Announcing Miami winners in Mars Home Planet Competition

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Mars project graphicLife on Mars is one step closer to ‘virtual’ reality as several Miami alums were one of nine winners recently announced at Autodesk University Las Vegas 2017, for the first phase of HP Mars Home Planet – a global project pairing co-creation on the Launch Forth platform with virtual reality (VR) to simulate a utopian civilization of one million people on Mars.

Blue Shift Industries, headed up by Miami alumnus partners Kenny Levick ('15), M of Arch, and Dominic Forlini ('15), B.A., Environmental Earth Science-sustainability, won first place in the category of Infrastructure I with their submission of Mars-Genesis & Mawrth-Integra: Interplanetary Design.

Background

Kenny Levick is currently a visiting professor of Architecture and Interior Design at Miami, and spoke more about the project. Inspiration and knowledge in the development of the project was based on his focus as part of his graduate thesis on colonizing the asteroid belt. His challenge was how to progress the human dimension within machine-like environments. “Miami has a unique thesis process,” he said, “I really could delve into an area that I otherwise would never have been able to. My committee guided and pushed me to realize the role that I needed to play which was imagining this future through an architectural lens,” said Levick. “The outcome involved proposing three pieces of architecture: deep space hab (how we live while we travel through space), planetary hab (how we live once we reach a planet), and a mobile research laboratory (how we work).”

Levick focused on a small dwarf planet that most people don’t even know exists called Ceres – a little moon-like planet in the asteroid belt that makes up 1/3 of the total mass of the belt. Apart from learning a substantial amount about space technology, he also began to realize the economic value of focusing on the asteroid belt. If infrastructure could be established in the asteroid belt, we could extract water from asteroids. If we have water we can make rocket fuel, and if we have all of this, we can support life and refuel ships, creating essentially an interplanetary gas station for future travel. He knew even while doing his thesis that Mars was a necessary stepping stone for this to happen, he chose to look at things a bit further in the future for his own work. At the time, Levick’s thesis was the only known architectural proposal that focused on Ceres, and it still might be.

“Mars has been in conversation for a while now, especially with Elon Musk and all the other various companies developing technology in preparation of a Mars journey,” said Levick. “It’s very much like a second space race, and it is interesting and exciting to try and play a small part in that.”

Within his thesis, Levick states that future design will require a new breed of architects versed both in the traditions of building for human activity and the new subjects unique to space technologies and constraints. “This is really where my thesis left me,” Levick said. “There needs to be an understanding about both worlds, i.e. (science & art) or (machine vs man). I think a lot of people scoffed at my thesis because often architects consider themselves the masters of design, and space is something they don’t easily accept as a canvas to paint on, so to speak,” he said. “Furthermore, take every material you are used to creating with and throw it out the window because chances are that is not how things will be built on Mars,” stated Levick. "The fact of the matter is, people live in space, they are up in the international space station right now. NASA need thinkers who know both sides of the coin, not just what the human’s need, not just someone to think about it architecturally, and not just technically about the conditions or the barriers," he said. "NASA needs people who can think and design in many unconventional areas to be truly effective when designing for the constraints of these violent environmental conditions. Space companies are partnering with other tech companies to fund competitions to get free ideas," said Levick.

The Project

Levick's partner, Dominic Forlini, studied environmental earth focusing on climatology, hydrology, and geomicrobiology. “We partnered up to try a legit NASA competition,” said Levick. We only had a few weeks to do the designing and research as we found the competition very late. The challenge was how to use the Martian soil to build things on Mars,” he said.

NASA provided the soil samples and Forlini went through and looked at the chemical composition to figure out what they could use to build from. From the composition the pair then came up with the Mars Genesis Hab. This was a habitat that used Martian dirt to 3d print a barricade around an inflatable bladder. Once unpacked, it would pressurize and be hooked up to all critical life support systems and it would slowly 3d print itself into the landscape.

“There was a lot of detail flushed out in terms of architecture, and Dom provided the science to back it up,” said Levick. “We won the Infrastructure 1st place in the concept phase, which in my opinion is where you really want to win because that means your overview idea is probably strong. Our project was a fractal city that could emerge on the landscape as it needed, rather than what we know of a city being which is grids and blocks,” said Levick.

Levick and Forlini proposed (3) types of transportation: a road paver, a propulsion craft, and an urban transport. The jurors were made up of people from NASA, concept artists, architects, engineers, and other tech people. The pair is currently working on the second phase which is the modeling phase, consisting of building on the initial concept and elaborating into more detail. Their submission will include actual 3d models for a vehicle, the fractal city, and a transit station. 

“Whether or not this will ever be used on actual Mars...who knows?” said Levick. “I think whatever continues to do well within these next few phases will capture the attention of NASA,” he said. “I feel like with Dom’s research and my architectural direction, together we have a good chance at really making some noise in the Mars design community. Until it receives some actual critical feedback from space architects and engineers we won’t really know. But having positive feedback from the professionals on this panel is a promising start.”

Learn more about the project including research and additional prototype designs »