Tag Archives: exploration

Making Home on Mars

The Design Museum’s Moving to Mars exhibition was brilliant, fascinating. Yet it moves from simple wonder at a new world to the beauty that can be built as we flee the earth having destroyed it.

The tag line: should we stay or should we go.

But oh the wonder. It allows you to stand (or perhaps you are lucky enough to sit) in front of three enormous screens with high resolution images from rover. Like these, but without the jagged edges. See a world no human being has seen with their own eyes.

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/msl/images/index.html

It starts, though, with the ancient Sumerians and Greeks tracing the path of mars across the sky.

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

It has a telescope along the lines of Caroline and William Herschel, the notebooks of Kepler and Schiaparelli. Schiaparelli of course described a phenomenon of canali, wrongly transcribed as canals and thereby the life obsessions of Percival Lawrence Lowell who built the beautiful telescope of in Flagstaff. It allows you to see scale models of these miracles of engineering humans have created to move across this terrain to capture these images. I loved each room had an engineer asking us to enter into the excitement of solving the many questions that continue to lie before us. My dad always said they should teach school not so much about all that we know but about what we don’t, and I think he was right.

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

I love robots, these are so splendid. Robots much like them feature most heavily in the construction of the worlds humans would have to create in the deserts of mars. Look at them building these great hollow mounds to protect human beings from the radiation of the skies above them.

Mars Exhibition Design Museum
Mars Exhibition Design Museum

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

They write:

This scheme for Mars housing proposes sending robot-builders in advance of the astronauts.

These robots pose a big challenge for programming and artificial intelligence, since they will need to be semi-autonomous and smart. They cannot follow a rigid routine, since much about the Mars surface and subsoil where they will be working is unknown.

The habitats are based on inflatable modules for up to four astronauts, which need to be built on Earth and then shipped to Mars. The first stage is to dig foundation pits for them, 1.5 metres deep. The inflated pods are then covered and reinforced with regolith (Martian topsoil) bound together by a 3D-printing process using microwave energy.
Mars Habitat Foster + Partners, 2015

A stunning short film can be seen here: https://www.fosterandpartners.com/projects/mars-habitat/

A similar model comes from Hassell architects working with engineers Eckersley O’Callaghan

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

An experience of the inside:

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

Another Hassell design from Xavier De Kestelier (building on the transhab design by the marvellous Constance Adams)

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

I loved these interior schematics:

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

Their videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AIrH01N9AsE; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrIunc-FR5Y (these are so fund to watch),

All of these proposed models used 3d printers to spin Martian regololith topsoil into structure.

They are used here too:

MARSHA is a first principles rethinking of what a Martian habitat could be – not another low-lying dome or confined, half-buried structure but a bright, multi-level, corridor-free home that stands upright on the surface of Mars. Where structures on Earth are designed primarily for gravity and wind, Martian conditions require a structure optimized to handle internal atmospheric pressure and thermal stresses. Marsha’s unique vertically oriented, egg-like shape maintains a small footprint, minimizing mechanical stresses at the base and top which increase with diameter. Standing tall on the surface grants the human crew a superior vantage point to observe a dynamic landscape with weather patterns, clouds, and shifting hues – their new home and object of study both. The tall, narrow structure reduces the need for a construction machine to continuously rove on the surface, reducing risk and increasing speed and accuracy.

These innovations challenge the conventional image of “space age” domes by focusing on the creation of spaces tuned to both known and anticipated physical and psychological demands of a Mars mission.

https://www.aispacefactory.com/marsha
Mars Exhibition Design Museum

Her video is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XWJ-sE08ASg.

Also 3D printed are these Alpha 2.0 models from Vera Mulyani of Mars City Design.

Mars Exhibition Design Museum
Mars Exhibition Design Museum

They are working to create and test a new city in the Mojave, have created some really stunning visual glimpses of what a radically reimagined architecture for Mars — and Earth — might look like. Visuals are undoubtedly their strong point, there is this glorious visual of a truly massive city spreading across the new planet.

https://www.marscitydesign.com/marsresearchcenter

More internal schematics!

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

The aesthetics clearly dominate all of these, but thought did go into the lived experience of space, the need to create home. It is hard to see, however, quite what personal mark individuals might make on these pristine printed environments. Where the posters and bluetac might go, the strings of lights, the shawls and hangings, the knickknacks. There was an occasional view of a book, a toy. For that the Soviet designer Galina Balashova seemed to be in a league of her own — she painted landscapes herself for soviet astronauts to have something of home:

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

So much in this exhibition was streamlined and beautiful. I am still not entirely convinced it is a great idea.

Part of me embraces so much this thought of reaching for the stars and yet…Elon Musk, how can his SpaceX fill you with confidence? Though it too is beautiful as it spreads in self-contained domes across the deep red ground.

Mars Exhibition Design Museum

There is the film near the end in which they describe a scenario in which the planet needs us to come, return it to its former glories when it ran with water, to act as stewards. As if our experience on Earth gave any indication that this would be our role and purpose.

Also missing were serious SF thinking about space travel — Stan Robinson’s Mars trilogy impossible not to feel as an absence here. But even more so the biosphere, the actual attempt of human beings to live in such a dome. Their own experiments of growing plants in space. A reminder of why Mars makes me feel a little bit like home.

Biosphere 2

So this left me with mixed feelings.

I will end it on returning to the joy of space exploration, the mad SF covers and wild imaginings. Maybe my favourite aspect of space when you come down to it.

Mars Exhibition Design Museum
Mars Exhibition Design Museum
Mars Exhibition Design Museum

Snows of KitT peak to Brown mountain trail

Anyone who came to visit us was taken to Kitt Peak, once the largest, most advanced astronomical observatory in the world. It is still wondrous, though larger, more modern telescopes have since been placed further from lights and cities.

I’ve never driven there, and it bears so little resemblance to childhood memories. In snow and wind it was quite honestly terrifying.

But the skies, oh the skies were wondrous.

Once arrived, we found they had cancelled the next tour because of high winds. The highest winds I have ever experienced I think. We wandered about a little, the solar telescope is the one I remember best so we went there. Doors all closed, therefore locked. I crept towards the edge to see the incredible view but didn’t even get close.

I’ve never driven there, and it bears so little resemblance to childhood memories. In snow and wind it was quite honestly terrifying. Once arrived, we found they had cancelled the next tour because of high winds. The highest winds I have ever experienced I think. We wandered about a little, the solar telescope is the one I remember best so we went there. Doors all closed, therefore locked. I crept towards the edge to see the incredible view but didn’t even get close.

We must go back and see it again properly.

We drove back down along Ajo, down the roller coaster of Kinny and along through the Tucson Mountains to hike Brown Mountain Trail. I ran up here once to sit on this hill and watch a wall of rain across the valley. The trail is beuatiful, though perhaps a little too close to the road, which is far too busy for my liking. But we came up the hill and stared back across to Baboquivari and Kitt Peak, sun beams streaming down to light them up. Sacred mountains.


Biosphere II

The entrance to the Biosphere II…

Biosphere 2

I remember this from my childhood, the great experiment to see if we could inhabit space under domes, live completely contained lives under glass. The great (although flawed) experiment here, here! Just outside of Tucson!

They couldn’t do it the way we hoped, the way I had read about in those Daw paperback novels with the yellow spines and the library’s mark of the atom, but the Biosphere II experiments taught so much…I remember the faces of the eight scientists who lived here for two years as seen through this glass. Way back between 1991 and 1993, way back.

I also remember them being a bit too celebrity-like, especially the women, looking at this picture I can see why I might have thought so.

Yet all these years and I had never managed to visit — I even drove all the way up here once with my friend Samantha, but it was too expensive. Worth it? Yes, but too expensive when we just didn’t have the money. Too many things are that way in this country, rather damaging to many of the potential scientists out there. But I digress.

I confess I wasn’t too impressed by the presence of a lawn in a place studying sustainability, but I love the futuristic style.

Biosphere 2

It’s at it’s busiest between Christmas and New Year’s apparently, so we were able to walk through at our own pace rather than on the tour. I’m sure we missed some things that way, but I think I might have preferred it, we had more ability to avoid other people. Best of all, we were able to climb up to the higher dome that served the original inhabitants as library — until they no longer had the calories and the oxygen to make it up the stairs. They are some stairs, I hate how much I can feel the altitude now when I come home:

Biosphere 2

The views — stunning. Out over the rainforest pyramid, with administrative buildings and the Catalina foothills in the background:

Biosphere 2

Looking over the new soil experiments (called the Landscape Evolution Observatory) where the old agricultural section used to be, the desert pyramid, one of the lungs:

Biosphere 2

A sense of the inside:

Biosphere 2

Back down a floor to the original crew quarters, it now hosts some awesome exhibits — a crazy mix up of science, science fiction books and film, casts and models and stamps. They include methane ice worms, the flower shaped ecopolis sitting sustainably (perhaps) on the ocean. But first one of my favourite things — the Lunar Greenhouse Habitat.

Biosphere 2Another experiment with a closed system (much smaller — much of the Biosphere’s appeal is just the scale at which the experiment was conducted), growing plants using hydroponic systems on carbon dioxide from human waste and respiration, along with other inputs from composting, harvesting and other waste. Very cool. The plants they are growing here? Cow peas, lettuce, sweet potatoes and basil, with a recent decision to include strawberries (these are from NASA’s approved list, for more from NASA on space gardening, go here).

Biosphere 2

Humans have been thinking about this for a while, though I think if flights of imagination in fiction were allowed, this timeline might stretch back much further than 1960 — I shall have to look into that.

Any such garden would almost certainly have to be buried underground — I love how much thought has already gone into what would be required to live on the Moon, or Mars.

They have an awesome model of Mars exploration:

Biosphere 2

The Soviet space stamps (made me all nostalgic for one of my favourite exhibitions of all time, on Soviet Cosmonauts in London’s Science Museum)

Biosphere 2

Meteorites used as blacksmith’s anvils in the 1800s:

Biosphere 2

A great deal of ‘miscellaneous’

Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2

I loved walking through the great glass greenhouses themselves

Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2

‘We are not gardeners’ said one of the employees in the rainforest dome. The first experiments were to see how much could be grown, how to keep things alive. Now they watch to see what dies and what survives, attempting to trace the complexities of ecosystems by leaving things alone unless they threaten the structural stability of glass and metal.

I don’t know if I could do that, I love gardens. I also loved walking in the belly of the beast, seeing how things worked underneath in the service tunnels — somehow this is where it felt most spectacular, came most alive in giving a sense of what it would be like to live and work in such a domed world.

Here we experienced sudden immense blasts of wind:

Biosphere 2

More tunnels (I really really love tunnels):

Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2

The inside of the lung itself, designed to help ‘breathe’ and maintain air pressure constant to protect the greenhouses:

Biosphere 2

The lungs from outside:

Biosphere 2

Biosphere 2

There was an awesome, if small, display on the Arab falaj, or irrigation system, that  works much like acequias (I think this is some of the heritage that Spanish settlers brought with them to the Southwest if I am not mistaken). Ingenious in their engineering, they also define town planning, with the Mosque closest to the water source to ensure the water’s purity.

The last stop is at the ocean section, where they tried to create a coral reef and failed quite spectacularly. I think, above all, this huge structure of overwhelming aspiration has taught us a great deal of humility. My favourite story — octopi (I prefer this to octopuses, say what you will) had smuggled themselves into Biosphere II hidden in the coral, and emerged to hunt at night. It took some time before staff realised why the other inhabitants of the ocean habitat were disappearing. Algae has essentially now taken over — this bears some relation to the actual situation of our reefs — and these bare rocks and scummy windows stand as a reminder of how we have no idea to recreate all the things we destroy.

We are very far from any possibility of survival on another planet. Best we take care of this one — Biosphere I —  and so it is scary to me that the words ‘climate change’ or ‘global warming’ were rarely mentioned here in either videos or displays, though they serve as a focus for all of the research. It showed just what scientists have to do in the face of denial from the highest levels, and that’s only going to get worse.

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