By Lea Oxenhandler
Created by the nonprofit Total Learning Research Institute (TLRI), Mars City is a program that uses a virtual base on the planet Mars as a means to engage high school students in novel science and engineering challenges and get them excited about careers in space and building sciences. Via a BIM model of the Mars City Virtual Base, which was designed by TLRI President Dr. Kerry Joels (a former Smithsonian and NASA scientist and educator), students learn the nuts and bolts of facilities management through simulations.
As part of this program, a team from KieranTimberlake is working with TLRI to build a detailed, realistic Revit model of the virtual Mars outpost that will help take simulations to the next level. The model includes small, private areas like sleeping pods and larger communal spaces dedicated to Mission Control, dining, recreation, and workshops—as well as a garage for the storage and deployment of Mars Rovers. Essential to the simulation is a robust COBie (Construction Operations Building Information Exchange) database built in conjunction with the model. Pulling from information embedded within the model, the database allows realistic simulations of pre-programmed facilities management scenarios. Our Revit model combined with the COBie data is translated to the user interface through a web-based maintenance management platform called WebTMA.
Participating students, as members of “Mars City Operations Teams,” become de facto facilities managers for the base, assigning virtual work orders and prioritizing tasks based on a scale ranging from routine maintenance to life-threatening emergencies. These cover both preventive maintenance such as regularly changing filters (important in the closed HVAC system of the Mars base) and more dire situations like an atmospheric leak in the lab module. Designed to teach students valuable lessons in problem-solving, time management, and teamwork, these simulations will be integrated into the participating high schools' math and science curricula with the goal of exciting students about potential career paths in the building sciences.
Our collaborators on this project include Gilbane Building Company and MEP engineers Travis Alderson Associates. TLRI works with NASA, the National Institute of Building Sciences, and the International Facilities Management Association, among others.