Biosphere 2, Finished in 1991, was intended to see how a closed system ecology could work as a means for living in space, on other planets, and even living more efficiently here on Earth. It is a large structure incorporating many of the biomes native to earth and specifically to create a system which could support a human population without the need for external food supplies. There were several missions conducted there to determine the feasibility of such a closed environment. Unfortunately, the first mission failed due to wildly fluctuating levels of carbon dioxide and as a result, many of the plants died. The second mission, while a success in terms of the science and sustainability for a period of time, was sabotaged by a disgruntled member of the team which led to external contamination of the air supply thereby voiding the validity of the mission. As of today, Biosphere 2 is managed by the University of Arizona and is used as a laboratory for climate change among a few other things.
It seems that there is a standard expectation in the design of space facilities. Even with the ability to design in fairly wild ways, people seem to think that space stations ought to follow a hierarchical design. There is usually a wide cone-like top with a shaft and rings around a central shaft. This design suggests a need to find familiarity with gravity based designs which are bottom up with floors stacked on top of each other. Unless there is a form of artificial gravity one doesn’t need to design in such a way. Floors could be perpendicular or diagonal to each other. Floors don’t even have to necessarily exist where one might simply have a series of spheres connected by conduits. Any number of configurations are possible in zero gravity.
Many people are familiar with the ISS however some of the fictional places in space might be more familiar than the real ones. Shows such as Star Trek and Star Wars have become ingrained in the publics ideas of what architecture should look like in space. We have become more accustomed to turning on the television and seeing these shows than actual news about the ISS or other space habitat related subjects that we often look to science fiction to light the way for us to go in terms of design. While it would be quite spectacular to be able to build these structures, we are hundreds if not thousands of years from having the technology to build them. It is also possible that when we have the technology, what we build will be far more impressive than anything imagined thus far.
Skylab was operated by the United States from 1971 to 1979. It operated during a time when the space race was on full blast. Though it was the fifth space station (the first through fourth being the stations launched by the U.S.S.R.), it was the first truly long term habitat in space. Many groundbreaking discoveries were made aboard Skylab although, some of the most important discoveries related to living in space and the difficulties with existing in a zero gravity environment. Skylab was de-orbited on July, 11 1979. It would not be until 1998 with the launch of the first modules of the International Space Station that the United States would participate directly with long term space habitation.
That we know of………..
The Mir space station was one of the first long term space habitats. Construction of the station began in orbit in 1986 and took ten years to complete. Mir was de-orbited in 2001 ending fifteen years of service. Until the near completion of the International Space Station, Mir was the largest man-made object in orbit. Mir is a prime example of the ideology that “form follows function” due to the extreme costs and necessity based engineering needed to create such a habitat during that time period. It is far more memorable than the first space based habitat, Skylab.
Designers across the globe must certainly groan in unison when somebody offers their thirteen-year-old-cousin up as the “designer” in the family; he has MS Paint after all! Just give him a 2-liter of Pepsi and a pizza, and all of your “Design” needs are taken care of! Or, if it’s not someone’s cousin, then at the very least it is some logo/graphic factory from across the seas willing to ship any generic image with some customized text.
This seems to be the onus of my Graphic Design brethren as of late. Fortunately for Architecture, there are no programs (that I can think of) that generate an instant building foundations, frame, and all in the real world.
It seems a rather poignant question for the very first post of any blog about “Space Architecture”:
What is it?
If an Architect were to ask a random someone what they think it is, many people may be quick to assume that Space Architects simply take space stations and other space “stuff”, pile it together, and re-arrange it to “look pretty”… and who could blame someone for giving such a terse answer? After all, that is what Architects accomplish on Earth, isn’t it?
If someone is lucky, they may get a habitual “Googler” instead, and their answer would look like:
“(T)he theory and practice of designing and building inhabited environments in outer space.” – Wikipedia
Better… but not quite the truth either. There is much more to “design” after all than simply making something “look pretty”. Before diving in to what Architecture in space tries to accomplish, perhaps it would be a good idea to first understand what Architecture attempts to accomplish here on Earth.