing, space leader seminars, space industry tours and recruiting,” says Mulyani. “There are limitless opportunities really. We are going to see which areas are tending to take hold initially and expand from there. It’s so exciting to see how it is all coming together,” continues Mulyani.
Lesson 5: Understand the gravity of the situation
There’s a lot to think about when designing a city for Mars. For example:
- In what ways will our lifestyle under one third gravity change?
- Can we address the lack of sun?
- Can we gather and make use of local materials?
- What can we do to manage exposure to cosmic radiation?
- How can we provide a view of the outdoors?
- What will we do to manage waste and how will we reuse, recycle and repurpose supplies?
Getting to answers
“There are a lot of questions. Of course, there are a lot of people already working on the answers to these questions. We have learned a lot from the time our people have spent on the International Space Station (ISS). We must bring together different experts that will solve the various challenges separately. Each will have different tasks. The Mojave Desert Mars City prototype is a test facility for each aspect of the ultimate city on Mars. We are partnering with NASA on how the human body adapts for example. We are working with scientists and experts on environmental solutions instead of insulating the problems,” explains Mulyani.
Annual Mars City design challenge
Mars City Design has annual challenges that they host, focusing on different aspects of human-centered design habitats for Mars. The 2020 challenge is to design food supply systems and infrastructures that can produce a variety of menus for a crew of 9 people living on Mars for two years. The solutions will be judged based on sustainability, autonomous technology, environmental considerations and controls, modularity and applicability on Earth. The deadline for submission is September 15, 2020. Winners will be announced October 1, 2020. The winning designs will have the opportunity to be developed and included in the Mojave Desert Mars City prototype project. To learn more, visit https://www.marscitydesign.com/mars-urbanfarming-design-2020.
What’s next for Mojave Mars City?
The Mars City Design team is currently selecting partners and confirming organizations to join the Mojave Mars City prototype project. This will include space industry organizations that are designing next generation technologies for space exploration and clean energy technologies for sustainability living improvements here on Earth.
Let’s Review the Lessons
- Break down assumed walls
- Tap experts
- Create multiple revenue streams
- Start with imagination and a big vision
- Understand the gravity of the situation
Learn more about Mars City Design at https://www.marscitydesign.com.