ASCE Younger Member Explores Engineering to Live on Mars

November 5, 2015
Brett Schock

Brett Schock has always been a little spaced out, as it were.

Growing up, he had a space-themed bedroom; the only Legos he cared to play with were the space-themed ones; he built model rockets. “I had all the planet books,” Schock said. “I knew all the names of the planets and the moons and everything.”

So although he’s a professional traffic engineer for the city of Kenmore, WA, it fits that Schock, P.E., M.ASCE, presented a paper about the civil engineering challenges of establishing a human colony on Mars at last year’s ASCE Earth and Space Conference. For an October 2015 Civil Engineering magazine cover story* on engineering on Mars, he tapped some of the same research.

Schock’s civil engineering career is very much tied to this planet. The younger member has specialized in highway engineering, stormwater design, airport design, bridges and structures, and some urban planning. He begins his third year as chair of the ASCE Transportation & Development Institute Younger Member Committee.

His variety of experience helped his explorations of the civil engineering behind sustaining human life on Mars, where radiation, gravity, water, and space dust are just a few of the variables to consider that are vastly different from Earth-bound design.

“I think having that broad feel definitely contributed to the paper because I was able to identify what things within each one of those would be different if you were in a place where gravity was different and you didn’t have any water flowing and you didn’t have any organics to deal with. So that’s always fascinated me,” Schock said.

“I’ve always enjoyed that higher level view of things. That’s the part of engineering I enjoy – the up-front, the grand scale of things, looking at every aspect of it.”

Exploring for a colony in his lifetime

Schock’s civil engineering career has allowed him to develop his interests and follow his curiosities. “I started pursuing it [the Mars work] on my own as an after-hours thing, delving into research topics and even following scientists on Twitter — there’s a lot of good information that they put out there,” he said. “It takes up a fair amount of my free time, but it’s something I’m really interested in.”

Schock predicts he’ll see a scientific colony on Mars in his lifetime. In the meantime, his love for space research is helping him in his day-to-day work managing Earth traffic.

“It’s given me more appreciation for what proper planning can actually do,” Schock said. “I’ve always been interested in the planning; I’ve enjoyed having that perspective on it. But I think the research helped to put it into practice a little bit. Especially in my job now as a small-city traffic engineer, it’s helped me look even more globally at situations, rather than being down in the weeds, down in the details of it.”

Does Schock find the Matt Damon character’s experience in The Martian plausible? Maybe — but he has yet to see the film.

“When the movie came out, I thought, ‘Oh, well that’s interesting,’ ” Schock said, laughing. “Being in a new city [after a recent move] and having a 4-year-old, we don’t really have a babysitter established yet, so I’m waiting for iTunes on that one.”
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