“When Danica Vallone of Red Hen Industries and I first discussed her proposal for how to build the SAM Mars yard, over dinner with Grant Anderson in January, I had already spent several months pursuing a more traditional rebar, metal lath and concrete or fiberglass mold approach. The right vendor for the right price had eluded me, with prices doubling since my first calls in 2021. In my mind foam felt too soft and something of a crumbling mess that could never successfully simulate the many features of a Martian landscape.

In the midst of our mutually busy schedules we traded my project needs against her team’s prior examples, then dove into the complex logistics for what would be a breakneck velocity in construction to finish in time for the Analog Astronaut Conference at Biosphere 2, third year in a row. We had to construct 180 linear feet of a Mars crater wall around a 2,600 sq-ft facility—fully sculpted, covered in concrete, and hand-painted in just 13 days. Nuts!

Once I was convinced this was not only possible but that it was in fact the ideal combination of media, we had to figure out how to get everything in place, in time. Danica had to pull sculptors, plasterers, and painters in southern California with absolute calendar precision between myriad other, established projects including a gig at South-by-Southwest and the total solar eclipse. My team had to wrap-up restoration of our Operations Center, install a point-to-point WiFi transmitter; complete, install, and test SIMOC Live v2.0; install the new hydroponics rack, host the third crew at SAM, and build a synthetic lava tube from rebar, chicken wire, and burlap cloth. Why not?

We then dove into the long shopping list provided by Red Hen in preparation for Mars yard construction including two semi-truck loads of foam blocks, buckets, garden hoses, rolls of paper, massive plastic tarps, a new 60 gallon air compressor, and a pallet of a Polybond cement mix shipped from the Arizona-California border, and more.” –Kai Staats, Director of Research for SAM at Biosphere 2