Mars shows man the final frontier of circular economy

by Amber Milne | @hiyaimamber | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 17 October 2019 17:19 GMT

Mars Habit at by HASSELL with 3D-printed furniture by Nagami, Moving to Mars exhibition. With thanks to Oxygen Model Management.Image credit: Felix Speller for the Design Museum

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Scientists say the Red Planet could show mankind how to reuse resources and preserve life on Earth

By Amber Milne

LONDON, Oct 17 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Barren, dry and distant - welcome to Mars, where even the dust is poison. But space scientists say the Red Planet could show mankind how to reuse resources and preserve life on Earth.

A new exhibit opening in London on Friday showcases some of the smart solutions that could make the red planet habitable, as humans target Mars with the same exploratory zeal they once reserved for the moon.

Food packaging could become fodder for 3-D printing; gardens might flourish underground and flooring be woven from bamboo.

"It's really thinking about remaking and reusing material over and over again," said Xavier de Kestelier, head of design technology and innovation at architecture practice HASSELL.

The event at London's Design Museum combines more than 200 exhibits and materials inspired by space exploration - from NASA to the European Space Agency - all of which offer ideas on repurposing dwindling resources and exploiting new technology.

"For example, the chairs are 3-D printed, they're not too heavy to bring with us," said de Kestelier. "And we're using recycled plastics … that we might have from packaging material from food. The more they eat, the more they can print furniture."

There have already been some two dozen Mars missions, seen as precursors for human exploration of a beyond-frozen planet about a third the size of Earth that orbits at least 35.8 million miles away.

Science has yet to discover why Mars, once a relatively warm, wet planet, evolved so differently from Earth into a mostly dry, desolate and cold world, devoid of life.

"How did Mars change into the way it is now? Are we looking at a future Earth?" de Kestelier asked.

But the exhibit organisers hope the displays - all geared towards inhospitable Mars - could prolong Earth and be used to solve big problems like excess waste and water shortages.

Hydroponics by GrowStack, Moving to Mars exhibition. With thanks to Oxygen Model Management. Image credit: Felix Speller for the Design Museum

The amount of materials the world uses has tripled since 1970 and could double again by 2050 unless action is taken, the United Nations estimates.

"One of the big ideas, for example, is mining on Earth involved a lot of water - we don't have a lot of it on Mars at all," Sanjeev Gupta, a professor at Imperial College London, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"We'd have to have dry mining and dry mining processing, so engineers are already thinking about how we might do that for the moon, and for Mars, and that will obviously feed back to Earth to save water."

About a 10th of the nearly 93 billion tonnes of material used each year - minerals, metals, fossil fuels and biomass - are put back into service, said a report by Amsterdam-based social enterprise Circle Economy, an organisation that promotes the transition to a more sustainable economy.

"One would hope that getting people to think about Mars ... that it brings home to us that actually our planet is very precious." Gupta said.

"There is no plan B."

(Reporting by Amber Milne; Editing by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit

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