The Burj Al Arab, the Opus, and the Dubai Frame - famous architectural structures all home to Dubai, alongside man-made archipelagos in one of the word's most futuristic cities. In 2017, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, ruler of Dubai and Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates, announced an initiative called Mars 211 Project. The ambition to colonize Mars within 100 years begins by architects building an imagined Martian city in the desert nearby.
'The landing of people on other planets has been a longtime dream for humans. Our aim is that the UAE will spearhead international efforts to make this dream a reality,' said Sheikh Mohammed.
Mars Science City began its design phase in 2019 by the Bjarke Ingels Group who will be designing a city prototype near the Mohammed Bin Rashid Space Centre (MBRSC). The city which will allow sustainable life on Mars will first be adapted for use in the Emirati desert.
Adnan Al Rais, the Programme Manager of MBRSC said that 'Mars Science City will be in Dubai. Currently, it's located in the areas near the Mohammad Bin Rashid Space Centre. It's going to be a long-term plan. It will take three or four years in order to be fully operational.'
Building a Martian City
In order to build the Martian city, the architects needed to overcome a few obstacles. The surface of Mars is covered by a thin atmosphere with no global magnetic field meaning very little protection against high levels of radiation. The second challenge is the planet's average temperature of -81 degrees Fahrenheit.
The thin atmosphere also means minimal air pressure, evaporating liquids at a rapid rate, leaving unprotected individuals' blood to boil despite freezing temperatures.
Jonathan Eastwood, director of the Space Lab at Imperial College London and is not part of Dubai's team, shares that there are challenges beyond architectural technicalities. 'I think the biggest challenge in terms of a sustained presence on Mars is not the engineering [or scientific] challenge, but the human [and] personal one," he explained. The more important question than how to survive is 'how do you thrive?'
Despite global flight suspensions & health precautions, our engineers are working according to schedule to complete the region’s top space science project. The probe was developed in 6 years, less than the usual global period of 10, and at half the cost. We aim to launch in July pic.twitter.com/eW3CAk6GGS — HH Sheikh Mohammed (@HHShkMohd) April 25, 2020
Jakob Lange, partner at Bjarke Ingels Group explained his goals of making a city where people can thrive in the Red Planet. 'Since there is very little atmosphere on Mars, the heat transfer will be very low, meaning that the air inside the domes will not cool down as fast as it would on Earth,' he said.
The Mars Science City must have pressurized biodomes filled with oxygen from underground ice which will be sourced through an electric system. Each biodome will be protected by a transparent polyethylene membrane so that the habitat will have comfortable temperatures and air pressure.
When the population begins to grow on Mars, biodomes would be connected to form villages and grow into cities or toruses in ring shapes.
Solar energy will be the city's main power source and the thin atmosphere plus induced heat will help maintain biodome temperatures. 'Since there is very little atmosphere on Mars, the heat transfer will be very low, meaning that the air inside the domes will not cool down as fast as it would on Earth,' said Lange.
Underground buildings will be 3D printed under the domes and into the soil, protecting 20-foot rooms from radiation and meteors. 'In the future on Mars, you would have skylights in your underground cave that would be like aquariums, with fish swimming around," said Lange. Water-windows will allow light to enter while protecting people from external radiation.
"There is approximately one-third gravity which means that you can suddenly make columns that are [slimmer] and [have] longer spans of structures," Lange said. "It creates almost like a completely new rule set that you have to follow when designing architecture in space,' since Martian physics is unlike Earth's.
Rashid Bu Melha, from the Mars 2117 team, knows that his team will not see the fruits of their labor in his lifetime, yet has hope for the future generations of his people.
"We're working for the next generation. We might not be there when we reach 2117 but we have the next generation that's going to hope for that. So we want to ignite the passion among the youth [and give them] the opportunity to learn more about space to keep them interested in space and study it more," Bu Melha said.