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AI SpaceFactory Mars Habitat Scale Model Anatomy

Northeastern alumnus Jeffrey Montes, School of Architecture, is a Space Architect at AI SpaceFactory(AI), a New York-based architecture and technology firm. In his role, he considers similar questions to most designers about the relationship between the human experience and its surrounding environment – but must also consider the extreme climates and unique design challenges of Outer Space.

“Being a Space Architect means that many of the usual assumptions of architectural design no longer apply,” Jeffrey explained. “Space architecture is largely about designing for a remote location where one exists in isolation; designing for an arctic region would be more comparable.”

Jeffrey is leading AI’s effort to develop a Martian habitat, called MARSHA (a catchy abbreviation for MARS Habitat) as well as its associated technologies, which include the materials and techniques required to successfully print the structure. MARSHA, described as a radical new take on Martian habitats, was recently awarded second-place winner of Phase 3: Level 1 of NASA’s 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge, and has garnered ample press coverage. Learn more about MARSHA first-hand by watching AI’s incredible video.

As plans and ideas surrounding MARSHA continue to unfold, Jeffrey’s role requires tools that are rarely found in a typical architecture and design firm. That is one of the reasons he has been spending time in Boston lately, working on fabrication at the Autodesk BUILD Space. Right now, his focus is building a machine that would be able to print MARSHA on its own, without human intervention. This would allow a home to be built with local Martian materials before the arrival of human inhabitants.

Jeffrey joined AI last year, after the company saw his own NASA-recognized work. Jeffrey had won the first phase of the NASA 3D Printed Habitat Challenge two years prior, for his co-designed Mars Ice House, an architectural concept for a translucent Martian surface habitat made of Martian water ice. Subsequently, he co-designed Mars Ice Home, an ongoing design collaboration with NASA Langley Research Center that “combines the rigors of first-principles design with a commitment to creating spaces that support human living on a strange but strangely familiar planet.” In fact, next month, materials specified for the ice-wall assembly of the Mars Ice Home will be tested for one year aboard the International Space Station (ISS) and exposed to the Space environment as part of the MISSE 11 mission.

AI immediately recognized the opportunity to collaborate with Jeffrey on Space architecture, a highly specialized subset of the design sector. Since joining the AI team, Jeffrey has been able to explore some fascinating areas of Space architecture with like-minded architects, scientists, and engineers, all while bringing MARSHA one step closer to production.

While Jeffrey’s career and research is now well-developed, he first became interested in Space architecture during his time working toward his Master of Architecture from the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation (GSAPP) at Columbia University.

“During the middle of my career there, I landed my first choice for a particular studio about Space architecture, which was very conceptual and gave me free reign to explore this area. It was an incredible learning environment; if people had an idea, they just went for it. It was a formative experience for me,” he described. “Before the studio, apart from my fascination with cosmology, what grabbed me were the astronauts in the International Space Station photographing Earth. Astronauts give a stunning perspective on our condition on a planet. It’s storytelling from a different perspective.”

As Space architects, Jeffrey and his colleagues consider everything from climate to weather to communications, and more, ultimately pursuing the notion that people really ought to be living in Space.

“With my chosen field being Space architecture, my approach has to be extremely technically sensitive,” Jeffrey explained. As such, he works closely with engineers and scientists.

As one example of this partnership with science and scientists, Jeff is currently working on a project at Northeastern’s campus, entitled The Living Room: environmental feedback control for persons with Autism Spectrum Disorder. AI SpaceFactory has partnered with Northeastern’s Computational Behavioral Science Laboratory to use its technology to determine how individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) react to different environmental conditions.

“The goal is to develop an automated process that delivers an individual’s environmental preferences – a particularly pertinent technology for individuals with ASD, who respond to minor changes in their environment with great affect,” Jeff explained. “We are using this technology to learn what environmental conditions they dislike so that that their environment can attempt to protect them from those conditions. My involvement in the project was in designing the hardware that houses the sensors and lights which we nicknamed emma.

Perhaps surprisingly to some, there are deep and meaningful connections between Jeff’s work with space and his work with people with ASD.

“Astronauts and people with ASD both fall into a category of users with limited agency living in ‘extreme’ conditions,” he described. “For astronauts, this is obvious – they live in remote places where the conditions outside literally kill them. But for persons with ASD, the extremity comes from their great sensitivity. Each field has a lot to teach the other.”

He encourages current Northeastern students to partner with engineers, scientists, and more, and explore even the most niche areas of the architecture field – the opportunities are limitless. In the meantime, we look forward to seeing how Jeffrey’s projects unfold!