Want to Live on Mars? We have the ice house for you. NASA is crowd-sourcing ideas for future Martian habitats and the leading design is essentially a modified igloo. That’s right, the first humans to inhabit Mars, may reside in homes made of ice.

Last month, a research team from the University of Texas announced that Mars is hiding a secret supply of water just below its surface. They reported that a region on Mars known as Utopia Planitia is harboring as much water as Lake Superior here on Earth — only difference is the Martian reserves are frozen solid.

The ice reservoir is located a mid-northern latitudes — which means it’s about halfway between the equator and the poles — and is reportedly the size of New Mexico. Even though the supply may be buried under a layer of regolith ranging from 3 to 33 feet deep, this finding is still excellent news for a group at NASA’s Langley Engineering Design Studio in Hampton, Virginia.

Mars has reserves of water-ice that rival Lake Superior.
Mars has reserves of water-ice that rival Lake Superior. 

In 2015 NASA put out a call in the form of a centennial challenge, asking for teams to submit potential habitat designs as part of a national competition. Team Space Exploration Architecture and Clouds Architecture Office won first place for their idea of building a Mars Ice House.

The design team won a $25,000 prize and has been working with NASA Langley to further develop their habitat. The modified igloo is a deployable habitat that makes good use of resources currently on the red planet — namely water-ice. This means that less materials will need to be launched from Earth, keeping the construction costs down.

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Artist conception of the Mars Ice House.
Artist conception of the Mars Ice House. 

One of the biggest concerns with future human missions to mars is how will we shield our astronauts from harmful radiation? While previous habitat designs have focused on building shelter underground or developing some sort of shielding, the Mars Ice House could protect its residents without any additional features. Water-ice is a great barrier against galactic cosmic rays (GCRs), which are one of the main threats to human health on long-duration Mars missions.

Pure water-ice, which is readily available on the red planet, will serve as the main material for the Ice Home’s shielding and structure. Carbon dioxide gas would be extracted from the Martian atmosphere and used as insulation between blocks of water and blocks of ice that make up the habitat. As such, the structure would be transparent, which could make future inhabitants feel more like they are living in a home, rather than a dark cave.

A view of the interior.
A view of the interior. 

The current design features a cozy habitat built for four with room for sleeping quarters, a kitchen, work areas and recreation areas. The design team says that the materials used to build the house would allow for the temperature to remain a cool, comfy 72 degrees Fahrenheit inside, no matter what the weather was like on Mars.

Photos via NASA, SEArch/Clouds AO