Research Series: Creating Architecture in Space | Issue #2
On the last issue… We talked about the possibilities of traveling to outer space. How likely is it for us humans to be able to stay in Space for more than maybe 8 months to a year? We discovered that we have made several advancements in technology, things that would not have been dreamed of even 20 years ago. We have gone far and beyond to even sending a person to space for one year, thanks to NASA. We also explored what would happen to our bodies if we do travel to Space and how it will affect us.
Pursuing the Dream — But who?
So I’m sure a lot of people are wondering what really feels like to live in space. It is something that we have all dreamed about before and look forward too. However, for this “dream” to happen, we need guinea pigs. Yes, there are a lot of other astronauts in the past that have actually wanted to travel to space whatever the risks. But will people actually risk their lives to the expense of others? Who knows if it will actually work? Will society change because of it?
The New Age of Exploration is here and trips to the moon and back are seen as a new ways of colonial expeditions. But we must deeply look at the intentions of the people wanting to pursue this dream of society. According to Dirk Schulze and Paul Davies, from the School of Earth and Environmental Sciences at WST and ASU believe that “explorers such as Columbus, Frobisher, Scott and Amundsen, while not embarking on their voyages with the intention of staying at their destination, nevertheless took huge personal risks to explore new lands, in the knowledge that there was a significant likelihood that they would perish in the attempt.” Only a bold project, such as the one by NASA to carry people to Mars and leave them on the planet, would bring space exploration forward.
This project by NASA is called the 100 Year Starship. It is about flying astronauts to the planet, giving them the basic supplies they need and let them adapt without the chance of going home. It literally means that you only have a one-way ticket out of Earth. And then again, the same people and sponsors that are creating this project would not even in a million years, have the audacity to travel to space and live there, let alone stay there in loneliness. “The main impediment is the narrow vision and the culture of political caution that now pervades the space programs of most nations.” As well as moral and ethical understandings. This project hopes to at least get some people in space by 2025.
Jason Koebler, in his article about why NASA Can’t Ethically Send Astronauts on One-Way Mission to Deep Space, mentions that the National Academies said that there are essentially three ways NASA can go about doing this, besides completely abandoning deep space forever: “It can completely liberalize its health standards, it can establish more permissive long duration and exploration health standards, or it can create a process by which certain missions are exempt from its safety standards.” The team, led by Johns Hopkins University professor Jeffrey Kahn, concluded that only the third option is remotely acceptable. After all, NASA is a government entity, astronauts are workers and they are citizens of the United States. NASA cannot send these astronauts legally because although people do understand the risks, they cannot be perjured by this mission.
But Why Mars?
The project by NASA is focused mostly – for now – on traveling to Mars, but why not to another planet?
As of now, Mars is the most habitable planet in our solar system due to a lot of reasons. For starters, Mars is a very short distance away from Earth and it will take about 259 days. The rotation of Mars is quite similar to that of Earth’s so the day length will not affect as much: a Mars day is 24 hours, 39 minutes and 35 seconds long. The soil on Mars contains water to be extracted. Also water can be found in the polar caps. There is enough sunlight and heat exposure to use solar panels for energy and also gravity on Mars is 38% that of Earth. Which is believed to be sufficient for the human body to adapt to. Unlike the Moon, Mars does have an atmosphere which protects against cosmic bodies as well as the Sun’s radiation. It is pretty obvious that humans cannot live on Mars without the use of technology, but it is the best planet to inhabit, because of its likeness to Earth.
Designing for Outer Space
Most architects are used to working with models and blueprints, but how do you design something when you have no terrestrial experience of it? When you have never before seen its conditions and limitations. Being space architects is a hard task, because you must figure out a way to have a functioning design that will be moving in a different gravity or which will be faced with arduous radiation and sun exposure.
A blueprint for a space hotel based on the TransHab has candy-colored walls and furniture that could have come from a Fisher Price catalogue. The pieces of the hotel are made out of the most advanced material NASA knows to create, but, in the mock-up, they look like they are made of plastic. There is actually inevitable comparison to science fiction books and images. Some of these projects are extremely unrealistic proposals of space agencies.
NASA recently took on various design students from the Art Institute of Seattle to take part in the Micro-g Neutral Buoyancy Experiment Design Competition. Here, they would test prototypes made by some of the brightest students from prestigious Architecture institutions such as Cornell, Columbia, etc… They focused on the user’s needs first, such as how thick would the padding be? And would the astronaut use gloves to operate the device? “We asked ourselves what that person’s experience would be. How do we make it best for them? It’s not about just adding padding if it’s uncomfortable.” (Source)
These students were taking ideas from toys, kitchen tools, and construction equipment everywhere. They created a playfulness to their design that no one else had. Sadly, I could not find their design anywhere on the internet, but I do know this, they placed furniture differently around the spacecraft. How?
The best book I have found that talks about actually designing for spacecrafts is a book by Mary Roach called Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void. In this book, the author, who specializes in popular science and humor, talks about all the important things that an astronaut will do in their space helmet and inside of the craft that is important to know when designing for this occasion. Things such as vomiting in your helmet to how to survive when urinating in your suit. She brings a kind of humor to the life events that strike you as bizarre but in fact, they are things that can and will happen for someone who is traveling to outer space.
She also explains something which I thought was really interesting for designers to know. When designing for space, you are not designing for a room on Earth. In fact, it is completely the opposite. We must first get rid of all decorative elements. In space, we do not need decorations. We cannot have anything just laying around the floors or the walls because they will float off. We must minimize the weight and create the most efficient design possible. Mary Roach tells us that walls will become tables: we cannot have a table just laying around because again, it will float off. Drawers are no good, when you have a glove in your hand it will be impossible to open up a drawer and most likely, things will float off. For walls, we should have elastic pieces such as Velcro or any type of adhesive. There should be no furniture, nothing on the ceilings.
Basically we are creating an utilitarian box, a box which can be used all around. We might have a bathroom on the wall, signs to where you must stand to keep astronauts to an actual orientation (we could stop motion sickness like this). We should show direct orientation to Earth. All these elements are important for designing for the near future and space capsules or spacecrafts. And in fact, they are very interesting to know. How does our understanding of a “home” completely changes when we are put in a zone for zero gravity? What happens to our belongings and to what we thought was furniture?
Materials to be Used
In a wonderful book, Space Architecture: The New Frontier for Design Research, by some of the best leading thinkers and theorists for space analysis, Neil Leach, professor at Harvard, explains what kinds of materials could be used:
Aldrin’s vision for the colonisation of Mars includes in-situ resource utilisation (ISRU) – the necessity of making full use of local materials: ‘Some locally derived materials on Mars have been singled out for initial settlement construction, like fiberglass, metals and masonry, either for unpressurized shelter or covered with Martian regolith to hold the pressurized volume. Polyurethane and other polymers can be made from ethylene extracted from Mars’s carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere.’ He sees the need also to fabricate hydroponic growth labs for cultivating vegetables, and terraforming the Martian landscape so as to make it ‘a less hostile, highly livable place for humans and to support homesteading the planet’
On the Next Issue…
And with that brief statement by Professor Aldrin, we finish off our part 2 of the Creating Architecture in Space research series. We are breaking it off at “Materials to be Used” because we have more of that coming on part 3. As always, remember to comment and let me know what things you would like me to talk about for the next issue.
On the next one, I will be talking about the materials to be used such as 3D printing, concrete and materials that can be used in Mars. Also, I am going to show you examples of the best projects that are thought of to be the first pioneers in Space.
Thanks for reading.