Mars shelters would need the reliability of self-sensing materials, the durability of self-healing materials, and the weight savings of multi-functional materials. In other words, a house on Mars and a good spacecraft need many of the same things. All of these are being considered by researchers, Thibeault says.
Mind-boggling advanced materials will come in handy on Earth, too.
"NASA's research is certainly focused on aerospace vehicles," notes Anna McGowan, manager of NASA's Morphing Project (an advanced materials research effort at the Langley Research Centre). "However, the basic science could be used in many other areas. There could be millions of spin-offs."
But not yet. Most advanced materials lack the engineering refinement needed for a polished, robust product. They're not ready for primetime. Even so, say researchers, it's only a matter of time: Eventually that car salesman will stop laughing ... and start selling your space-age dream machine.