Have you ever thought about the possibility of going to Mars? Of not just doing research there, but actually moving to Mars and starting a colony? To do what only Matt Damon has done before?
The Design Museum in London developed, together with about 200 objects from NASA, ESA and SpaceX, an in-depth exhibition exploring the possibility and how-to of future missions enabling people to land and live on the Red Planet.
While the exhibition closed on 23 February 2020, I made sure to photograph every nook and cranny of the museum to share with you here today.
Expect a full-scale Martian home, learn how rethinking daily life for a zero-waste, clean energy-powered civilization might help future generations on Earth and have a glimpse at what the latest fashion on Mars (designed by Christopher Raeburn) will be.
The exhibition also showcased NASA’s 3D-Printed Mars Habitat Challenge winners, robotic builders by Foster + Partners, the first sustainable urban design for Mars, Mars City Design and much, much more.
Let’s have a closer look, walking through the exhibition from beginning to end.
GOING TO MARS
DESIGN MUSEUM LONDON
At the Design Museum in Kensington, West London, you can find exhibitions on product design, industrial and graphic design, to even fashion and architectural design. But at this exhibition another niche has been added: design for live in space!
The more research I do, the more and more I realize just how many different people across disciplines are currently working on projects that have to do with people going into space – and staying there for longer periods of time.
I find it all mighty fascinating, so I could not wait to explore the exhibition. Time to learn all about what it takes to move to and eventually perhaps even live on mars.
Like mentioned in our blog about quotes on outer space:
“Mars has been flown by, orbited, smacked into, radar examined, and rocketed onto, as well as bounced upon, rolled over, shoveled, drilled into, baked and even blasted. Still to come: Mars being stepped on.”
I totally agree with you, Buzz Aldrin!
“I’ve never thought about it like that”, says a woman next to me after reading the words “Some say we should fix this world first… But learning to survive on Mars might help us to save the earth“.
The quote is one of several cut out of a black wall, lit up from behind. A massive glowing and laser-sharp picture of Mars standing proudly next to it.
The assumptions people have about the possibility of living on Mars vary from “There will be no experience of Mars outside an artificial bubble, whether in the habitat or the spacesuit.” to “This is the ultimate designed life.“
It is clear that this exhibition is here not to just inform, but also challenge the visitor into making up their own mind about whether they believe planning to live on Mars is something we should spend our valuable time on Earth on.
MOVING TO MARS OVERVIEW
Six sections make up the exhibition:
- Imagining Mars
- On Mars Today
- The Voyage
- Mars Futures
- Down to Earth
Each section is introduced via a video message by a specialist, among who astronaut Tim Peake, scientist Professor Sanjeev Gupta, climate activist Venetia Falconer and Astronomer Royal Martin Rees.
You then continue to explore each theme in terms of the role that design plays in keeping the future Martians safe during travel and after landing.
It also shows you what working with Mars’ limited resources could teach about designing more sustainably on Earth.
1. IMAGINING MARS
The first section looks at how scientific progress shaped our visions of Mars.
From the ancient astronomers and their early, hand-drawn maps to Hollywood movies featuring distant planets, all the ways we have represented Mars show you how our understanding of the Red Planet shifted over the years.
Telescopes developed, mathematical calculations got more precise, but at the same time, the thought of life on the planet got sci-fi writers and the general public hungry to see the real thing up close.
There is also small corner dedicated to The ExoMars Programme. This is a joint endeavor between the European and Russian Space Agencies (ESA and Roscosmos). It has the aim to look for life on Mars. From here, you move on to a second section that shows you detailed footage that has been gathered by Mars Rovers until now.
I gaze a little bit longer at the prototype of the Rosalind Franklin ExoMars Rover (a mobile laboratory that will drill two meters into the planet’s surface), which will was scheduled to launch in July 2020 but was postponed to 2022.
Exciting to see it up close!
2. ON MARS TODAY
Almost some sort of an in-between section of the exhibition, this was one of my most favourite stops. It was so realistic!
In 1965, the Mariner 4 spacecraft took the first fly-by photographs of Mars. Later Mars Rover missions showed us more detailed images of the Red Planet.
On the big screen, you can see the high resolution images with incredible clarity (and for the first time in public!). Stand (or sit down) for a moment to let it sink in just how inhospitable the planet actually is, with its freezing temperatures, unbreathable air, dust storms, solar and cosmic radiation, among other ‘minor inconveniences’.
Is this really a place we want to get to? Sorry, but WHY?!
3. THE VOYAGE
So yeah, can we stay safely (oh, and another interesting question: stay sane) on the way to Mars? The journey will be challenging for sure. Still, there are plenty people willing to try. Even with the time it will take and the dangers it will surely have.
This section is also about questions such as: what will the astronauts eat? how will they wash and sleep? how will they exercise and what will the effect be of the profound separation of ‘home’, a.k.a. planet earth?
This section of the exhibition is being introduced by architect Xavier De Kestelier. His office HASSELL was shortlisted for the NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge.
Shelter will be crucial on Mars and architects have already been imagining many different ways we can build habitats on the barren planet.
The building HASSELL designed can be seen in real size at the end of this room – scroll down to see it!
The first missions to Mars will of course only send survey equipment from earth, but on the long-term, the Mars settlements must find their own materials and energy sources.
Sustainability on Mars will be a big topic and one that can be of great importance of our lives on earth as well.
I walk past incredible 3D-printed homes and work stations built by semi-autonomous robots (Foster + Partners), Red Planet farming solutions, projects solving how to define time on Mars (a Martian day is 40 minutes longer than on Earth…) and designers using recycled and even organic materials for clothing design (Raeburn).
It’s all really fascinating when you see all these disciplines come together solving a common problem like this together. Go Team Earth!
HASSELL entry to the NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge:
5. MARS FUTURES
The last sections of the exhibition talk more about the reasons why we would want to go to Mars in the first place. Is this planet a lifeboat for humans when we f— it up on earth, or is there more to it?
While the technology might be ready to tackle the travel to / living on Mars problem, do we even have the right to ‘colonize’ an entire new planet?
Is it too invasive perhaps and should we just use Mars as a ‘stepping stone’ for future exploration?
6. DOWN TO EARTH
We end the exhibition back on earth (pfew!). Here, we see all the specialists from the video messages throughout the different rooms back in one full video interview.
We learn that previous space missions (such as the Apollo missions) have brought us many good things. Think about CAT scans, computer microchips, memory foam and even joysticks, but it also transformed the way we think as a species.
Looking back down on earth from space, astronauts have experienced and even captured beautiful that our ‘little blue dot’ is exactly that: a fragile little speck floating in the void of the universe.
Can we achieve a new environmental path aimed at preserving our planet without us having to risk the dangers of a mission to Mars?
Or Does the rigor of an actual mission make it more likely that we will develop the efficient systems and thinking required to preserve life on Earth?
I must say that I had a great time walking through the exhibition and spend quite a lot of time inside. There was so much to see and read and I really got challenged to think about the future of travels to Outer Space long after I left the museum.
My favourite sections included the visualizations about the day-to-day life on Mars and the creative ideas from the architects and designers. I love how everyone considered the problems concerning safety, food and mental health issues of future martians.
You don’t really realize just how many disciplines have to work together in order to make space travel happen and I think this exhibition did a wonderful job giving a bit of insights into that.
NOTE: The “Moving to Mars” Exhibition closed on 23 February 2020.
PLAN YOUR TRIP
Address: 224-238 Kensington High St, Kensington, London W8 6AG
Metro Stop: High Street Kensington
Opening Hours: 10:00 to 18:00 (daily, including weekends)
Disclaimer: We paid for our own entry, all photos are our own.
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