Using space technology to build a sustainable future on and beyond Earth
Throughout history, we borrowed resources from our Planet to build our civilization. We lifted earth to create walls and roofs for homes, freeing us to do the things which define our humanity: to create, to share, to think. Under Earth’s shelter, we thrived, multiplied, and continued to build.
We are near a tipping point when we can no longer afford to build without consequences. As an architect of twenty years, I am more culpable than most. I have become all too aware of the vast amount of concrete and steel which go into buildings. Within the building industry there is a resignation that things will remain business as usual. Old habits die hard from within—which is why we must break the wheel from the outside.
This summer, AI SpaceFactory will be attempting exactly that: TERA is a home for this Planet, a futuristic eco-habitat pointing to a sustainable way of building on Earth. Created with space driven technology developed for NASA, TERA will be 3D printed from recycled material that can be composted back into soil at the end of its lifecycle. TERA’s mission is to challenge the building industry’s massive waste of materials and to create a market for a new type of building—one which is harvested from the earth and returned to the earth.
The concept for TERA emerged from the recent NASA Centennial Challenge, where we 3D printed a 15ft tall prototype Mars Habitat, MARSHA, out of recyclable biopolymer and basalt fiber. In awarding AI Spacefactory first place, NASA encouraged us to find applications for our technology on Earth, even as we continue to pursue its use in Space. If you watched footage of the head-to-head challenge, you’ll know that the egg-shaped MARHSA outperformed its concrete competitor in every strength test. Essentially, we had pioneered a way of building from plants and rock which was stronger and better than concrete.
“In awarding AI SpaceFactory first place, NASA encouraged us to find applications for our technology on Earth, even as we continue to pursue its use in Space.”
Soon after testing, NASA demolished MARSHA. We picked up the pieces and loaded our broken egg onto a truck back to New York. What better way to demonstrate our material could be recycled than to put Humpty Dumpty together again? In the coming months, we will grind MARSHA back into raw feedstock for our 3D printer and head out into the outdoors, where MARSHA will find new life as TERA.
Situated on acres of undisturbed nature less than two hours by train from New York City, TERA emphasizes the beauty its natural environment and gives guests a quiet appreciation for Earth – all while offering a glimpse into life on a new planet.
Every stay contributes to TERA's sustainable and scientific mission: emphasizing the need for renewable technologies to save this Planet, while researching what’s needed to enable life on a new one. Each TERA will build on the last until we achieve highly autonomous structurally performing human-rated habitats. Just like Marsha informed TERA, all the knowledge we gain from TERA will feed back into our extraterrestrial design and construction – ultimately enabling human life on Mars.
In building TERA, we are doing more than proving out a technology. We are sending out a message to the building industry that there is another way. Building with concrete may be tried and true, but that does not make it right. Concrete is the world’s second most consumed resource, after water—and only 20% of it is ever recycled. Concrete is also hugely energy intensive to produce, generating nearly 5% of global carbon emissions. Yet enough concrete is produced each year—10 billion metric tons—that if we were to stack one-meter cubes on top of each other, it would reach up to the Moon and back, 5 times.
It is unlikely we can stop building. There are the 1.6 billion in the world who live in inadequate shelter. Urbanization is reshaping the Planet’s surface, and it shows no signs of abating. 200,000 people move into cities each day. We can continue to take resources from the Earth at great cost; or, we can build in a way which gives back. Earth’s bounty was used to grow our civilization and advance our technology. Now that we have the ability to venture out to the stars, it is time to return what we have borrowed. This is our pact with our Planet.