Mars Exchange
Artist Visualizes Life on Mars

Artist Visualizes Life on Mars

by Vince on Tuesday, 5th January 2016 in Inside 360, People, Bryan Versteeg

Bryan Versteeg is the mission concept artist for Mars One. He has created the images and animations that help us all envision what the settlement might look like. Bryan Versteeg has worked for over 20 years in the graphics industry, including 15 years as a conceptual artist in the architectural and engineering fields. He is the founder of SpaceHabs.com, which provides visualizations of space exploration; cofounder of FreeSpace Composites, a carbon fiber 3D print system; and cofounder of Deep Space Industries, which is focused on determining the methodology and profitability of asteroid mining.

Versteeg’s illustrations for Mars One emerge from a deep understanding of functional demands and human requirements. This summer, I spoke with him about his work and the process he uses to develop his illustrations. In this first of a two-part story, Versteeg explains some of the processes he uses to develop images for the Mars One habitat.

Science guides the artful eye
People think what I’m doing is sci-fi art. But most sci-fi artists don’t dwell in the reality of physics and the mechanical properties of materials. They create something they don’t really understand and assume we’ll figure out how to do it later—for example, they just assume “artificial” gravity and figure we’ll develop it sometime. That’s pretty much of a leap.

Making illustrations believable is my focus. I work with a good team of people who are great at fact checking, telling me what can and can’t happen. Discussing these things with physicists and engineers keeps me grounded. It makes things more understandable, realistic, and believable. The believable part is probably the most important, because if someone looks at this art and thinks it could happen, then you’ve created a bridge to their dreams of the future. You’ve moved them to thinking about how it could happen, and then you can talk about why it should happen.

When people have an image in their mind, it is easier to dream about it. If you told someone a story about a puppy, everyone knows what a puppy is and has an image in their mind. You don’t have to describe it. You can go straight to the story. But with space, people don’t have an image in their mind because it's something they haven't seen before. In discussion, you have to create that image for them. And that may take more time than you have. It’s hard to reach people when you have to cover all that ground in the beginning. Once they see the image, they don’t have to keep seeing it. They can remember it, just as an adult can remember something they’ve seen as a child and use that image when needed. Creating images of a future in space helps the entire process.

Picturing a realistic habitat
In the early part of the Mars One project, Bas Landsorp and Arno Wielders (cofounders of Mars One) had done a lot of calculations on what might be needed. By looking at what was available through the market, we began building with elements that we could use, starting with what was required, finding pieces that could be readily adapted from expected tech within the decade. So when I got into the creation process, it was a back and forth process. We blocked out spaces for food, accommodations, and equipment.

At the same time we had a budget to work with. But when moving objects off Earth, the budget is not really about the cost of creating the object on Earth. The real cost is delivering its mass to the surface of Mars. Something that’s heavy on Earth is expensive to get to Mars, even if it is cheap to build here. That really affects the design. Both volume and mass are what we run up against when we’re planning. A large percentage of the mass needed to keep people alive is food and water. Water luckily is something we expect to get from the soil of Mars itself. That helps significantly. We need oxygen too, and that is going to weigh a lot. Getting oxygen from resources on Mars is very important.

Food requirements (and the resulting weight) for a crew are massive. Seeds to grow the food are much lighter, so we can bring seeds. That helps significantly; letting us grow, gather seeds, replant, continue growing. As the project matures, it is critical to have a renewable food supply.

Settlement design
In the settlement, ideally we wanted to use certain elements many times. This limits the number of parts and the complexity of the system. The landing modules look similar from the outside, but inside, some are cargo, some are habitation, and some are life support. But getting them there is the same process, decreasing the level of complexity.

Having a modular way to hook them up means we can constantly add to the settlement itself. The habitat modules aren’t very big, so the settlers will need inflatable habitats, since the volume and weight of the hard modules limits their size. An inflatable habitat can cover a large area and increase the habitable volume. This will be essential for agricultural and living areas.

The living will be cramped at first, until settlers can build larger spaces. A larger livable space is important to the psychological state of the settlers themselves. On Earth we are used to going for a walk. That won't be the same on Mars—putting a suit on to walk is not the same. Most of the settlers’ time will be spent inside. They need to stretch, so volume of space is important.

Because the settlement is a closed system, everyone needs their own personal space to go to for privacy. The vast majority of the habitat will be common space/working space, but a private room that can be personalized will be a big help to settlers’ psychological well-being.

Story by Vincent Hyman, a writer and Mars One volunteer living in St. Paul, Minnesota, USA

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