Structural challenges for space architecture: Engineering habitats for the Moon and MarsValentina Sumini and Caitlin Mueller, STRUCTURE Magazine, 2017 (In press)
Designing a structure on an extraterrestrial surface includes several challenges: the internal pressure; the dead loads/live loads under reduced gravity; the consideration of new failure modes such as those due to high-velocity micrometeoroid impacts; the relationships between severe Lunar/Martian temperature cycles and structural and material fatigue; the structural sensitivity to temperature differentials between different sections of the same component; the very extreme thermal variations and possibility of embrittlement of metals; the out-gassing for exposed steels and other effects of high vacuum on steel, alloys, and advanced materials; the factors of safety; the reliability (and risk) which must be major components for lunar structures as they are for significant Earth structures.
When considering a permanent settlement on another planet, one of the crucial aspect involves an evaluation of the total life cycle of the structure. That is, taking a system from conception through retirement and disposition or the recycling of the system and its components. Many factors affecting system life cannot be predicted due to the nature of the Lunar/Martian environment and the inability to realistically assess the system before it is built and utilized. Therefore, even if the challenges in space exploration are very peculiar, the colonization of satellites and planets could teach us to be wiser in our consumption of natural resources, pushing us to pursue efficiency and sustainability, here on Earth. The multidisciplinary methodology connected to space exploration research will be a wise starting point for optimizing the terrestrial consumption of natural resources for designing more sustainable architectures and improving ground logistics research.