Here's the Winner of NASA's 3D-Printed Mars Habitat Challenge

New York-based design agency AI SpaceFactory took the top prize in a NASA competition to 3D print a habitat that could be used on the moon or Mars.

AI SpaceFactory won $500,000 for its efforts, while the second-place recipient, Penn State, got $200,000.

The winning habitat, called Marsha, is tall and slim, to reduce the need for construction rovers on unfamiliar terrain, according to AI SpaceFactory. It is designed to be built on a vertically telescoping arm attached to a rover, which stays still during construction. AI SpaceFactory plans to adapt Marsha's design for an eco-friendly Earth habitat called Tera; a crowdfunding campaign will begin shortly, the design agency said in a statement.

Related: How 3D Printers Could Reinvent NASA Space Food

"We developed these technologies for space, but they have the potential to transform the way we build on Earth," David Malott, CEO and founder of AI SpaceFactory, said in the statement. "By using natural, biodegradable materials grown from crops, we could eliminate the building industry's massive waste of unrecyclable concrete and restore our planet."

The awards came after a grueling 30-hour challenge in which the participants created one-third-scale structures of their architectural designs, according to a statement from NASA. Each team used robotic construction techniques that are supposed to have little human interference, demonstrating that the process could work autonomously on other worlds. 

The competition took place May 1-4 at Caterpillar's Edwards Demonstration & Learning Center in Edwards, Illinois. Teams built their habitats in 10 hour stretches as a panel of judges examined their work. The completed structures had to pass tests for qualities such as material mix, durability, leakage and strength.

"The final milestone of this competition is a culmination of extremely hard work by bright, inventive minds who are helping us advance the technologies we need for a sustainable human presence on the moon, and then on Mars," Monsi Roman, program manager for NASA's Centennial Challenges, said in NASA's statement. "We celebrate their vision, dedication and innovation in developing concepts that will not only further NASA's deep-space goals, but also provide viable housing solutions right here on Earth."

The competition, which opened in 2015 and took place over several stages, attracted 60 teams that collectively won more than $2 million in prizes from NASA. NASA's major partner in the competition was Bradley University in Illinois.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022. She was contributing writer for Space.com (opens in new tab) for 10 years before that, since 2012. Elizabeth's reporting includes an exclusive with Office of the Vice-President of the United States, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and (soon) a Bachelor of History from Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science since 2015. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace