Humanity‘s nomadic lifestyle has developed and shaped societies since the very first caves were built for shelter, and now Mars stands at the forefront of this development.

Since Mars was discovered as a star-like object in the night sky, humans have been on a quest to learn what it can teach us about planet growth and evolution and whether or not it hosts extra-terrestrial life.

Mars doesn’t have a forgiving environment because of the extreme cold, desert-like climate and high radiation levels; astronauts will have to spend most of their time indoors and in space suits. In this case, architecture will be essential in constructing spatial environments where humans can thrive. 

In an attempt to explore such an extreme environment beyond Earth through the lens of an architect, the article delves into unexplored areas of creative potential by investigating the challenges presented by Mars to provide a valuable reference for designing human-centered habitats for extended periods of stay and to establish solid spatial qualities that help human psychology in terms of light, tactility, and sequencing.

“If the human race is to continue for another million years, we will have to boldly go where no one has gone before”, Astrophysicist Stephen Hawking.

The Red Planet
The Red Planet

To comprehend the changing environment beyond our planet and how architecture responds to it, it is necessary to acknowledge that design cannot be realized without considering some technical aspects of space missions. As a result, an interdisciplinary approach to accomplishing the goal needs to be adopted. 

As we move into the 21st century, our understanding of the universe continues to evolve: Our need to engage with the significant issues of our time requires us to transform our approach to deal with complex problems. 

By definition, space architecture is an interdisciplinary approach that deals with complex problems holistically. It displays humanity‘s desire to explore, journey out into the universe, and change the new spaces we find into new places for us to be. 

Historically, habitability has been considered a low priority; even for the first manned missions to outer space, comfort and ergonomics were not considered primary concerns. During the Apollo missions, the main goal was to provide a safe enough spacecraft to guarantee a successful trip to the moon and back and only the most necessary comfort for crew survival.

Today, as journeys into space become longer and habitats more permanent, designing space habitats need to take human well-being strongly into consideration because years of travelling in confinement during space missions have tremendous effects on the psychological conditions of the astronauts; thus, shelters must be designed to keep them mentally fit; where the astronauts feel that they belong. 

Several other factors that affect humans, directly and indirectly, must also be considered before designing space habitats/shelters, as stated below.

The Red Planet
The Red Planet

(Referenced from a book)

Critical Factors affecting habitat design on Mars

Life support and habitability challenges | The Red Planet

Habitats in space are pressurized chambers with controlled conditions that are safe and healthy for the crew.

As architects, it’s our job to make sure individuals have living in that arespacesomfortable and safe. 

As we know, life in space is impossible without a habitat because of numerous difficulties. However, to develop conditions conducive to human survival in space, we must first examine the critical factors that make life impossible.

The following are some of these factors: Atmosphere 

A liveable environment must be provided within the habitat, as outer Space vacuum conditioand theand hazardous atmospheric conditions on Mars and other planetary bodies are incompatible withlife.iving. 

On Earth, due to our dense atmosphere, we are protected from radiation that can cause skin diseases and cancer. Still, Mars has a thin atmosphere, which means it cannot protect its surface from radiation and has a low atmospheric pressure compared to Earth and what human bodies are attuned to. Hence, habitats must be developed to keep these radiations out while maintaining correct atmospheric pressure in the interior if humans, who must someday dwell on Mars.

Mars shelters/habitats will be pressurized, closed-loop vessels with the internal environment locked off from the outside.

Furthermore, because the shape of the shelter determines pressure distribution, it must be carefully built.

Circular forms, for example, distribute air more uniformly throughout the habitat than linear structures, but other elements influence the shelter’s design that should be noticed.

The red planet and the architectural community - Sheet3
Closed loop system-MELISSA by ESA_©

Thermal environment and humidity | The Red Planet

Temperature changes in space range from bitterly cold to scorching hot. Temperatures on the Moon, Mars, asteroids, and other celestial bodies are not appropriate for human life without sufficient shielding. 

When constructing habitats, the ideal temperature and humidity conditions for humans must be considered. 

Humans prefer temperatures ranging from 22 to 27 degrees Celsius; on Mars, temperatures rarely rise above 20 degrees Celsius at noon near the equator and can drop as low as -153 degrees Celsius at the poles. 

Humans on Earth consider humidity levels of 30 to 50% acceptable.

As a result, creating temperature and humidity-controlled habitats for humans is vital for them to not only survive but also work effectively.

Aside from maintaining a consistent temperature and humidity, the materials used in construction must be carefully chosen. Excessive temperature changes between the outdoors and the interior can cause materials to expand and contract unevenly, resulting in cracks. To rely less on electrical sources for temperature control, insulating materials that help sustain indoor temperatures can also be researched. Furthermore, portions of the shelter could be built underground to control the temperature, where temperatures are slightly cooler than on the surface.

The red planet and the architectural community - Sheet4
Mars Temperature VS Earth Temperature_©
The red planet and the architectural community - Sheet5
Mars conditions _©

Hygiene and waste collection

Astronauts use the same hygiene standards in space as they do on Earth, but their equipment is made differently to account for the changes in gravity. When developing extraterrestrial homes, it is necessary to consider the services of using water, toilets, showers, and other sanitary utilities under microgravity or outer space conditions in a limited area.

Designing a suitable number of toilets for the crew and enough space for specially constructed equipment for outer space are key considerations. Apart from providing optimal spaces, the connection of services will need to be considered in the initial design stage, as  how waste generated can be a part of the closed-loop system and be recycled and reused as resources will be limited. Human waste recycling for water and manure is an option that should also be considered.

Hazards | The Red Planet

In space, several hazards exist, posing a threat to the habitats.

When developing robust and safe homes, these dangers should be considered.

The following are some of the dangers:


Humans are exposed to ionizing and non-ionizing radiation outside of the Earth’s magnetic shield and atmosphere that is exceedingly dangerous to the human body and has the potential to cause equipment failure or malfunction.

Understanding the different forms of radiation that space travelers are exposed to and putting existing protections in place when developing human dwellings becomes crucial when designing extraterrestrial habitats.

Radiation concerns will be solved using special materials and tactics, such as a dual shell structure or partial underground living.

Further, the interior of the habitat module should not interface with the environment; therefore, an airlock at the entry and exit points of the habitat is required.

The red planet and the architectural community - Sheet6
Radiation on Mars _©


Micrometeoroids are tiny particles of rock or debris that can be extremely sharp and travel at great speeds through space. As a result, they pose a significant threat to humans and systems. 

Since micrometeoroids can destroy the habitat’s exterior shell, the materials used to build it must be sturdy and able to survive the impact of these micrometeoroids.

Layering shelters can achieve micrometeoroid protection to prevent these fast-moving projectiles from accessing the shelter.

The pressurized module on the ISS modules is likewise covered in layers of aluminum and Kevlar. 


Microgravity conditions make human operations and performance more difficult and create a negative influence on human health. Intensive exercise can only offset the harmful effects of microgravity on the human body to a limited extent. Traveling to Mars takes about 9 months of travel in the zero gravity environment, and hence,   modules/hab and tats should include ways and interior layouts to encourage exercise and accommodate other potential remedies for the microgravity environment.

Designers should include specialized equipment in spaces like workout rooms and other features like windows for visual connection and mental well-being.

The red planet and the architectural community - Sheet7
Human Body in Outer Space _©
The red planet and the architectural community - Sheet8
Getting to know Mars _©

Other Factors | The Red Planet

Odours and Smell

Detecting hazardous and dangerous substances in the habitat’s environment is crucial for crew survival, and tracing such chemicals before they become damaging to astronauts requires sophisticated equipment (Häuplik-Meusburger & Bannova, Space Architecture, 2016).

“The habitat’s architecture must incorporate mechanisms to quickly remove hazardous or unpleasant odors from the module’s atmosphere.” It must also include efficient zoning and space for experiments and activities that could discharge harmful gases into the habitat’s ecosystem.

The red planet and the architectural community - Sheet9
Functional diagram of MELISSA _©

Comfort and Spaciousness 

The use of colour can enhance the feeling of comfort while also increasing the feeling of spaciousness. 

NASA [MSIS] has defined the following colour design requirements:

  • Workstations should be painted in neutral, glossy colours; controls should be painted in black or grey to offer a strong contrast to the background.
  • Color Code: The location determines the use of colours, including their intensity and chromaticity.
  • Consistency: Throughout the Space module, the same colours must be utilised for the same applications.
Colour orientation in MIR space station _©
Colour orientation in MIR space station _©

Illumination and Lighting | The Red Planet

In addition to natural light, artificial light is essential for working and living in space. Natural light isn’t always accessible in every area or at every time.

Overall, general and task lighting are required, with various light levels being employed to highlight certain jobs. Furthermore, lighting design is not only needed for practical purposes but also for visual comfort, as well as aesthetics 

Design features that give a sense of special orientation _©
Design features that give a sense of special orientation _©

(From book)

Behavioural implications 

 Several biological changes associated with space travel have various consequences on the lives and work performances of astronauts.

Changes in perception, vestibular system changes, physiological deconditioning, lack of motivation, boredom, and depression are some examples. Situational stressors such as isolation and confinement are examples of other stressors. 

Understanding the effects of space missions on the human body and mind is critical for designing human-centric space habitats.

A human mission to Mars will require a long travel time of 6-9 months in one direction and a stay on its surface of 30 days to 2 years, resulting in several relevant mission aspects that must be addressed beforehand in the planning and design phases. 

The degree of crew isolation, social monotony, and autonomy will be extremely high during a long-term mission to Mars.

Social Interaction versus Isolation 

Understanding the concept of social interaction and how it can be promoted through the strategic design of internal spaces is critical.

Humans are social beings. The lack of social interaction is often the most difficult challenge for astronauts.

To combat this isolation and lack of social interaction, the design must incorporate uplifting, lively, and interactive spaces, as well as a color palette that counteracts the feeling of isolation. Aside from that, spaces for using cutting-edge virtual reality technology can be provided, allowing the crew to relive memorable Earth landscapes while reducing feelings of isolation and confinement.

Though these solutions exist, the uncertainty about when life will return to normal makes managing isolation much more difficult.

As a result, spatial planning and design strategies that aim to reduce or eliminate the feeling of isolation become critical.

Effects of physical arrangement on social contact. Inhabiting contact: 1. Walls, 2. Long distance, 3. Multiple levels promoting contact, 4. No walls, 5. Short distance, 6. One level _©
Effects of physical arrangement on social contact. Inhabiting contact: 1. Walls, 2. Long distance, 3. Multiple levels promoting contact, 4. No walls, 5. Short distance, 6. One level _©
Effects of isolation on humans _©
Effects of isolation on humans _©

Personal Space and Privacy | The Red Planet

Maintaining a preferable level of privacy in the constrained environment of a space module can be difficult and requires adequate design  . Still, if done correctly, it can aid in the crew’s psychological health.

Studies from analogue environments show that when people are isolated and confined for Space. space.

New designs and concepts are being developed for creating integrated habitats that consider human well-being as part of mission completion. Finally, for designs to be human-centric and missions to be successful, we need the best minds in various fields to come together and work toward the dream of a sustainable future.

Habitation on Mars _©
Habitation on Mars _©


  • Mars facts (2021) NASA. NASA. Available at: (Accessed: December 18, 2022). 
  • Häuplik-Meusburger, S. and Bannova, O. (no date) Space Architecture Education for engineers and architects, SpringerLink. Springer International Publishing. Available at: (Accessed: December 18, 2022). 

Vedika is an architect who wants to push the boundaries of architecture beyond the realms of Earth in order to discover how outer space designs can help humanity and designs on Earth. She aspires to make her designs powerful enough to convince everyone that space matters. She believes natural materials, detailing, and faultless execution can give structures their own voice. Every day, her passion for design, writing, and knowledge moves her closer to her goal.