What happens in space…

The three days isolated in the Mars Desert Research Station have finally come to an end and we’re eager to find out what really happened out there in no-man’s land. So we meet three of the IKEA “astronauts” to get the inside scoop on their mini-space training.

An IKEA team has spent three days at a Mars Desert Research Station, a program created and managed by the Mars Society, exploring how spaceship thinking can be applied to tiny apartments in mega cities around the world. IKEA has always loved the notion of space – so what better place to explore space than in a “space pod”? Although we don’t know what this project will turn into yet, here’s a first glance at what the team experienced during their stay at the Mars habitat.

The mission

“In its totality, it was just… it’s almost impossible to describe,” Interior Designer, Christina says. “The landscape was magically beautiful,” IKEA Designer, Jon says. “You really felt like you’d arrived on a foreign planet, far away from any kind of civilisation,” Robert, Designer and Architect, describes the desert-like landscape.

“It was pretty cool to be isolated during their “off-season” with 45 degrees Celsius in that pod. None of us were complaining though, not even our film crew,” Jon smiles. “Quite the contrary actually,” Christina fills in. “We made ourselves comfortable and laughed a whole lot,” Jon says. “We had great chemistry in the group,” Robert adds.

An unearthly landscape in Utah.
An unearthly landscape in Utah.

So, what did they learn?

The team brought home a lot of knowledge that they feel will be relevant to home furnishing in small spaces. “We looked a lot at how the habitat worked both practically and emotionally on a day-to-day basis. It was very apparent that all the human values that we take for granted weren’t taken into consideration, like eating together, enjoying entertaining activities and, especially your personal privacy. Everything felt very sterile and quite primitive. So this is something that we’ll be looking at: how can we incorporate softness and humility through colours and materials,” Christina says.

“We looked a lot at how the habitat worked both practically and emotionally on a day-to-day basis. It was very apparent that all the human values that we take for granted weren’t taken into consideration, like eating together, enjoying entertaining activities and, especially your personal privacy. Everything felt very sterile and quite primitive. So this is something that we’ll be looking at: how can we incorporate softness and humility through colours and materials,” Christina says.

“Of course there’s a lot technically that needs to play a big part of these pods, but more interesting is the fact that the technical aspect can fail at any given moment because of the emotional climate in the pod,” Robert describes.

The team discussing day-to-day living at the Mars Desert Research Station, on both practical and emotional levels.
The team discussing day-to-day living at the Mars Desert Research Station, on both practical and emotional levels.

The importance of variety was also another take-home message.

“That was something we realised quite quickly that we started missing. I mean, when you think about going out into space, you’re probably like “wow – what an experience”. But too often do we fail to think about what actually happens after you leave Earth’s atmosphere. It’s not like you see the stars the way you do at home. It’s pretty much pitch black out there until you start approaching planet Mars about 18 months later. The journey there becomes quite monotonous,” Robert describes.

We looked a lot at how the habitat worked both practically and emotionally on a day-to-day basis. It was very apparent that all the human values that we take for granted weren’t taken into consideration.

“I think all of us feel a lot richer in experience and grateful to have travelled to an extreme to gain that experience. That’s really the core of the project – for us gain knowledge by experiencing an environment far away from what we’re used to,” he concludes.

“We have so much inspiration and insights that we’ve already sketched out some initial ideas,” Jon says.

Sketching for small space living. Designer Robert in action.
Sketching for small space living. Designer Robert in action.

First impressions, scorpions and rattlesnakes

“When we first got there, the condition of that pod was a bit surprising. We expected it to be more modern,” Robert explains. He continues, “When you’re out there – completely cut off from the rest of the world – you kind of forget about all the things you’re so used to doing at home – mostly because you’re not in the same conditions.” Showering in the habitat wasn’t exactly like the relaxing and enjoyable ones you take at home. The food was another space reality learnt.

We have so much inspiration and insights that we’ve already sketched out some initial ideas.

“Space food is basically made to last for as long as possible and contain the necessary nutrients. Eating M&M’s is one of astronauts’ favourite occasions because M&M’s have different colours and taste slightly different,” Jon explains. “Although, you guys made a pretty tasty lunch while we were in the pod,” Robert adds.

Although, it seemed that the biggest hurdle during the three days was sleep. “The 49 degrees Celsius in my little sleeping corner made it impossible to sleep. I doubt they have those kinds of conditions while travelling to space,” Christina says. It was so hot that a few of the team members even tried sleeping outside, only later to learn that there were scorpions and rattlesnakes in the vicinity.

Sleeping area for the IKEA
Sleeping area for the IKEA "astronauts".

Up next: a trip to Mars?

So maybe not an actual journey to outer space will be in the cards for the IKEA team. However, they’re convinced that it would be a smooth ride. “We really made the best of it, and some more,” Christina nods. “I think that this team could totally make a trip to Mars – it would be the world’s most fun adventure!”

The journey towards a better understanding of life in outer space has just begun – and it’s safe to say that it’s off to a great start. Going forward the team will continue to discover new ideas for a better life in urban households around the world – all inspired by outer space living where tight spaces, air and water pollution is the norm. And, of course, you’ll be able to follow their progress right here on IKEA Today.

The journey has just begun.
The journey has just begun.