Experts at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, have developed a concept known as the ''Mars Ice Home'', which would help astronauts meet the toughest challenges of the environment and also potentially help fuel an ascent vehicle.
It's ''a large, inflatable torus, a shape similar to an inner tube, surrounded by a shell of water ice,'' NASA Langley's Eric Gillard wrote in a post on NASA's website. ''It is lightweight and can be transported and deployed with simple robotics, then filled with water before the crew arrives.''
The post added that water in the ice home could be converted to rocket fuel for the Mars Ascent Vehicle, to allow the structure to serve as a storage tank that the next crew could refill.
''After months of travel in space, when you first arrive at Mars and your new home is ready for you to move in, it will be a great day,'' Kevin Kempton, of NASA's Langley Research Center said in the post.
According to Gillard, ice also had protective properties to support astronauts living in such harsh environments. Water is rich in hydrogen and provides ''an excellent shielding material for galactic cosmic rays - and many areas of Mars have abundant water ice just below the surface,'' he wrote.
According to commentators, the Mars Ice Home was just a concept with some drawbacks. For instance, according to experts from Martian resource extraction, it would take 400 days to fill the shell with enough water directly from the planet.
Robots could inflate and pump the shelter while the astronauts were en route, they point out and the water's radiation shielding would allow the shelter to exist aboveground. This would obviate the need to dig deep to protect the shelter's inhabitants.
According to commentators, the Ice Home was just a kind of fascinating concept that would prod designers and experts to innovate elegant, efficient, answers to Martian exploration.