Think camping out in the great outdoors and earning all those badges in the Boy or Girl Scouts was impressive? Try pitching a tent on Mars and setting up a Sabatier reactor for producing water, fuel and oxygen to survive Mars' CO2 landscape.
With a little bit of luck, a team of engineers at North Carolina State University plan to pitch their new lightweight 1,900-square-foot tent-like structure to the NASA-sponsored RASCAL competition next week. The collapsible structure is made from Demron, a material that is protective against radiation and heat.
In addition to Demron, a "polyurethane substrate gives the material rigidity when inflated, a gold-metalicized film reflects UV rays off and its dome shape is designed to repel incoming meterorites."
The hardest part for the entire plan is of course, figuring out how to make that Sabatier reactor lighter than the heavy one aboard the ISS. The smart peeps at the NCSU think they know how; by using a "nickel nanoparticle coated fiber material" they believe they can drastically reduce the reactor's weight.
It seems surreal that scientists and engineers are seriously planning to put people on the Red Planet, but it's only logical, I suppose. The shuttle program might be ending with the Atlantis in July, but that doesn't mean our yearning for the final frontier has waned. On the contrary, I believe it's stronger than ever.