A team of student engineers at North Carolina State University is planning for a camping trip way off the beaten path. Meshing textile and aerospace engineering know-how, the team has created an inflatable, tent-like habitat tough enough to protect astronauts bedding down on the Martian surface. They’ve even built in a lightweight Sabatier reactor that can produce water, fuel, and oxygen from Mars’ carbon dioxide-rich environment.
The challenge was to build a lightweight, collapsable structure that--unlike NASA’s current range of spacefaring materials--isn’t heavy, rigid, and voluminous. The 1,900-square-foot living space the team designed is a blend of materials that includes Demron, a commercially available textile used in various radiation- and heat-proof hazmat implements (nuclear workers cleaning up Japan’s current radioactive mess are wearing the stuff).