A desert landscape with domed tents and a telescope.

Where are the stars in outer space?

The three days locked up in the Mars Desert Research Station happened. But that’s not all. Aside from the many insights around small space and human behaviour, the IKEA team also had the opportunity to speak to a few real astronauts about what their working days look like.

Imagine preparing for a journey to outer space. Your first thoughts are probably along the lines of: “wow!” That’s what a team from IKEA thought too upon travelling to Utah where they spent three days isolated in a Mars habitat – a place where astronauts go through space training programs and prepare for the real deal. All this to learn more about how living in a space pod can teach us more about small space living in large cities around the world. However, they quickly learnt that you don’t quite see stars from outer space like you do on planet Earth.

“Meeting a team who’d been isolated for 60 days really gave us some perspective. It’s not like you see the stars out there the way you do from Earth once you’ve left its atmosphere… It’s pretty much pitch black. And there you are, in that darkness for 18 months until you start approaching Mars,” Robert, Designer & Architect at IKEA explains.

People sitting at a table filled with paper and coffee mugs.

Architect and expert in spaceport planning, Constance Adams.

A stout, cylindrical building in a desert landscape.

Creative Leader at IKEA, Michael Nikolic, heading into The Habitat.

It didn’t take long before the team noticed how the astronauts are solely focused on the technicalities of their pod and the journey ahead – a huge contrast to what the IKEA team looked at.

Meeting a team who’d been isolated for 60 days really gave us some perspective.

“It’s like digging away the emotional, soft human values that, somewhere along the lines, we all take for granted on Earth. It’s cool though that they are so aware of the importance of these human qualities throughout their journey. When lives are at stake, the technical can at any moment fail because of an argument or the lack of team work,” Robert says.

An interior from a metal-frame tent with see-through plastic walls.

Equipment in The Green Hab at the Mars Desert Research Station.

Shelving units loaded with astronaut suit-resembling gear.

Space suits at the ready for visiting "astronauts".

For the love of M&Ms

But don’t think that it’s all gloom and doom up there. Social events, cultural entertainment and some variety are a few of the pleasures that take place in space.

“Eating M&M’s – and the fact that each piece had a different colour and flavour – was a weekly highlight. Birthdays and dinners together as well,” IKEA Interior Designer, Christina says.

“When you’re confined to such a small space for that amount of time, you start creating routines. Even just a simple thing like a movie night turned into an event for them. Really, it’s all about bringing in the simple, human values. That’s why I think IKEA is very relevant for this project,” Jon explains.

Read more about the IKEA designers’ trip to the Mars Desert Research Station.

A wire-fence-covered passage leading to a white, domed tent.
Heading into The Science Dome, one of the zones of the Mars Desert Research Station.