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Nüwa seeks to become first sustainable city on Mars with 1 million residents

Aerospace engineer Gisela Detrell, who helped design the Martian city, discusses what a city like Nüwa can offer residents by relying solely on Mars resources.

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ABIBOO Studio

Elon Musk plans to have a city on Mars by 2050. But that's a little easier said than done. 

Human survival on another planet, especially one as environmentally hostile as Mars, depends on finding solutions to four key factors: infrastructure, sustainability, shelter and life support, according to Gisela Detrell, an aerospace engineer at Germany's University of Stuttgart. 

"There are several issues that we have to face on Mars," Detrell said, "from radiation to providing all the food and oxygen that the people living there would need -- but also looking at how to use the resources on Mars, starting from where would our city be located or which different locations we could have."

Detrell is part of an international team of scientists and academics, architecture firm ABIBOO Studio and the public-private Sustainable Offworld Network (SONet) community that believes they've cracked the code. They've submitted plans to the Mars Society to build Nüwa, the first proposed city for Mars.

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With the current Mars missions (UAE's Hope Probe, China's Tianwen-1 mission's rover and NASA's Perseverance rover) researching the potential for life on the red planet and with commercial space travel on the horizon, an experimental city on Mars seems to be the next step. Now What?

Nüwa, named for the Chinese mythological goddess who smelted together colored stones to patch up the sky, would be housed inside a sheer rock face at Tempe Mensa, Mars, where the city's 1 million residents would be protected from damaging cosmic and solar radiation.

Detrell works in the field of life support systems, ensuring that astronauts have all the food, water and oxygen required to survive in space on future missions. But astronauts bring their resources from Earth. For a city like Nüwa, she notes, that's simply not possible.

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ABIBOO Studio

"As the city grows, it has to be able to depend only on the resources directly on Mars and recycling as much as we can," Detrell said. "All the ways that we humans produce, we should be able to produce enough oxygen, water and food to sustain humans and close the cycle almost completely."

It's one thing to conceptualize a city on Mars, but given the opportunity, would she leave everything on Earth behind to live on the red planet? She says absolutely.

"Because it is an adventure," Detrell said. "It's something that allows us as humanity to move forward, not just by the fact of one single person being on another planet, but all the technology development that it requires. And I want to be part of it."

Listen to Detrell's conversation with CNET's Sophia Fox-Sowell to find out what obstacles remain to living on Mars and how Nüwa aims to deal with them.

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Now What is a video interview series with industry leaders, celebrities and influencers that covers trends impacting businesses and consumers amid the "new normal." There will always be change in our world, and we'll be here to discuss how to navigate it all.