Designing for Martians

People and environments in 2040

Human space exploration and settlement on Mars are hardly imaginary ideas today. In fact, space travel and tourism is predicted to become more affordable for many, and we could soon be looking at a time when Mars will become a very realistic choice for human settlement. 

Possible dates of the first human landing on Mars include the year 2025, estimated by Space X CEO, Elon Musk; 2027, predicted by technology forecaster, Stephen Petranek, and 2026 is the date suggested by the MarsOne mission for the first crew departing on a one-way mission to Mars.

In fact, scientists like Stephen Hawking and organizations like the National Space Society (NSS) argue that space settlement is important for human survival. The Earth could be in danger of being eradicated by an asteroid strike, new ice age, or other calamities that might make the human species extinct.

With private companies like Virgin Galactic and SpaceX investing in the industry and making huge breakthroughs in space travel and the ambitious Mars settlement missions like MarsOne, we need to be ready for this new reality of the Earth not being our only home. Moreover, space travel is due to become a trillion dollar industry, creating thousands of new jobs.

In this report, we explore what the new planetary environments might look like through the lenses of future professionals in the space-travel industry, which gives insights into what designers will need to consider in order to be space-ready.

The year is 2040, by when the first human settlement on Mars would already be about a decade old. We look the following emerging personas and the environments of early human colonists on Mars, and explore what we must consider to design for them.

Title photo credit: Trujillo Paumier

Space Tourist: Designing a pleasant journey under stressful conditions

In 2040, visiting the stunning landscapes and well-designed habitats of Mars has become aspirational to many. The more adventurous are now looking to landings on Venus, Saturn's moon, Titan, and other planetary bodies, resulting in a whole new inter-planetary tourism industry boom.

However, early experiments with space tourism have made it clear that all journeys are not pleasant for space tourists, as they are still too long, sometimes lasting several months, and impact physical and mental health.

Space experience designers are now designing products to make space travel pleasant - right from the Mars space station experience, to suitable products for low gravity conditions, space suits to protect the human body from radiation and solutions to withstand extreme temperatures.

Mars Farmer: Products designed for a high level of precision

Photo credit: @blognaturalenda

With early colonists bringing in greenhouses from Earth with edible plants, Mars farmers in 2040 are now supplying over 50% of food for Martians. The remaining still comes from 3D printed food systems on Mars, loaded with prepackaged shelf-stable foods from Earth. Larger greenhouses with Mars-adapted plants are starting to flourish on Mars, and there is lesser and lesser dependence on dry food coming in from Earth.

Mars greenhouse designers are constantly innovating with plant production at low pressure conditions. Deployable greenhouses are timed to reach months before Martians and have a hydroponics system as the soil on Mars is too rich in iron oxide along with optimized artificial light due to limited light on Mars. They are able to use water from the moisture in the Mars atmosphere. The plants in the greenhouses produce much-needed oxygen for Martians, which are closely linked to Martian pods. Not surprising for Martians in 2040, Mars farmers have the most important jobs, ensuring human survival on Mars.

Martian hab designer: 3D printing habitats on Mars

Concept: Faster+Partners, Source:

Some of the early architectural designs, where hardware needed is manufactured on Earth and sent to Mars, such as MarsOne, are almost redundant. Habitats on Mars are typically 3D printed by robots, which work together to complete construction before the human arrival on Mars. These habs have become increasingly appealing for offering a superior quality of life they as compared to environments on Earth, making them more attractive for tourists to consider becoming Martian settlers.

An early inspiration for Martian city construction in 2040 was the Mars ICE House, made of ice using water where it is abundant in Martian soil, which helps in shielding Martians from radiation. Optimized 3D printing robots are highly specialized in crater digging, wall processing, fusing materials like soil, and so on, inspired by early concepts (Foster + Partners). So Martian hab designers are challenged to innovate using 3D printers with available materials on the Martian landscape, and interfacing with construction robots has created hundreds of jobs back on Earth.

Terraforming Expert on Mars: Designer organisms, towers and mobile factories

Photo Credit: Daein Ballard, Source: en.wikipedia as en:Image:MarsTransitionV.jpg

The terraforming expert has a vision for Mars over a 100-year-long timeline with Phase 1 of the Terraforming Mars Century plan well on its way by 2040. Greenhouse gasses like chlorofluorocarbons are being used to warm up the planet and designer bioengineered extremophile organisms created by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are being deployed to survive the harsh conditions of the Martian environments as well as to change the makeup of Martian soil and release oxygen into the atmosphere.

Meanwhile, new designs of mobile factories that move around the surface of Mars manufacturing chlorofluorocarbons and bacteria-forming towers (like the Mars Utopia Towers) that convert carbon dioxide to oxygen have been implemented. NASA scientists estimate that the rising temperatures are expected to result in the ice melting on the Mars surface, making the planet much warmer for human survival outdoors. However, in Phases 2 and 3 of this plan, new generations of terraforming microorganisms tended by Mars rovers, will start to form, making Mars even more habitable for human beings. 

Memory augmentation therapists and hibernation pods: Dealing with the psychological effects of a one-way trip to Mars

Photo credit: NASA Hyper-sleep, Source: Libertarian Republic

Although the number of early Mars colonists is up by hundreds each year since 2027, Earth inhabitants still have to prepare for a one-way trip as a successful return journey to Earth has not yet been made possible by 2040.

Settlers have to deal with a long journey of isolation as well as a lifetime of separation from Earth and its comforts, which could cause adverse cognitive or behavioral conditions such as hallucinations.

A new kind of memory augmentation therapist works with Martians, helping them suppress some memories of permanent separation from Earth and augment others. Also, human hibernation has been found to be successful in helping with the mental condition of astronauts while protecting them from radiation, as they remain unconscious for the time they are traveling to Mars. Also, astronauts are typically sent to Mars with robot pets (Japanese Kiboro) to help combat isolation in space.

Martian tour guides and 
holographic technologies: Providing entertainment for Martians

Photo credit: Sylvain Sarrailh @sylvainsarrailh

Due to constraints on how much time can be spent outdoors because of radiation exposure, Martians in 2040 still spend most of their time in indoor habs. However, holographic technologies (e.g., Microsoft HoloLens) empowers Martians to become part of events such as watching Earth sports by projecting avatars of themselves in the stadium as well as having their near and dear ones become part of their explorations on Mars (e.g., Destination Mars).

Sightseeing tours are arranged by the earliest Martian tour guides for those who have arrived in 2040, for example, visiting the Olympus Mons, the tallest mountain in the Solar System or the Mariner Valley, a vast canyon system that runs along the Mars Equator. It's also possible to take a chartered rover to the Galle Crater or participate in rover racing.

Relationships on Mars: Design for relationships with consideration to limitations in space

Source: The Surge,

Over the past decade (2030-2040), romantic relationships for those who have made the journey from Earth have seen several complications from new astronaut couples forming due to the several months of close interactions on Mars missions to Earth couples breaking up because of stress by the end of the journey.

With the requisite number of human settlers on Mars to ensure enough genetic diversity, 2040 has become the year when Martians are permitted to have sex using specially designed suits and belts that helps to stabilize the couple in microgravity conditions. This means that the early colonizers would give birth to the first humans that are not born on Earth, making their knowledge and experience of Earth very limited.

As for Martians who have come a long way from their romantic partners on Earth, they have a series of options in haptics or kinesthetic communication, which provides tactile feedback, recreating a sense of touch.

Waste disposal officer: Working with robots, drones, and metal-eating microorganisms on Mars

Photo credit: NASA, Curiosity Rover

Two levels of issues related to waste management have been addressed - one is the waste generated in the space shuttle on the way to Mars and the other is the waste generated on the planet itself. Inventions like the waste removal system that vacuum dries out trash, extracting hygienic water and disposing the trash out as "space waste". The settlements power supply is related to solar panels installed so with use of renewable energy, there is less pollution on Mars.

On Mars, while refuse collecting drones, managed in real time by the waste disposal officers, collect trash from the various human settlements, only waste management robots visit the waste recycle plant situated far away from the settlements. Waste is segregated and recycled or converted to methane gas. In the metallic waste plant, NASA deployed microorganisms eat up the metallic waste and excrete metals that can be used on Mars again. Thus, Martians by 2040 are a great example of a very low carbon footprint as compared to people on Earth.

Author: Kalika Sharma, Visual design: Aditya Kamtekar 

Research team: Veena Sonwalkar, Gautam Belle, Shantashree Kadam, Sabhyaya Mamgain