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  • IKEA has that has modeled life on Mars since 2001.
  • Mars analogs give scientists an opportunity to test the feasibility of long missions, including psychological and emotional feasibility.
  • IKEA designers applied their knowledge of Earth’s small space design to outfitting tiny Mars bedrooms where astronauts can be alone.

Just as Marie Kondo has turned to merchandising, IKEA has gone the most minimalist of all: outfitting of future Mars astronauts. After sending designer Christina Levenborn to the Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) in Utah in 2017, IKEA sent her again in 2019 to do a Trading (Space) Spaces makeover on the lab itself.

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Improving the quality and functionality of astronauts’ tiny bit of private space could go a long way to ensuring tranquility during long, isolated stays in the close quarters of any future Mars expedition. As people on Earth crowd into cities with higher and higher rents for ever-shrinking square footage, brands like IKEA and Marie Kondo and TV shows like Tiny House Nation have capitalized on the need for special products to fit into tiny spaces.

IKEA is uniquely positioned to make more space out of less space. The company’s brand of Swedish minimalism is squared off, often collapsible, and made of thin, light materials whenever possible. Disregarding any debate over materials or durability, IKEA furniture is more like lightweight mid-century modern than the heavy wood and bulky plush of traditional American furniture.

Levenborn has capitalized on that in her remodel of the MDRS space. Her design is reminiscent of not just tiny houses, but of classic camper vans and Murphy beds, with stools and tables that fold and hide out of sight and other space-saving multipurpose pieces. Where camper vans and tiny houses often need custom-made and installed furniture, IKEA’s space-saving furniture has taken a cue from closet organizers, offering customization in the form of a wide selection that fits compatible dimensions instead of a full, pre-installed interior.

Space-travel experts have studied psychological and emotional health for decades, but the challenge of Mars travel is unprecedented in multiple ways: the longest flight ever undertaken, then the most isolated living situation imaginable. The MDRS facility has housed research astronauts for weeks or a few months at a time, but in 2015, a team moved into the HI-SEAS facility in Hawaii for a full year.

Kellie Gerardi completed an MDRS mission in 2015 and wrote about it for Popular Mechanics. “Survival in our simulated hostile environment proved itself to be a profound psychological exercise,” she wrote. Activities like studying how to grow beer ingredients on Mars helped her trip feel more like a fun adventure than an involuntarily confinement, but it was also just two and a half weeks long. Gerardi said she left their trip having made good friends, like visitors to an outdoorsy summer camp. In contrast, the residents of HI-SEAS’s yearlong program scattered around the world and weren’t sure they’d .

Over long terms in real space travel, it seems like astronauts won’t just want their own space—they’ll want space where they can move things and feel some ownership without wrecking functionality. Tiny, rolling, foldable furniture designed for $2,000 Manhattan closet rentals seems ideal and may also be 3D-printable, allowing astronauts to pack general raw materials instead of manufactured specifics.