In The Martian by Andy Weir, the main character Mark Watney takes a laptop out of the habitation module to take notes. But when he comes out, he discovers that the LCD monitor is broken, because the liquid crystals have froze.

Small monitors are going to be handy in many cases, for example as a control panel on an unpressurised rover (Apollo style), or for various indicators on the outside of a habitation module or a lander.

But can we make computer screens work at such low temperatures? Which technologies can be used, and which can definitely be ruled out?

Factors that make it tricky for monitors to work includes:

  • Very low temperatures, often lower than -60°C.
  • An extremely thin atmosphere preventing proper heat flow.
  • $\begingroup$ I doubt cathode ray tube screens would be considered due to their weight. Just thinking here, maybe a heating element can be incorporated into the designs for screens. It could be designed so the heating element activates when the 'atmospheric' temperature drops below a critical level. For devices like tablets, it may be possible for the waste heat from the CPU to be directed to the screen via heat sinks and heat conductors forming a heat distribution system. This would allow the back of the screens to be heated. $\endgroup$ – Fred Feb 14 '16 at 3:56
  • $\begingroup$ I wouldn't try and make screens work outside an atmosphere, I'd work on miniaturized projection technology like google glass instead. That and a virtual keyboard would be much easier to use in a spacesuit, and lighter too. $\endgroup$ – GdD Feb 15 '16 at 10:40

I think LCDs are going to be just fine on Mars. We have LCD displays meant to withstand temperatures as low as -50°C here on earth. Usually the displays do not work at such temperatures, though, so a small heating element would have to be used to bring the necessary parts to a more manageable -20°C when the displays need to be active.

The problem is taking equipment designed for room temperatures to such extremes - none of the components used are rated for it, so the LCD screen is likely not the only component that is going to break.

  • $\begingroup$ Indeed. No need to design/invent radically new display technology, per se. Just make known tech work by protecting it from the environment. A regular wristwatch doesn't work under water either, so you make waterproof watches. $\endgroup$ – Flambino Feb 16 '16 at 1:28

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