How I imagine a guitar would be conceived and realised in a Martian environment
I’m sitting in my sleeping pod staring out of the pod portal at the bleak but beautiful Martian landscape. My thoughts turn to Earth and my friends and family whom I left many moons ago. For an unknown reason one of my favourite Earth songs starts to play in my head:
How I wish, how I wish you were here
We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
What have we found?
The same old fears
Wish you were here
My grandad used to play this song on his mechanical rotating player in the 70s, with the song somehow impregnated in the hard plastic he placed on the device.
In my mind the guitar solo starts and, in that moment, I am determined to build myself a guitar from whatever I can find in the community of pods.
I have some aluminium ducting in my store, and I know pod 4 have some aluminium tubes that I could trade for some of the spices I have grown in hydroponics. The trade works and I then head to the community space where the weekly market takes place. I swap some electrical wiring for a small piece of wood from a plant packing case. I cash in some of my community credits for a bag of salvaged nuts and bolts. A high price but it’s the only way I can think to tension the strings and keep the guitar in tune. Back in my pod I take a small electric motor from a drone that crashed after a navigation malfunction.
I take everything to my repair bench where I have a range of simple hand tools mainly made from scrap materials. Using my last tubes of epoxy resin I glue the ducting together to create the neck. I drill the wood and insert the aluminium tubes to create the guitar body. The tuners are made by gluing the nuts into pre-drilled holes, and bolts are screwed in to act as string tensioners. I deconstruct the motor carefully unwinding the delicate copper wire and rewinding onto the pickup frame. The magnets from the motor are glued into the pickup. I glue steel wire from an old air con system into slots I have laboriously cut using my pod made hacksaw.
The guitar is ready, but I have to wait 4 tortuous months for the next supply vessel. I have used 6g of my 20g allowance for a set of electric guitar strings. They finally arrive and I string the guitar hoping that my designs will work and that I haven’t wasted these precious resources.
I plug the reclaimed cable into the coffee can housing the comms circuit amp and speaker. There’s some crackling and popping which stops as I adjust the cable. I hold the guitar in what I believe to be a G major chord. My muscle memory is fading and I have to concentrate hard to reposition my fingers. I draw my right hand across the strings and hear the root, third and fifth notes ring out from the speaker. It’s tinny and slightly out of tune but I feel elated, I have made music on Mars.
Building a Martian Guitar
How a Martian Guitar was actually conceived and realised on Earth.
Confined in a Martian house with limited opportunities for meaningful, fun activities would be a challenge for most people. Music is thought to be good for wellbeing and playing an instrument as an individual or in a group could have many benefits in such an environment. In this project the idea was to try and build a viable instrument from materials that could be salvaged from a spacecraft, or that could be grown/ manufactured in such an environment.
Tools would be either have to be taken to Mars or manufactured from available materials, therefore, it was decided to use only hand tools that might be available. The one exception was the electric drill. It was envisaged that aluminium components could be salvaged along with nuts and bolts, but that no specialist manufactured components would be available. Some wood has been used in the construction, but this could be replaced by aluminium alloys or hard but workable plastics.
The actual prototype Guitar has been made with recycled aluminium tube (old curtain rail), square section aluminium rod, steel nuts and bolts, and wood from an old worktop. Epoxy glue was used to glue most of the components together. This would have to have been brought to Mars from Earth.
One of the most difficult things to design and make was the tuning system. On Earth constructed guitars the specialist components are made using complex machines. On Mars limited components and tools would be available. The system was designed using a nut and bolt arrangement to tension the strings and therefore allow independent tuning of each string.
The electric guitar pick-up converts the string vibrations into a small electrical signal that is amplified and then converted back to sound via a loudspeaker. In the prototype an electromagnetic coil from an old guitar pickup was used. On Mars it could be possible to utilise the coil from a small electrical motor to produce a handmade pickup.
The guitar was fretted using steel wire that was glued into slots in the fretboard. T section fret wire is normally used but this would be unavailable on Mars.
It seemed easier to create an electric guitar rather than an acoustic guitar, as an acoustic guitar tends to rely on the properties of wood, generally unavailable on Mars. However, an electric guitar requires amplification. A simple amplifier electrical circuit, that could be found in a communications device, was built into a Coffee can and a small loudspeaker added to convert the signal into soundwaves.
Tumeric was used to dye the fret board and bridge yellow, to add interest. Tumeric could be grown in the hydroponics area.
The strap was made from kite fabric. This could be obtained from the parachutes, and their harnesses, used to slow down spacecraft entering the Martian atmosphere.
Finally, the experiment did result in a playable instrument. The coffee can amplifier produced a very raw sound quality but of a musical nature. The guitar and amplifier could provide much needed relaxation and stimulation during leisure time.
Fashion on Mars – Anurita Chandola’s highly personalised space suit is on display in the Martian house.
Figure 1 & 2 “Astro Anurita on Mars” – Space suit
“Spacewear” by Barbara Brownie fuelled my idea of making clothes for space. My Spacesuit revolves around the idea of being alone in space with personal objects that connect me to my life and family back on Earth.
Figure 3 : Initial concept of Astro Anurita’s Space suit
Figure 4 List of absolute necessary items for Mars journey
This video provides an insight on how ‘Astro Anurita’ spends a day in space. It is a complete cycle of waking up in a sleeping bag which is then converted to a space suit. Astro Anurita goes for space explorations and then back to space vessel in her zero waste subtraction cutting outfit and an Indian ‘dhoti pants’ inspired shorts. Then after an adventurous day she goes back to her sleeping bag to end her day.
Video 5 Astro Anurita’s day on Mars
Figure 6: Astro Yuri & Astro Stella’s personalised space suits
Making a remote letter-writing tool for the Martian house
Liz Lister, August 2022
“Love letters straight from your heart
Keep us so near while apart
I’m not alone in the night
When I can have all the love you write”
Love Letters, lyrics by Edward Heyman and music by Victor Young
One of the challenges of Martian living is the vast distance it will put between humans on Earth and humans on Mars. For the purpose of this project, the assumption is that no physical objects can be cost-effectively exchanged between human populations on Mars and Earth, and that relocating humans between Earth to Mars is a non-trivial, hazardous process that costs many millions and is limited to those who, among other things, accept that they cannot ever return.
Humans in most developed communities are culturally acclimatised to being at most a couple of days by plane from another human they wish to directly communicate with, or prior to air travel maybe a few weeks or months overland or by ship. In both of these cases the physical journey to see someone could be overcome by the sending of a letter, a physical object delivered to someone who, as well as reading the words, could trace the movements of the hand which created them.
There is a reason that even now we still prefer to receive physical greetings cards or postcards written by hand, even if the sender would rather generate something more convenient. And for the big moments in life, like when another human is born or dies, it is the handwritten communications that retain meaning for the recipient long after they’re sent.
An email is not the same. Even if it is written most considerately and formatted with a beautiful cursive font, it lacks the intimacy of a physical handwritten letter. A digital photograph attached to an email or a fax message of a handwritten letter might be better, but is still just an image of a thing and not the thing itself.
So as long as a physical letter is still a desirable object but one cannot be sent to or from the Martian house, the challenge is to produce a handwritten letter that retains at least some of the qualities of an actual letter but can digitized in order to travel between Earth and Mars in the same way an email or fax message would travel, i.e. by radio signals, and for a physical facsimile of that letter to be manufactured on receipt.
I have tested the principle of creating the .svg and “writing” it on an XY plotter and it works. I now have a letter that was sent to a grandmother (on Mars) from her grandchild, that the grandmother has folded up and keeps in her pocket to show people when they come to visit:
So this was written on a tablet computer acting as a graphics pad, into Inkscape running on a laptop computer, to create the .svg file. This .svg file was then sent to a Cricut machine, an XY plotter that can hold a pen. The Cricut then “wrote” the message out on a piece of paper.
(and no I don’t know who Uncle Ali is either, maybe that’s the subject for the next letter?)
We are looking for people to help us design and make the interiors for our real, functioning Martian House.
The majority of our future visions are technocratic and placed in the hands of specialists only. Our house provides a place for alternative visions of the future – looking at what is possible to build here and now, through people with different skills working together.
The house will be built as a blank canvas. The interiors team will work alongside the artists to design and make prototype objects to go inside. We’ll be thinking together about how to decorate the inside of the house and what objects might be inside – from what you’d want your bedroom to be like, to what soap you’d use or how you’d clean your house.
Things we make might range from larger items like furniture, a low power shower or a kitchenette, to the smaller items of everyday living like Martian clothes, a toothbrush and toothpaste, or wallpaper.
Together we will explore ideas, and decide what needs to be made, responding to the house and scenario of being in a house on Mars.
Our prototype items will go inside the house for the public to see.
What objects do you really need around you?
What might you make if you didn’t have everything at your disposal like on Earth?
How can we live well if we only have the minimum?
We’ll be making things that are:
Easy to repair
This is a voluntary role. We have a pot of money for materials to make the interiors, although it is small. The project is about being resourceful and we will need to make this stretch and find materials for free or recycled where possible.
What will you be doing?
Spending time in our Martian House
Attending weekly meet-ups with the artists to discuss ideas, on Saturday afternoons in M Shed Square.
Working on and developing your projects outside of the sessions.
Designing and making items for the interior of our martian house.
You should apply if:
You’re the type of person who likes working on projects at home
You’re an ideas person
You are a maker – can sew, do woodwork, DIY, electronics, coding, pottery, painting, gardener, generally crafty (we don’t need you to be an expert but want to have a go)
You are interested in space
You are interested in resourcefulness and self sufficiency
You are self motivated
You like discussing your ideas within a group and receiving feedback
First meet up on: Saturday 13th August 2-4PM, in M Shed Square, Bristol City Center.
Then every Saturday until the end of October. We expect people to be able to come regularly on most of these Saturdays (if you’re going on a holiday for a couple of weeks that will be fine!)
Closing date for applications – midnight on 30th July.
We will get back to all applicants by 6th August.
Whilst we have no money to pay our interiors team we can offer the following:
Take part in a project that has been 7 years in the making, contributing to something at the key moment of realisation!
Opportunity to discuss your ideas with specialists on the project team, such as scientists working on the NASA Insight Lander (currently on Mars).
Opportunity to display your work, that will be seen by people in the public context of the Martian House, in Bristol City Center.
We will be hosting a special Martian Dinner party for the interiors team.
It will be a generally nice time! Hanging out in a Martian House and making ideas.
How to apply
We are keeping this application process as simple as possible. All we’d like to know is a bit about you. We just want a few sentences about who you are and why you are interested. You don’t need to be the best at writing, just show us your enthusiasm.
Mars has a thin atmosphere and high levels of radiation. Our Martian house is designed to protect the people that live in it. The lower floor is designed to be underground, maybe in the lava tubes that are already on Mars. It could be prefabricated on Earth, re-using life support systems from the rocket, and dropped into the ground on arrival. It contains a special Environment Control and Life Support System room with all of the life support systems to keep you alive on Mars. The upper floor will be sent flat packed and inflated on arrival, this will make it as light and small as possible to transport. The walls would be filled with the Martian soil (regolith) on arrival, making use of local, readily available materials. This soil could be solidified using a bacteria that has been tested in the Sahara desert to solidify sand. Our prototype uses air, instead of regolith, so that we can reuse it.
We have an airlock on the way in to stop the air escaping and to allow people arriving in spacesuits to remove them safely before moving into the house itself.
On the top floor, there is a big window because during our workshop process lots of people spoke about wanting to be able to see the stunning landscapes of Mars, to enjoy the scenery and appreciate where they are. In a solar storm, the radiation risk is higher, so people would have to go downstairs and stay underground. But for limited times, they would be able to enjoy the views and sit in our hydroponic plant living room. This area is part of a research project ‘Growing Liveable Worlds‘ led by artist Katy Connor, to explore new ways of living well with plant species. There will also be space to make food in a kitchenette, where some of the salads and herbs grown in the living room may also be eaten.
As well as the Environment Control room, the lower floor (underground on Mars) has two small bedrooms. These are people’s only private space, something that was very important to most of the people that we met in our design workshops. They will be filled with people’s ideas around; comfort, personal possessions and identity. There is also a small toilet and shower room. Our toilet has been provided by Duravit, prize winners in the NASA luna loo competition. Duravit has designed us a Martian loo, with low water use and no toilet paper.
Throughout the building the lighting, which has been designed and donated by Whitecroft Lighting, provides a homely feel. We ran a competition to design a 3D printed pendant light fitting, which saw entries from Bristol school children to international designers. The winning entry is installed at the top of the stairs.
The house is powered by solar panels, designed to support a low power lifestyle. On Mars, a second power source would be needed for backup (in case of a dust storm for example). However, our house is a work in progress so we are inviting you to help us decide what that second power source should be. Will we be cycling to power our laptops for work, or will we grow algae for a bedroom night light?
Our Martian House is not complete. We will be working with the public to fill it with colours, designs, inventions and ideas for future living. What we are showing you is just one version of a Martian House. This is not a final design, but a conversation starter. It is a place to research, experiment and start conversations. We all have a stake in the future and a role to play. Looking at Mars offers a clear lens to think about how we live on Earth here and now.
When the house opens, it will be a blank canvas. During August – October, we’ll be working on the interiors with members of the public. Details of how to get involved in the interiors team will be posted on here soon – it will be open to anyone who is enthusiastic and has some time to get involved.
We’ll be thinking together about how to decorate the inside of the house and what objects might be inside – from what you’d want your bedroom to be like, to what soap you’d use or how you’d clean your house. We’ll be making prototype items that will go inside the house for the public to see.