Designing the practical and emotional Life in Space | Discussion


Curated by Annie Markitanis, Director of the Milano Design Film Festival Greece & Cyprus in collaboration with Institut Français de Grèce within the frame of the Milano Design Film Festival Greece—Athens Prelaunch mini-event series

(The discussion was streamed live from the Auditorium “Theo Angelopoulos in English, Greek and French)


Guest Speakers

Dr. Adrianos Golemis, Flight Surgeon, Space Medicine Team (HRE-OM),
ISS – Operations and Astronaut Group (HRE-O), Director of Human and Robotic Exploration Programmes (D/ HRE)

Xavier De Kestelier, Architect, Technologist, Head of Design Technology & Innovation at Hassell Studio, Director of Smartgeometry

George Lordos, PhD Candidate, Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology | MIT

Dr. Alexandros Lordos, PhD Director, Centre for the Study of Life Skills
and Resilience Lecturer in Clinical Psychology, Department of Psychology, University of Cyprus



Dr. Ioannis Daglis, Professor of Space Physics, University of Athens, President of the Hellenic Space Center, Director of the Observatory of the University of Athens

Annie Markitanis, Director of the Milano Design Film Festival Greece & Cyprus


Special Thanks

Tatiana Kouppa, Architect & Co-Founder of Delta Architects

Daniel Gava, Brand Strategy Advisor, London


Building a Mars Base is a horrible idea. Let’s Do It!

Conceiving and designing the practical and emotional life in space is a vast and composite challenge. At the same time, it’s an invitation to come together, listen to the visionary ability and participation of all sciences, and work towards an overlapping of perspectives on our pragmatic and envisioned reality. Man is an exploring animal, and it’s a man’s dream to find himself in other worlds in the universe. Humanity needs to engage with long term envisioning and dreaming of things beyond our current practical or cognitive feasibilities. Is visualization a way to nurture current limitations? When we talk about designing life in space, the world contained in the notion of design carries and addresses various dimensions and expressions: From aesthetics to functionality to sustainability to social to psychological to physical to technological aspects. However, which is the space habitat we are asked to research, understand, and reflect upon? Which are the personality traits that define its hostile nature? At the same time, what is the silver lining driving our innate curiosity to explore and delve further that seems to be worth the risks and sufficient to challenge the odds? Taking the lesser obvious issue of life protection of people living or staying in space is interlinked with the topic of survival! Which are the pillars defining survival in space? In other words, what are the parameters of an ecosystem, able to survive on the Martian Habitat’s hostility spelling remoteness, no livable atmosphere, high radiation, deadly storms, and extremely low temperatures? The discussion touched upon such thematics as:

Challenge and merit of space exploration and planetary colonization; dangers; solutions; mid-term and long-term benefits; resources; inspiration; innovation; technology development ( The benefits or merits as opposed to the challenges it poses; conflicting aspects — forbidden and dangerous for man but alluring enough to challenge the odds)

  •   The closer that a designer or an architect can get to Mars is to design something for Mars. Xavier De Kestelier designed a 3D Printed habitat as part of Nasa’s Centennial Challenge. What is the role of architects and designers when designing space habitats? How do design and technology come to the rescue in creating a habitable home in a harsh environment with risky prospects? 
  •  Last year Star City received the 1st Place award in The Mars Colony Prize Design Contest at the 22nd Annual International Mars Society Convention in Los Angeles. What did the design of this first human residence on Mars have to communicate?
  •  The Star City’s concept integrates a socio-technical vision for starting up a human settlement – from various nations and cultures – on the planet Mars via five different villages connecting and exchanging material and social support, inspiration, leisure, new ideas, and socialization. How can we avoid social and interpersonal conflicts in a hostile environment like Mars?
  •  The Concordia Experiment studies the behavior and adaptation of humans to the adverse conditions of this tiny habitat in Antarctica, where altitude, sensory deprivation, long term isolation, confinement, extreme weather conditions, hypoxia, and dryness affect sleep and physical activity, and where permanent sunlight or night time confuse our circadian rhythms and play tricks on psychology. How do the above aspects help us understand, on the one hand, the preparation of the astronauts and, on the other hand, humans attempting permanence in space? What is the monitoring procedure that the astronauts are subjected to during their preparatory process before they fly? What is the rehabilitation process of adapting to life once they return to planet earth?

Pillars of sustainable human extraterrestrial presence/barriers, problems, and solutions; life protection; food; energy; social coherence 


  •  Which are the parameters to consider for the emotional well-being of the colonists in a hostile environment like Mars? Isn’t this as if we are asked to rewire the human brain/existence? When do we know that we need to draw the line? 
  •  How can one prepare for loneliness, isolation, and sensory deprivation? Are there any preparatory activities with regard to a manned mission to Mars? How can we ensure the long term health of the prospective colonists? Is there a limit in regards to how much we can push the human body to “prepare for”?
  •  Which is the role of technology and artificial intelligence in synthesizing solutions that would enable and empower life in space to some extent? Is technology or design the real answer?

Ethical issues

  •  Why would/should Earth’s population sacrifice valuable resources to facilitate the endeavors of an “adventurous elite”?  
  •  Would the transformation of a pristine planetary environment be acceptable from an ethical/environmental point of view? 


“…From a medical point of view, I would say that when we leave the planet, a lot of changes in our body because we have evolved to live on planet Earth. When we leave this environment, we live without gravity, and our bodies have to adapt to conditions that are completely different from anything our predecessors have lived in. There are various challenges like space motion sickness; this is something that occurs when you first go to space during one’s first days you can be disoriented and have the feeling that you fall down as there is no gravity, you can be nauseous and so on. But there are also long-term effects, which are important to consider if we go further than the orbit of the earth, and I am referring to the effect on our bones and muscles because there is no gravity, the astronauts do not need to walk in space, and they do not use their body and muscles naturally as we do, and they diminish in mass and performance. And we can also think about radiation. This is a major challenge because when we leave the Earth, we are not protected from the atmosphere and the magnetic field of the Earth…”__Dr. Adrianos Golemis

“Challenge leads directly to the benefit; on a hostile world of almost unlimited resources is a very different setting where we can incentivize to work together socially pull our interests, pull our skills and our talents, pull our risks and support each other through what we will face. In the process, we grow as the individuals who are there would grow, but we grow as humanity as well, and we then culturally export that back to Earth…”__George Lordos

“…Star City is designed to be located in a crater on Mars. Most of the city is underground inside the crater rim, under the tunnel network that connects to the domes. Star City has a vision of an energy-rich city, so the sustainability starts at the foundation that you have so much energy that you don’t know what to do with it… How do we build a Star City on Mars?…The idea is that when we send people to Mars, we don’t send them there with 10 thousand solutions. We send them there with a very small number of very flexible capabilities, and then we trust them to use their intellect, their cooperation, and their wits to solve the problems. Some tunnels are roadways; other tunnels are storage or greenhouses…the tunnel network allows you to exit to the surface of the planet, or it allows you to look at the planet by connecting to domes that protrude from the Crater world… the idea of physical security and comfort is foundational to happiness and sustainability. The Star City homes will be very spacious, even though they are in tunnels, there are artificially skylights that simulate the exact wavelength of the sunlight as it is on Mars at that moment, so everything possible is done to make people feel at home… If we don’t start with the strategy of giving capabilities to our people who will be going to the moon and mars and let them solve the problems I don’t think that any other concept is sustainable if you want to have a big city…” “…All life has the urge to take advantage of its environment to maintain its continuous existence. What is at stake here is whether, as humans, we have the wisdom to live in harmony with the environments that we choose to call our homes. This is the same for Earth and the same for the moon and Mars. And obviously, we have not done a good job of this on Earth, so one of the benefits that we see from the human settlement on the Moon and Mars is that we have the opportunity for a fresh start… If we want to survive, we have to learn to live in harmony with the environment; I don’t see that as a conflict, so I would not agree that we do not have the right. We have the right as long as we are self-restrained and we have to grow independent…”__George Lordos

“…For the last ten years, I have been involved in designing space habitats for the Moon and for Mars. The slide you see here is the design we did for a 3D printed Mars habitat part of the Nasa Centennial Challenge. And you might think, why is an architect involved in this? If you look at the International Space Station, there are very few architects and design specialists involved in this, and why would they? This is literally rocket science… But I would argue that designers and architects should be involved in designing these habitats… I see astronauts merely surviving and not actually living in these spaces. I do think that architects and designers have a role to play; it doesn’t mean that we let go of all the technicalities… this is how for example we start the design, by looking at the life support and detailing everything in very high precision… and besides the architecture, we also look at the mission architecture, not only at the objects themselves how to get built but how to get to Mars and how to get launched from Earth and how to travel to Mars. And even looking at how to protect ourselves once we are there and how we protect ourselves from radiation from the sun or from the galaxy; not even looking at what we are going to build but how we are going to build it, so we are also designing our robotic system that will 3D print a shell structure that will protect ourselves from the radiation. But it doesn’t mean that this space needs to be highly technical… we want to try to design spaces that astronauts want to live and work in a very comfortable way because they are not going to be there for a few months; they are going to be there for much longer periods of time. This is one of those habitats that we designed that we now build upon one to one scale to test it out. This one to one was exhibited in the Design Museum in London and is now exhibited in the Science Museum in Stockholm in about a month..” ” “… We actually redesigned our robotic systems that after they became 3D Printers, they actually became transportation modules, robotic helpers, they became all different types of functions… that gave us a clue. We started thinking that we need to reuse and repurpose whatever we have there, as much as we can. And from that point onwards, we started looking at it differently. We started to rethink, for example, furniture. We started to think that whatever we bring to Mars has to be very light because everything is very expensive to get it there. And what about furniture? What’s the furniture going to be made out of?… We are not planning to take furniture to Mars; we are planning to build it on Mars…because there will be science experiments, there will be food packaging, that will all have packaging that will need to be reused and recycled and rethinking of reusing it by actually building staff with it instead of just throwing it away… We have even worked with a Fashion Designer, where we started to think about reusing the landing parachutes. So, why not reuse the landing parachutes where we would land staff on Mars with and reuse it to make clothes out of it. So, really start reusing whatever we do on Mars; why don’t we try to reuse, recycle, and upcycle it much harder than we do on Earth; because remember, on the ISS (International Space Station), you get resupplied, but it would be very hard to do on Mars.
So, for us, and for myself personally, we started to look at sustainability in a completely different way because once you are there on Mars, you can’t just start making a damp, right? We have to be really careful about what we bring and how we use materials…”__Xavier De Kestelier

“There are, of course, limits, but I think it is human nature to push the limits further and further…Let’s take the example of Antarctica, originally we had people go to Antarctica, and progressively people stay a bit longer and longer so it’s not a permanent basis, but it’s a long term one. The same concept with the flights to space. And the same applies to the Moon. Humans have been to the Moon, and now there is an international collaboration to go back and stay this time for a longer period, and hopefully also to Mars in the future. The major challenge here is that you are deprived of one’s interests, faced with a monotonous everyday life, and of course, you are very far from the people that you care about… The astronauts who set out on a mission may have to be isolated and confined for 6 months, for a year, for 3 years, or longer. How do you prepare for that? There are a number of countermeasures that we use, for example, for the astronauts. Nowadays, the astronauts fly just around the Earth, which means we can resupply them; we send small rockets that can provide them with essential materials — if they run out of something if they need extra medication or something to cheer them up, which is also very important. This, of course, would be limited when we set out for the Moon or for Mars. So, how do you prepare? You select the right people, people that are motivated enough to go through this, and you train them, trying your best to keep human contact. If you go to Mars… then, of course, there would be a delay; the communication between a person on Mars and a person on the Earth will not be in real-time. Still, I think there is something in human contact that can make one endure such a mission, and this ties to the concept of sustainability…” “…Muscles suffer a lot in space, and the rate at which they lose their efficiency can be surprising…in space since there is no gravity people do not use their muscles at all, so it’s natural that they lose their mass and tone gradually. What can we do about that? There are a few countermeasures; the most important of all at this point is to exercise, so, actually, you can think of astronauts on the International Space Station and what they do is that they have a long day contacting science and at the end of this long day, they still have to exercise 2 hours usually for 5 times a week… they need to do it to activate actually as much as they can the muscles that they do not use otherwise….there are quite a few ideas of how to tackle this issue when we send astronauts further away for example to the moon or to Mars, but what needs to be looked into is how does the partial gravity of the moon or of Mars, sustain the capacity of the muscles? On the Moon, we have about one-sixth of the Earth’s gravity, and on Mars, we have about 0.38, so about one-third of the gravity that we have on the Earth. Is that enough actually to keep us fit? It remains to be seen…, and that’s why we have to continue to doing research and apply all the knowledge that we obtain from that to diseases and so on that, we see on the Earth…”__Dr.Adrianos Golemis

“Regarding the benefits, I am actually not a great believer that we will go to Mars to colonize Mars and to have 7 million people living there in the next 50 or 100 years…We started this day saying that living on Mars is a really bad idea because it’s such a harsh environment and I would actually like to put the analogy back to what we do on Antarctica. We are not really moving to Antarctica. Are we? We have research bases on Antarctica to do science, and I believe Mars is probably similar to that. The reason why we go to Mars is simply to do research, to do science. And I think that for me that is really a good enough reason to go. But I don’t believe that that will immediately lead to the colonization of Mars… I don’t think it is necessary to do that. For the challenges, of course, there are a few challenges, it’s extremely difficult to do, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do it because human beings love to do difficult things, and love to explore at the same time…”_Xavier De Kestelier

“…Unless we actually move to the concept of having thousand of people on Mars, we will never be able to sort out the emotional well-being problem. You cannot have emotional well being in an isolated outpost of a few dozen people doing a science project. Of course, it is important to do a science project, but these people will always be longing to go back home, where their real-life is, and they will not only be there as visitors. If we want to get serious about making people comfortable on Mars, that’s what emotional well-being means, to feel at home, then we have to make a real home for them there, which means to create a real society there, which means we have to move closer to dwell on Mars vision of thousands or million people on Mars and that’s where we come from in terms of our perspective…” “…Of course the emotional well being of small groups that travel to space for the limited duration is important is just that that kind of set up is not sustainable in the long term and eventually such a group of people for their well being will have to return home at some point. Whether someone can sustainably experience emotional well being in space would require community being established in space. The one thread that connects these two aspects, the emotional well being whether it’s a small group in space or of an emergent community on the surface of the moon or Mars it is about ensuring what I call the triple identity approach… If I am a human in space or Mars or the International Space Station or on the Moon, at a base or in a city of Mars, how do I understand myself as a person? What is my identity? And I would like to propose a triple approach to identity. First of all, I am a survivor; I am in a very harsh environment… there is danger and the threat of sudden death every morning that I wake up, and overcoming that, surviving through that in solidarity with my teammates is an important part of my identity while I am in space. Secondly, I am an explorer; instead of being in a crowded space, on a crowded planet with billions of other people making sure that I don’t bump into people that are around me, I am in the vast expanse, everything is new, and I can go anywhere I want, and I can be anything that I want to be. And that takes us to the third aspect of identity, which I think we haven’t paid enough attention to yet in the field of space psychology, which is that I am a philosopher. I am someone who is investigating what it means to live a good life, and what a good life means when you are in these extreme situations, where what is common, and what is traditional and what your parents and grandparents have done is no longer a guide for your life. In our case, we focused on this problem from the perspective of a city on Mars, and for instance, we came up with what we call the dual professional specialization approach where every resident of Star City would have a survival-oriented profession such as tunneling or aquaponic farming, and an expression oriented profession such as being a Fashion Designer, being a gardener, being a spiritual guide, being a poet. And of course, everyone would be an explorer by virtue of being there, and getting out through the air onto the surface of Mars, so by balancing those identities, people would be able to offer themselves to one another at all those levels, and that would create a strong sense of cohesion and solidarity…” __Dr.Alexandros Lordos


Watch the discussion here