Future Human

The Gloves We’ll Wear On Mars

The design challenge that’ll make or break survival on the Red Planet

Starre Julia Vartan
OneZero
Published in
5 min readJul 2, 2018

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Illustration: Logan Faerber

LLiving on Mars — which Elon Musk predicts we’ll do in some form by 2024 — will no doubt pose hardships and challenges. And there’s going to be plenty of manual labor. It’s prohibitively expensive to ship construction supplies 34 million miles, so the first settlers will do what settlers have always done: build by hand, with local materials. Sure, those made-from-regolith bricks and water-based windows will probably be 3-D printed, but those materials will still need moving and stacking by hand. Exploring and surveying the planet, doing geological research, and locating ideal habitation areas will involve manual labor, too.

This is nothing new for humans. We’ve built one world by hand, we can probably build another — even in harsh UV light, subzero temperatures, and a lethally low-pressure atmosphere. But if opposable thumbs were key to the evolution of human civilization, and humanity can’t be naked against the Martian elements, then it’s an unexpected and unglamorous factor that will determine whether or not we succeed: gloves.

“Hands are the essence of the human being and the way we manifest change in the world.”

What kind of gloves? That we don’t know yet. Because human hands are so complex, designing a glove is almost as complicated as creating an entire Mars suit. Dr. Sheyna Gifford, a physician at Washington University, spent a year in a Mars-analog mission, HI-SEAS IV, atop Hawaii’s Mauna Kea, during which she wore a suit and gloves each time she went outside her domed home. To her, the ideal glove would need to be completely protective, and yet not restrict movement or flexibility. “It assists you in grasping and manipulating objects,” she says. “It interacts seamlessly with touchscreens. It provides feedback on pressure, temperature, and texture as exquisitely as your own fingers, while completely protecting you from the elements.”

Gloves for use inside a shuttle or launcher. Photo: Final Frontier Design

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Starre Julia Vartan
OneZero
Writer for

AKA The Curious Human. Science journalist & nature nerd w/serious wanderlust. Former geologist. Still picks up rocks. Words in @NatGeo @SciAm @Slate @CNN, here.