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Space Imperative: Building Closed Ecologies

Long journeys by spaceship are a staple of science fiction, but we know all too little about how to sustain a human habitat in a hostile environment. Experiments in closed ecosystems simply reveal how much work will have to go toward this subject before we can talk about moving out into the Solar System, much less sending missions outside of it. One experiment in this direction was Bios-3, conducted at the Institute of Biophysics in the Russian city of Krasnoyarsk. John Allen, himself deeply involved with the later Biosphere 2 project, called Bios-3 “something of a clandestine legend to the handful of people actually working on closed life systems.”

The thought behind Bios-3, which was completed in 1972, was to develop closed ecosystems that could support a crew of up to three in a 315 cubic meter space that would be divided into four areas, one designated for the crew, the others for growing food sources, with xenon lamps acting as the light source and power supplied by a nearby hydroelectric power station. Ten manned experiments, the longest involving a three man crew enclosed for 180 days, took place, with the facilities being used for testing until the mid-1980s. Work on self-contained environments continues at the larger International Center for Closed Ecosystems, which incorporated Bios-3 in 1991 and now works cooperatively with the European Space Agency.

Image: BIOS-3 experiment. Historical image of scientists in the Russian BIOS-3 station during a closed ecosystem experiment, while one of the experiment leaders, Vladimir Okladnikov, observes from the outside. The BIOS-3 facilities consisted of a 315-cubic-metre sealed habitat and were used to conduct manned experiments – the longest lasting 180 days (1972-1973). Chlorella algae were used to recycle the air breathed by the human inhabitants and two chambers were used to grow wheat and vegetables. Photographed on 30th January 1985. Credit: RIA NOVOSTI/Science Photo Library.

Some good news clearly emerged from Bios-3, though mixed with reminders of how far we have to go. The experiments used chlorella algae to recycle air, cultivating the chlorella under artificial light. It was found that 8 square meters of exposed chlorella were needed per person to create the right balance of oxygen and carbon dioxide, and even so, a thermo-catalytic filter had to be used to maintain it. Bios-3 leader Josef Gitelson commented on the results:

“Crew who stayed inside the complex for six months, did not manifest any signs of deterioration to their health, including no harmful effects to the microflora of their skin and mucous membranes, nor the contractions of any allergies from contact with the plants. Tests also reveal that the air, water and vegetable parts of the food did not lose their qualities while inside the complex.”

All of which is good news, but bear in mind that Bios-3 was not a truly isolated environment, bringing in some of its food from the outside and drawing energy from a separate source. The later Biosphere 2 experiment in Arizona was larger, including its own rainforest, ‘ocean’ and desert along with its agricultural areas and living space. Biosphere 2 involved two sealed missions, one running from 1991 to 1993, the other for six months in 1994. Problems included declining oxygen levels and fluctuating levels of carbon dioxide, with difficulties in controlling the internal temperature. At the same time, the crew of eight in the 1991 experiment, after almost two years inside, experienced a range of psychological as well as physical problems.

You can see the disconnect between many of the things we want to do in space and the unsettling questions raised by these attempts at closed ecosystems. In a recent article, futurist George Dvorsky noted that NASA’s “Roadmap to Settlement” study, completed in 2000, described future lunar habitats constructed beneath the Moon’s surface, with plans for solar panels, a nuclear power plant, and a variety of methods for extracting carbon, silicon and aluminum from the surface. The confirmation of water on the Moon — some 600 million tons worth at the Moon’s north pole — adds to the interest in creating a human presence there.

But we can’t do all this, or press on to Mars and beyond, without learning how to develop a functional biosphere that will be sustainable over a period of years. That puts the spotlight on renewing efforts like Bios-3 and Biosphere 2 with the same vigor we apply to future space missions. The fact that neither of the two major biosphere projects succeeded at creating a truly closed ecological system should be an incentive for pressing on with future experiments. Dvorsky notes that at the top of the list should be carbon dioxide management, maintenance of stable temperatures, avoidance of water acidification and an eye toward psychological issues.

Get some of these questions resolved and we can push further experiments in space, eventually leading to truly complex environments that could serve us well in the long term. Says Dvorsky:

Initially, these self-sufficient space stations should be kept simple — pilot projects to prove that humans can live off-planet and independent of Earth — an important precedent for any subsequent missions to space, or for colonization efforts to other terrestrial bodies.

And indeed, as time passes, these projects will have to assess the viability of more complex and long-term missions. As Ben Austen has warned, we could run into problems such as inbreeding. His solution, however, is to stock our habitats with DNA to expand upon the existing gene pool. More radically, colonists could take advantage of cybernetics, advanced genetic engineering practices, and life extension technologies to overcome these issues as they arise.

Dvorsky thinks testing closed ecological systems on the Moon is the logical forerunner to a permanent Mars presence, one that could pave the way for missions much deeper into the Solar System. Whatever the early roadmap is, self-sustainability becomes vital when we’re talking about environments too distant for ready re-supply from Earth. Just how close did we come with Bios-3 and Biosphere 2 in solving the closed system riddle? We won’t know until we get back into the game with similar experiments in preparation for self-reliant orbital habitats later in the century. We’ll also learn a lot more about preserving the biosphere we have here at home.

Image: The ultimate in closed habitats. This is a painting by Don Davis based on the giant ‘Model 3’ cylindrical habitats envisioned by Gerard O’Neill. Here Davis imagines the clouds forming at an ‘altitude’ around the rotation axis. As the artist says, “At this time the scene is bathed in the ruddy light of all the sunrises and sunsets on Earth at that moment as the colony briefly enters the Earths shadow, out at the L5 Lagrangian point where stable locations are easily maintained.” The complexity of such a creation dwarfs our early experiments and reminds us how much we have to learn about closed ecosystems. Credit: Don Davis.

Dvorsky mentions a Ben Austen article above, one that appeared in Popular Science back in 2011. Let me close with a quote from that piece that illustrates a vision of self-enclosed ecosystems fitting into the broader scheme of deep space exploration:

Designing closed-loop sustainable habitats could help us feed our poor; advanced propulsion methods might revolutionize Earth-bound transportation; space solar energy could radically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels; and a deeper understanding of asteroids might provide us with valuable resources and someday allow us to alter the orbit of one headed our way. Colonizing space “isn’t just about survival, it’s about thriving,” says Tau Zero’s Marc Millis, adding that there are still adventures out there to be had, that one could do valiant work for the common good. For Millis, the driving questions are simple: “What can we do that makes for an exciting future to live in? Something where when you wake up in the morning you’re glad to be alive and a human?”


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • David September 6, 2012, 10:21

    We have disrupted our microbiome interactions on Earth to great detriment (a big increase in auto-immune diseases) For intance gut bacteria How do we get some of those?
    I just sont see humans in big numbers in space for well over a century for this reason alone.
    We need to focus on acclerating small robots for initial interstellar travel.
    Humans can have small bases on teh moon ,mars and in orbit and do some flybys . I am more optimitic that we can extend healthy living to 150 so we can see results from robots if we can get to 5% c.

  • Mark September 6, 2012, 10:40

    I really don’t see why a lunar habitat needs to be considered closed. With ample solar energy available and water reserves on-site, oxygen and hydrogen could easily be produced for breathing and fuel. Maybe food would be an issue if there were no re-supply capabilities but that’s unlikely also. This is acase where it’s more effective to try and live off the land (or whatever the moon’s surface is called).

  • David H September 6, 2012, 11:02

    Even a longish experiment on Earth won’t truly address either the physiological or psychological issues of prolonged, long distance spaceflight. At least employing the Moon provides an opportunity to investigate some of the currently inaccessible issues such as the effect of true isolation (as opposed to simply separation) and micro/reduced gravitation. Other issues, such as the very-hard-to-detect accumulation of potentially quite nasty micro-contaminants might require either quite sophisticated means of early detection, using mass spectrometry for example, or a very cleverly buffered environment. Certainly, a larger facility will provide greater opportunities to buffer the habitat which would buy some time while investigating an indigenous solution to a developing problem.

  • James D. Stilwell September 6, 2012, 11:20

    It would be unwise to gloss over the troubling human factors in all you do….Truly stable human psychologies are rare and yet these are the ones most fit for life aboard an enclosed habitat like the one depicted by artist Don Davis….People filled with a driving all-consuming ambition to prove something to themselves or others are likely to go insane aboard a generational ship….Here the winner-takes-all competitive mentality ends in total disaster….maybe for everybody….unless a football field is added into the design…..Maybe I just watch too many movies….JDS

  • JohnHunt September 6, 2012, 11:45

    It is far more cost-effective to send people as either hibernating crew or as frozen embryos. So these megaprojects of cities in space won’t happen. However, a closed ecology or, as noted above, a live-off-the-land ecology will have to be created at destination. However, one does not need to figure out how to restore the entire biosphere but just to temporarily boot up certain species that are needed and can be easily stored (e.g. seeds) or frozen. The full biosphere could be recreated from DNA or digital data after the exocolony grows large enough and their eventual biotechnology exceeds our.

  • Andy Markley September 6, 2012, 12:20

    [… 1991 experiment, after almost two years inside, experienced a range of psychological …]

    Today’s generation is definitely different in their psychological makeup compared to the generation existing in 1991. For one, they’re Internet citizens and perhaps less prone to isolation due to social networks, Wikipedia, and jobs being entirely possible conductible within your home, either in a spare room in an apartment or at an outpost on Mars; adjusting, of course, for larger latency in network transmissions.

  • Ron S September 6, 2012, 13:21

    Mark: “I really don’t see why a lunar habitat needs to be considered closed.”

    You’re right, it doesn’t (neither is our Earth habitat). What it needs to be is sustainable, including doing the things you mention.

    For an interstellar craft, the habitat would have to be closed for long durations, but not forever.

  • Ron S September 6, 2012, 13:27

    David: “Even a longish experiment on Earth won’t truly address either the physiological or psychological issues of prolonged, long distance spaceflight.”

    True, but why should we expect one experiment to address all of the challenges? There is much we can learn from Earth-based experiments, which are less expensive and risky (for the participants).

    I suspect that most of the psychological and “human meaning” issues can be addressed by scaling up the habitat in size, diversity and flexibility. But first we need one that works, and therefore the need for research and experiments on a small scale. You don’t even strictly need humans for much of this; it may even be better without people since you do want to make the habitat as independent of human “hand holding” as possible.

  • Abelard Lindsey September 6, 2012, 14:22

    Developing biomeme technology (closed ecology) is essential for any kind of space settlement. The Biosphere 2 project yielded essentially no useful science, other than that concrete absorbs lots of Oxygen (I heard they used a scrubber during part of the 2 year run). This is one of the technologies the SSI people have targeted for development work.

  • Alex Tolley September 6, 2012, 15:53

    My understanding was that high efficiency, recycling, closed biospheres were desirable for space travel because they would reduce the mass of consumables for long duration trips. As Mark says, do we need to do all this. Air and water recycling can be done with brute force engineering, chemistry or biology, leaving food as the relatively small remaining consumable that could be shipped as dehydrated packages. Maybe the way to go is solve the big consumables through the most reliable technology you have, which may be a very leaky biosphere, and then incrementally improve it.

    My concern with biospheres is: is our planet a vital, non replicable variable; if not, how big do they need to be to be stable; how might they evolve/adapt out of our control under different environmental conditions.

    Perhaps the way to go is keep biology for the psychic needs, e.g. growing fresh fruit in pots, and building up from there as space settlements grow in size and recycling becomes more economically favorable.

  • Greg September 6, 2012, 16:00

    I’m holding out hope that Molecular Nanotechnology, Mr. Phoenix’s field of interest, will eventual solve most of the problems of living in space for extended periods of time.

  • Ole Burde September 6, 2012, 16:09

    It is truely amazing how little has been done in the area of closed ecologies.
    For some strange reason it seems that almost everybodys gut-reaction is to agree , that Nasa’s Biosphere experiments was EVIL , and thereby somehow contaminated forever the whole otherwise promising field of closed ecologies with 100% guaranteed pure BADNESS !
    Are we living in a universe designed by Salvador Dali ?
    Another , more optimistic explanation for this , would be in the line of bad smelling air inside a closed habitat … our noses has a hardwired connection directly to where emotional connections are made . Grow up , all you spoiled brats !

  • Interstellar Bill September 6, 2012, 16:45

    It’s conceivable that current knowledge would suffice to simply throw enough mass at the problem, including shielding, so that the system wouldn’t need to go through all that many cycles. As Mark observed, lunar outposts are surrounded by resources, but only when facing upwards is there vacuum.

    The problem on the Moon will be low gee, requiring frequent repatriation to one-gee stations at Lunar L1. A Lunar Elevator, in going only to the equator, wouldn’t be much help to the polar installations, which are overwhelmingly attractive for their 24/7 sunlight and access to ancient ice.

    If we want practice for deep space, geosynchronous orbit will work fine, given for the sake of economics that most of a station’s bulk is supplied by a lunar-poles installation with a solar-powered mass driver.

  • Ed Reed September 6, 2012, 17:09

    The most important reason I see for developing long-duration “closed cycle” (other than using local resources like solar energy where abundant, water from comets and their impacts, etc) is the vast expansion in population, commerce and development it would empower. All the classic benefits of colonial expansion without all the same (though certainly different) issues with adverse impact on natives.

    I presume that here in the solar system we do not find ubiquitous life we decide we need to protect.

    But moving towards being a Stage I civilization requires expansion beyond planetary boundaries, for access to resources more easily converted for use. Enabling that will lay the ground work for both the capacity and psychological mindsets necessary to consider exploration beyond the Deep Darkness.

  • Astronist September 6, 2012, 19:31

    Colonizing space “isn’t just about survival, it’s about thriving,” says Tau Zero’s Marc Millis — I fully agree with this. Our civilisation is entirely premised upon continual economic, technological and population growth, and if artificial space colonies can one day become practical, then almost all our future opportunities for growth are on those colonies, not on Earth or any other planetary surfaces.

    Therefore any government and corporation in the world which regards growth as important (which is all of them) ought to be able to be persuaded of the value of a little research now to enable that future growth. The problem is presumably the traditional space agency attitude that space is now and will always be a difficult, dangerous and expensive arena which can only be visited by their highly trained, officially approved heroic elite of astronaut-knights.


  • velniukas September 7, 2012, 2:35

    I’d love to be involved in an open source closed ecology experiment or a kickstarter project to set one up.

    Any good resources out there for an amateur to start getting up to speed?

    Something I’ve been trying to figure out for the last few weeks: How much space does a crew need to be able to live long-term in a high quality manner?

  • Michael September 7, 2012, 2:48

    @Interstellar Bill,

    ‘The problem on the Moon will be low gee, requiring frequent repatriation to one-gee stations at Lunar L1.’
    On the Moon’s surface centrifugal toruses can be built, low gravity means they can have large diameters and with no atmosphere they would be very efficient at rotation.

  • william September 7, 2012, 5:09

    This seems to be among the most tricky of all problems that will need to be solved. As an example if the earth was imperiled and the only way to provide continuance would be to send voyagers to another star system, the people who would make the trip might have to carry a psychological burden if the catastrophe was man-made say versus some type of natural disaster. If it should be the latter they might be extremely motivated to do whatever’s necessary to succeed, but perhaps not so much in the former case.

    Also I believe that if this should be a voyage merely of discovery, not escape, then if a intergenerational ship should be required it’s extremely possible that those living their lives out in mid-voyage could be extremely resentful and feel cheated because they had no say so in whether they wanted to be part of this or not. In the catastrophic sense that I mentioned above they might feel considerably different since survival would be the watchword. I would suspect that psychological problems could be a real showstopper. Assuming that it’s not, there was always the question whether or not an ecosystem would be sufficiently provisioned such that the plants and animals that I assumed would be carried along would be sufficiently ecologically balanced to survive long-term voyages. What would be needed? For example, while not normally consumed, would it be advisable to have such animals as lions, bears, zebras, elephants, mountain lions, deer, etc.? They are not necessary from the standpoint of survival as being a consumable but they provide psychological attachment and continuity to care and concern that people have toward other living creatures. What about animals that are normally considered to be less desirable and perhaps even pests? For example, do roaches, mosquitoes, centipedes etc. qualify as necessary components of a biosphere examined from the standpoint of other animals that we might wish to bring along?

    This also might suggest that suspended animation might be the most desirable state but for some unknown reason that also makes me feel somewhat uneasy, it’s just something I can’t put into words. For all these reasons and I’m sure for a lot more that I haven’t articulated this could be a very delicate area.

  • Robert Horley September 7, 2012, 5:52

    This definitely needs to be done if we are to ever thrive as space faring civilization. This can even be done on Earth using sealed biospheres. Then we need to orbit a simple biosphere for a year or two and see if we can stabilise it.

    We need to stop thinking about missions to specific destinations and try and make space habitats that are liveable and self sufficient. Then it is easy to make asteroids liveable which in turn will lead to world ships that people are happy to treat as home.

  • David H September 7, 2012, 6:37

    “True, but why should we expect one experiment to address all of the challenges? There is much we can learn from Earth-based experiments, which are less expensive and risky (for the participants).”

    Ron, my contention is that quite likely, no experiment could be performed on Earth that would address some of the most significant, physiological and psychological issues.

  • Ron S September 7, 2012, 11:21

    David, I agree with you. I was just making the point that the fact that an experiment does not address this specific issue does not invalidate all the other good work that can come from experiments right here on Earth. There is much work to be done on this multi-dimensional problem.

  • Ole Burde September 7, 2012, 13:33

    Very little , if anything , is being done in the field as such . It may be that the real work is being done indirectly in related areas , such as comercial hothouse research toward minimizing waterconsumtion i desert area agriculture .
    Hightec desert hothouses are gradually mooving towards closure , while strugling to overcome a great variety of problems om the way . One of the hardest nuts to crack , is the airborne microbial infections VIOLENTLY atacking any kind of growth without ”opening the window” to let in ”fresh air .
    At present time , no economical system of airfiltration/sterilization has been found , so the window stays open .
    Many of these infections are a natural part of the seeds used , and may proove to be impossible to get rid of , without killing the seeds .

  • Michael September 7, 2012, 17:03

    Trying to control all the competing organisms individual goals will prove a difficult task if not impossible, they can evolve too as they will want to survive as well. The best way may be to use artifical enviroments or by using slow to change organisms so their effect on each other and the greater enviroment can be acted upon in time in case something goes off course.

  • Eniac September 7, 2012, 23:07

    A Lunar Elevator, in going only to the equator, wouldn’t be much help to the polar installations, which are overwhelmingly attractive for their 24/7 sunlight and access to ancient ice.

    I do not think this is correct. An elevator could be built to anywhere, including at the pole. It may need to hug the ground for some distance, but that is hardly a problem. The ground hugging part would be like a railway and comparatively short.

    Myself, though, I think the transportation method of choice on the moon are rotating slings used as solar powered mechanical mass drivers.

  • David H September 7, 2012, 23:10

    Ron, thanks, I appreciate your point. We should run the experiments that we can, all the while planning to run the experiments that we want! :) For all we know, some cleverly crafted experiments here on Earth might well obviate the need for much more expensive versions in space.

  • Michael September 8, 2012, 17:40


    Do you mean it is hug from the equator line and fixes at the pole’s? If it is hung to the poles the forces will be very large, no modern materials could cope with them unless you have pylons in mind to act as supports.

  • ljk September 9, 2012, 0:04

    Space Elevator Enthusiasts Push On despite Lengthy Time Frames and Long Odds

    A space-travel technology, simple in concept, has been frustratingly difficult to realize

    By David Appell

    September 4, 2012

    SEATTLE—“I think building an elevator to space is maybe the best thing I could do in the world,” Michael Laine says.

    His company, Liftport, has just raised over $62,000 on Kickstarter to build robot climbers on a skyward cable—an early step toward his eventual goal of putting a space elevator on the moon. A space elevator is just what it sounds like—a capsule that travels to and from space along a track or tether to provide reliable access to orbit.

    Behind Laine is the cavernous Great Gallery at Seattle’s Museum of Flight, where dozens of aircraft are on display, chronicling the human adventure of flight. Meeting in a nearby conference room are about 40 space enthusiasts, in town for the annual Space Elevator Conference hosted by ISEC, the International Space Elevator Consortium. Some of them have sacrificed their careers, credit ratings or savings accounts—all in pursuit of a simple concept that has thus far proved impossible in practice.

    None of the conference participants could be accused of thinking small, whether the discussion is about a 100,000-kilometer tether made of carbon nanotubes, space-based solar power, or man’s ultimate destiny to seed the galaxy.

    Full article here:


  • Joy September 9, 2012, 0:25

    Agree with Ron S: “You don’t even strictly need humans for much of this”

    Indeed. Many of the problems with thermal management, food production, and atmospheric stability could first be addressed with animal experiments. It is a lot cheaper and easier to maintain 1 kg neutered dwarf rabbits than 70 kg humans. Much could be learned by observing a hermetically sealed terrestrial greenhouse containing rabbits and grass. Once we get that right, a viable human habitat is largely a scaling problem.

  • Eniac September 9, 2012, 10:39

    @Michael: If you attach an elevator off the equator, it will still work, but it will lean towards the equator. At a certain latitude (quite near the pole, on the Moon, I think), the angle will be such that the elevator will start out horizontally. If you increase latitude further, you’ll have to have it rest on the ground, i.e. “hug” the ground. That way you can go all the way to the pole.

    I do not think the forces are as great as you imply, and ground based structures can be built as strong as needed.

    On a body with low gravity, you could mount the elevator at the pole high enough on a tower or mountain such that it never meets the ground. In that case, you can install it on a rotating hub and have it rotate faster than the natural rotation of the moon/asteroid. That allows it to be much shorter. I am not sure if the Moon is light enough to make this feasible. It might be.

  • Eniac September 9, 2012, 11:00

    Of course, the “hug the ground” scenario is equivalent to mounting the elevator at the critical latitude and using a railway the rest of the way to the pole, and that is how it would be built.

    Come to think of it, an off-equator elevator may be easier to climb, given that it starts out horizontally and gets steeper gradually, which would be at least partially offset by decreasing gravity on the way up. It might also be more robust against perturbations, as its curvature may give it greater flexibility.

  • Michael September 10, 2012, 15:42


    If the materials are strong enough we could continue from the earth pointing balancing point to the poles supported by a tower at each one and back out towards the other balancing point on the dark side of the moon, then we will have a path from the Earth – Moon poles (water/fuel) – to the outer solar system. Nanotube strengths would allow this.

  • Eniac September 10, 2012, 16:09

    @Michael: Yes, but a MUCH shorter, rotating version would provide similar benefits for much cheaper, I think. A rotating sling of just a few hundred km length could provide transport both to the outer system and to Earth.

  • ljk September 11, 2012, 0:04

    Making Mars a nicer place

    by Eric Choi

    Monday, September 10, 2012

    In some ways, Mars is like a celebrity that one finally meets and discovers is shorter and less attractive in person than on screen. For all of its popular reputation, the Red Planet is actually quite diminutive, being only about half the diameter of Earth. Mars is also one and a half times further from the Sun, with a thin atmosphere of primarily carbon dioxide, so both scientists and science fiction writers have long assumed (correctly) that it must be less hospitable than Earth.

    Arthur C. Clarke’s 1952 novel The Sands of Mars was the last in which the planet would bear any resemblance to the world depicted by Burroughs and Bradbury.

    Terraforming is the process of altering the present climate of Mars (or any other inhospitable planet) into a more Earth-like environment suitable for human settlement.

    While Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars/Green Mars/Blue Mars trilogy is perhaps the best-known and most ambitious work of science fiction to describe how terraforming could make Mars a nicer place, it certainly wasn’t the first.

    Starting with A Princess of Mars in 1917, Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote eleven novels that portrayed an arid world he called Barsoom made habitable by an “atmosphere factory”1 (these books were the basis for the recent Disney movie John Carter).

    The stories in Ray Bradbury’s 1950 collection The Martian Chronicles were set on a desert planet crisscrossed with canals built by an alien civilization to distribute water from the polar caps.2

    Full article here:


  • Michael September 11, 2012, 0:18

    Would it not be problem getting the cable rotating, activily counter balancing it and getting a craft onto it from orbit. Maybe the cable’s could be spooled out in the case of getting it rotating and counter balancing, but getting a craft onto it and countering the back lash from a crafts release, tricky?

  • ljk September 11, 2012, 10:01

    From the Icarus Interstellar blog

    Colonized Interstellar Vessel: Conceptual Master Planning

    by Steve Summerford

    (redacted version: Full paper available here: http://www.steve-summerford.com/Colonized_Interstellar_Vessel.pdf )


    The notion of humanity exploring distant worlds has long been the substance of dreams; from early Renaissance thinkers condemned for their heretical visions, to banal fodder for modern day science fiction plots.

    With humanity’s insatiable appetite for knowledge and discovery, coupled with concerns surrounding the potential for an earthly cataclysmal event, it is only natural that armed with enough curiosity, we should seek to explore new horizons.

    As such, design proposals contained within this document aim to outline a smaller Colonized Interstellar Vessel (CIV), examining guidelines necessary to provide adequate living conditions for a given population, rather than envisioning how to encapsulate an exact visage of earth.

    As a great deal of contemporary focus is commonly directed toward the technological requirements of space travel, designers of a CIV will need to be mindful that equal attention is allocated to the preservation of the mental and emotional human element.

    Without proper planning and thoughtful consideration to the physical, spatial, and psychological needs of the people tasked with living and operating in such a colony, even the most advanced technological achievements may risk failing at the human level.

    Design for the psyche and associated pragmatic daily functions should be of equal concern as those of cosmic radiation shielding, fuel supply, food procreation, etc. Should the precious human component be allowed to atrophy, the complete interstellar mission risks failure.

    Thoughtful consideration must be exercised throughout the design phases to ensure a harmonious interconnection between infrastructure and its end users. Architecture and the interstitial spaces it creates should aim to promote healthy community living, while also meeting the basic territorial and privacy needs that human nature has become accustomed to on earth. Some methods for promoting psychological and physical well being through environmental design include:

    Allowing the user to modify the configuration and visual appearance of a space,

    Creating long vistas and distant focal points – Using structure to choreograph space, allowing for discovery and ‘unfolding’

    Varying materials, forms, shapes, textures, and colors to engage the mind

    Maintaining some semblance or connectivity to nature

    The human brain will always be among the most advanced technologies aboard such a vessel; as such, the world designed around it should nurture and inspire, rather than simply function as containment.

    Full article and diagrams here:


  • Rob Henry September 11, 2012, 22:08

    I was disquieted by Ron S’ comment on 6 Sept of what constituted a closed habitat. He seemed to be pointing out that even Earth was not a closed system (though perhaps he was trying to reference biosphere 3 and 2). Though correct, the implication that it is remotely possible that a downturn in the infall of zodiacal dust could trigger mass extinctions is disturbing to my mind.

  • ljk September 12, 2012, 9:24


    Russia’s Deputy PM says country must shoot for Moon base

    By Alissa de Carbonnel | Reuters – 4 hours ago – September 11, 2012

    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia should set itself the “super goal” of building a large base on the Moon it could use to achieve “leaps” in science and to give a new sense of purpose to its troubled space program, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin said on Tuesday.

    Calling the task “big, prestigious and political”, Rogozin said the country’s space industry – which has suffered a string of costly and embarrassing failures – urgently needed a tangible stimulus to force it to focus.

    “There is a lot of competition among countries in the space sector and so we must have a big super goal that could pull forward science and industry; that would enable the country to escape from the morass of problems, which have kept us captive for the past 20 years,” Rogozin told the Vesti FM radio station.

    “Why not try to build a big station on the Moon that would be a base for future ‘leaps’ of science?”.

    Russia’s renewed focus on the Moon may reflect a scaling back of ambition following a string of space failures and comes as other countries – notably China – are eyeing the Moon with greater ambition. Beijing plans to land its first probe there next year even though it still has a long way to go to catch up with space superpowers Russia and the United States.

    Scientists have said the Moon may hold reserves of water and suggested various minerals could possibly be mined there.

    The Soviet Union put the first satellite and the first man in space, but those glory days are a distant memory. Crimped budgets and a brain drain mean Moscow has long been absent from deep space and its space program appears to be in trouble.

    Last year, a Russian mission failed to return samples from the Martian moon Phobos, and last month the failure of a Proton rocket caused the multi million-dollar loss of Indonesia’s Telkom-3 and Russia’s Express-MD2 satellites.

    “We are losing our authority and billions of roubles,” Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told officials at a government meeting last month.

    Roskosmos, Russia’s space agency, has previously floated the idea of a Moon base – possibly built in collaboration with the United States and Europe – and has also spoken of the option of constructing a space station that would orbit the Moon.

    It is planning to send two unmanned missions to the Moon by 2020 and there have been reports that it is weighing a manned mission there too.

    Russian scientists and cosmonauts have suggested lunar colonizers could take shelter in what they believe is a network of underground caves left by the Moon’s volcanic past.

    “It’s too far and too expensive to Mars,” space industry expert Igor Lissov told the state RIA news agency. “We must start with the moon. We must give ourselves realistic goals.”

    Rogozin said the Moon project could be a jumping-off point for future deep space projects.

    Space agency chief Vladimir Popovkin said on Monday that Russia would recall the rocket type which caused the multi-million dollar loss of Indonesian and Russian telecom satellites last month.

    Such failures for Russia, which conducts some 40 percent of global space launches, risk undermining its standing in the market, strengthening competitors such as Europe’s Ariane rocket.

  • Ron S September 12, 2012, 10:22

    Rob, you do seem to try to draw out the most extreme extrapolated interpretations of others’ words. I won’t even try to understand why you do that. I was only thinking about energy inputs (aka sunlight) and outputs, and that is not at all a controversial attribute of our ecology.

  • Rob Henry September 14, 2012, 20:45

    Ron S writes of me “you do seem to try to draw out the most extreme extrapolated interpretations of others’ words. I won’t even try to understand why you do that.”, and that seems a pity as I believe it key to understanding of how to speed the advance science.

    Karl Popper outlined the reasoning that gives me that trait, though his annoyance at how most scientists currently treat the problem is less than mine. The greatest potential for scientific models lies at their extremes, and that is not just because models that are built on compromise, contain a higher number of parameters that can be adjusted to frustrate the criterion of falsifiability.

    Imagine that we live in a real world that operates logical principles that facilitate repeatable results. Now if that is so (and all scientists should want that) the underlying reality is more likely to reflect one of the extremes of the current model.

    PS. Of cause we need an input of energy – but making that the reason behind your statement that Earth is not a closed system is too weak to warrant examination.

  • Eniac September 15, 2012, 23:49


    Would it not be problem getting the cable rotating, activily counter balancing it and getting a craft onto it from orbit. Maybe the cable’s could be spooled out in the case of getting it rotating and counter balancing, but getting a craft onto it and countering the back lash from a crafts release, tricky?

    Get it rotating: As you say, you spool it out. Counter balancing: A counter weight will do. A sufficiently sturdy hub axle and anchors in the ground for managing the pull of payloads. A few tons of force should be no problem. Compared to, say, a suspension bridge or an aerial tram. Backlash: Not much worse than dropping something from the end of a hanging rope. Can be kept as low as needed by lowering mass of individual payloads, increasing their number to maintain throughput. Put a damper (like an automobile shock absorber) at the hub to quickly dissipate vibrations. Add a fixed weight at the tip to maintain positive tension at all times, if needed.

    As space projects go, not all that tricky, I would say.

  • Eniac September 16, 2012, 0:29

    Getting craft into orbit: The safe way is to “lower” craft out at a fixed low velocity using a conveyor of some sort. A more efficient way would be to let the craft slide freely, which would gain a factor of sqrt(2) in launch velocity, but would require dealing with high velocity friction. Magnetic levitation, gas cushion, ice-on-blade, high strength wheels, and probably a few other means could be considered for this.

    It would be difficult to return craft, you’d have to catch them with very high precision. So, a sling is probably going to be one-way, like any mass driver.

    Some of the greatest advantages of the sling vs. the better known electromagnetic mass drivers would be 1) simplicity, 2) compact construction, 3) low mass, and 4) choice of launch direction.

    A sling could also serve double purpose for energy storage. If it is long and massive enough, it could be accelerated with solar power during the day and provide power during the night, using a simple motor/generator at the hub. Payloads could be launched concurrently if the release position is varied to compensate for varying sling rotation rate.

  • Ron S September 17, 2012, 15:50

    Rob, please leave off your condescending attempt to lecture me on the scientific method and refresh yourself on standard terminology for thermodynamic systems. I can provide a link to source material if you need it.

  • Thucydides September 18, 2012, 9:59

    The Pearson elevator would rely on the “static line” running from the equator to the L1 point and beyond. A large enough “static line” with sufficient ballast on the end would be able to support other lines running from the Lunar poles (which would resemble the cables of suspension bridges).

    The cable would not be capable of dealing with large payloads:
    “Jerome Pearson has proposed a cable design using M5 fiber (See Materials, below) that would have a mass of 6,100 tonnes including a massive counterweight, that would be capable of lifting or depositing loads of 2,000 newtons (450 lbf, or at lunar surface gravity, masses of 1233 kg / 2700 lbm) at the base”; but many small payloads of dirt, processed raw materials or water would still be valuable for space industry and colonization.

  • ljk September 18, 2012, 14:32

    India aborts a human Moon mission

    by Ajey Lele

    Monday, September 17, 2012

    Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the Moon, died on August 25. Counting his Apollo 11, only six human missions carrying 12 people have landed on the Moon. Apollo 17, which landed on the Moon in December 1972, was last among them. Since then no one has even attempted to repeat this accomplishment. However, in recent years a few nations have started showing interest in repeating this American achievement.

    In January 2009, the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) indicated that it could undertake a human Moon mission by 2020. Now, there appears to be some change this stated position. During first week of September, the Minister in the Prime Minister’s Office, Mr. V. Narayanasamy, mentioned there are no immediate plans for such a mission, although India remains interested in human spaceflight to low Earth orbit.


  • Rob Henry September 18, 2012, 22:36

    Ron S, I find it strange that you would even think that I was questioning your of scientific method.

    I do often feel that your subconscious (along with that of very many others) predicates its workings on the assumption that the current models underlying science are more the unequivocal physical reality and less a mathematical obstruction. I know your conscious mind knows this wrong – and that explains my previous statement.

  • Rob Henry September 19, 2012, 0:04

    Eniac, I have suddenly become interested in the mathematics of your atypical space elevator, and wonder if they have already been worked out. The previous non-equatorial suggestions I have seen used a bifurcated tether connecting two points equidistant from the equator, and that setup would not suffer from the following problem .

    Is there actually any solution to the problem where the tether appears as a static line in polar coordinates – or will the line always have to undergo some further rotation? I assume that there is but, for the moment, I do not see that this is as trivial to prove as the classic case.

    If there is such a stable solution then when we introduce mass moving along it, we would definitely introduce a turning moment that could not be cancelled by tension adjustments transmitted in a purely linear fashion along the length of the elevator.

  • Eniac September 19, 2012, 21:46

    Rob, I suspect you will find all you need at the following site: http://gassend.net/spaceelevator/non-equatorial/index.html