Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Habitats on Mars... and the Art of Frank Frazetta

 Mollusca L5 design by team LeeLabs.
(Click  on images to enlarge.)

"Design the First Human Settlement on Mars

The Mars Society is holding a contest for the best plan for a Mars colony of 1000 people. There will be a prize of $10,000 for first place, $5,000 for second and $2500 for third. In addition, the best 20 papers will published in a book “Mars Colonies: Plans for Settling the Red Planet.”

In scoring colony designs, points will be allocated on the following basis:
  • 40 points technical design: What systems will be used? How will they work?
  • 30 points economic: How can the colony be made economically successful?
  • 10 points social/cultural: What should Martian society be like? What kinds of schools, arts, sports, and other activities, should there be? How, given a fresh start, can life on Mars be made better than life on Earth?
  • 10 points political/organizational: How should the colony govern itself?
  • 10 points aesthetic: How can the colony be made beautiful?"
- Announcement of a contest for designing the first human settlement on Mars sponsored by the Mars Society. The deadline for the entries is March 31, 2019.

“The rockets came like locusts, swarming and settling in blooms of rosy smoke. And from the rockets ran men with hammers in their hands to beat the strange world into a shape that was familiar to the eye, to bludgeon away all the strangeness, their mouths fringed with nails so they resembled steel-toothed carnivores, spitting them into their swift hands as they hammered up frame cottages and scuttled over roofs with shingles to blot out the eerie stars, and fit green shades to pull against the night.”

“We won’t ruin Mars,” said the captain. “It’s too big and too good.” “You think not? We Earth Men have a talent for ruining big, beautiful things. The only reason we didn’t set up hot-dog stands in the midst of the Egyptian temple of Karnak is because it was out of the way and served no large commercial purpose.” 

- Two excerpts from The Martian Chronicles, 1950, Ray Bradbury (found here).


In the mood for a challenge? Have a lot of time on your hands? Want to play God? If you've answered yes to, at least, two of these questions, then the Mars Society has a proposition for you; a chance to create a virtual blueprint for a human society on Mars (!).

It doesn't seem as if the contest is a members only thing, but open to the public. And, although I'm not sure how much scientific or artistic expertise is required, (see sample entry here), there might be a few of you out there who could pull it off.

RedWorks Habitat design by team RedWorks.

As for me, well, I'm a dreamer... so, while I might gain points for the aesthetics, I'd lose them for capitalistic questions like: "How can the colony be made economically successful?,"  or, even worse, "How should the colony govern itself?" Now, there's a can of worms. Frankly, I'd skip those questions altogether. As a matter of fact, I'd never have asked them to begin with.

But, yes, the visuals and logistics of such a project intrigue me, and, as it was, NASA launched its own contest a few years back: a 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge entailing the design of human habitats which can be established on the moon or Mars, and which are capable of being 3-D printed. This contest involves teams as opposed to lone individuals. Pictured above and inset left (with 2 more examples after the jump) are some of the Top 10 designs of the first phase of the contest. The winning design of the second phase can be found here. As for the third phase, well, most likely each team has to have already been involved with the first two phases (not sure), but, the last phase requires an actual 3-D print of the potential habitat. It's deadline is in April of next year. (Note: the prize is 2 million USD!)

Of the 10 ten designs from the 1st phase of NASA's challenge (shown in this post), the one that seems the most desirable (and practical) given Mar's climate, high winds (which you can actually hear here), dust storms and desert terrain is the second design posted above: the underground chambers (RedWork's). One supposes that any indigenous Martian life did the same... that is, chose (or were driven) to go below the planet's surface.

That being said, the only habitats that strike me as attractive - i.e., something I might want to actually live in - are the pleasantly organic designs shown directly above and inset right. Either one could represent a surface entrance leading to a more extensive, underground complex below. They also have something that passes for windows. Lastly, both have curb appeal. How practical they are or easily printed is another matter.

Frazetta's cover painting for Burroughs' John Carter and the Savage Apes of Mars.

But, practicalities aside, I find myself visualizing Martian cities; not those of any immediate future, nor those of any discernible past. I'm referring to, of course, the Martian metropolises of science fiction; specifically Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom, in which the cityscapes appear like the onion domes of a futuristic St. Petersburg. Well, at least they do in the Frank Frazetta cover illustration posted above, and his cover for Burroughs' Thuvia, Maid of Mars & The Chessman from Mars (inset left). Both covers can be found here.

Frank Frazetta (1926-2010) was a master of science fiction illustration; not particularly known for his architecture, but rather his over-the-top male and female torsos. If he didn't invent that particular sci-fi genre, he may as well have, inspiring numerous other sci-fi artists up to this day. I found a great website of his work. My faves are his Birdman and his Mothman.

As it was, however, both Burroughs and Ray Bradbury found their inspiration from French astronomer, writer, and metaphysician Camille Flammarion (1842-1925).  A contemporary of Giovanni Schiaparelli, Flammarion believed that the Martian canals were artificial and the product of a dying race. The globe (inset right) is a facsimile of the original which was based on Flammarion's observations and calculations of the Martian surface. He also proposed that the Martians had tried to contact Earth in the ancient past. Lastly, he championed the idea of cosmic transmigration; that is, he felt it was possible for humans to reincarnate onto other planets... most especially Mars. Also notable: the highly popular Flammarion Engraving... and a strange (kinky) tale about the first copy of Flammarion's Les Terres du Ciel, bound in human skin!*

Below is a quote from Part 3 of his 1889 sc-fi novel Uranie (Urania) - about a deceased man waking on Mars - sourced from R.E. Prindle's wonderful review:

collectable by Ehren Bienert
based on a detail of this Frazetta.
"Shortly after the accident on Lake Tyrinfiorden he had felt like a man who awakes from a long and heavy sleep…. He was alone in midnight darkness on the border of a lake; he knew that he was living, but could neither see nor feel himself.  The air did not affect him; he was not only light but imponderable.  Apparently what remained of him was solely a thinking faculty.  His first idea on trying to remember was that he had awakened from the fall by the Norwegian lake; but when day broke he saw he was in another world. The two moons revolving rapidly in the sky in opposite directions made him surmise that he was upon our neighbor, Mars. He lived there for a while in the spirit state, and recognized there the presence of a very beautiful humanity, in which the feminine sex reigns supreme, from an acknowledged superiority over the masculine sex.  These organisms are light and delicate, their density of body very slight, their weight slighter still.  On the surface of this world natural force plays a secondary part in nature; delicacy of sensation checks everything.  There is a large number of animal species, and several human races.  In these species and races the feminine sex is stronger and handsomer (the strength consisting in the superiority of sensation) than the masculine sex, and it is she who rules the world."

From one feminist to another: I adore you, Camille Flammarion!

Another artist's interpretation
of a Martian city (sourced here).

* It occurs to me that some of you might not be able to read the linked page (English only), so, here's the gist of the tale: A female fan of Flammarion bequeathed to him a large patch of the skin off her back to bind his next book. Upon her demise, the physician in charge removed the skin as directed and sent it to Flammarion and... well, the rest is herstory. ;-)

(Note: And, for those interested, here's a link to some "Cool French Comics.")

No comments:

Post a Comment