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Those who lay the foundation

Biosphere 2 architect Phil Hawes visits SAM, speaks with Trent Tresch and Kai Staats

(Trent, Phil, and Kai have received full COVID vaccinations and were outdoors for the duration of this visit)

In the academic world the apprenticeship model is cornerstone to the transmission of knowledge and skills, made strong through the publication of research, experiment design, and data. Outside of academia, the world often takes for granted how we arrived to our knowledge base, to our technological prowess and industrial fortitude.

In our work on the Test Module, the prototype for the Biosphere 2 and now centerpiece for SAM, we have asked myriad questions (in our minds) of the Biospherians, Why did they build it that way? What was this used for? How did they come up with this idea? and What happens if we replace that with this? William Dempster and Taber MacCallum have been gracious with support and guidance via remote. In our pandemic riddled world it was unexpected to spend time with the third member of this design and engineering team, an individual who helped lay the foundation for the Test Module in which we stand. Today we had the honor of receiving Phil Hawes, architect of record (1985 -1992) for Biosphere 2 who worked closely with Dempster and MacCallum to design and build the Test Module in 1986-87.

Phil spent the better part of two hours with us, telling stories of the architecture, technology, biology and ecology, and social dynamics that made Biosphere so unique. He emphasized (as needs to be emphasized again and again) that no experiment “fails” as long as we learn from the outcome. The failure would be to not learn from those aspects of the experiment that unfolded in ways unexpected.

Following his departure Trent and I (Kai) repeated the mantras shared by Phil, an echo from more than three decades prior that needs to be shared now even more than before:

  1. “Throw your heart in front of you and then run to catch up!”
  2. “Take risks and have adventures!”
  3. “Courage!” to do bold things that others will say can’t be done.

Sometimes leaders accomplish difficult tasks by act of will alone, for competition, or for profit. But those who truly shape the next generation do what they do because they love doing it. Others follow as a celebration of the process and the goal. Phil is relentless in his pursuit of the art and science of sustainable living both on this planet and beyond. He shared with us photos of a scale model he recently completed for a 19 acre sustainable community in Fairfield, Iowa. It was beautiful in its simplicity, layout, and flow. Thank you Phil for bringing us into your past and present as we move to reshape our shared future, on this planet and beyond.

Biosphere 2 architect Phil Hawes visits the Test MoBiosphere 2 architect Phil Hawes visits the Test Module at SAM One of the most knowledgeable and dedicated green architects on this planet, Phil Hawes has been a leading pioneer in alternative design and construction for more than 40 years. He has worked on projects in sustainable design, and educational programs in architecture, ecology, and community planning in California, Arizona and Washington State, and in Portugal, France, Nepal, and Australia; he continues his work in sustainable community development. Phil studied with Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin West in 1955-56. He holds a B.A. in Architectural Design from the University of Oklahoma and a Ph.D. in Sustainable Community Design from the San Francisco Institute of Architecture.

By |2021-05-13T17:06:53+00:00May 12th, 2021|Categories: Visitors to SAM|0 Comments

The shape of strength

Kai, Trent preparing Unistrut mounting brackets for SAM at Biosphere 2

Strength. Durability. Flexibility with minimal modification. This is the art of the science of materials manipulation with metal being ideally suited to the interior of a space craft (even one that doesn’t have rockets).

Kai, Trent preparing Unistrut mounting brackets for SAM at Biosphere 2 Kai, Trent preparing Unistrut mounting brackets for SAM at Biosphere 2 Kai, Trent preparing Unistrut mounting brackets for SAM at Biosphere 2 Kai, Trent preparing Unistrut mounting brackets for SAM at Biosphere 2

By |2021-05-12T08:31:08+00:00May 6th, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Master Doers, Volunteers Robert and Angus dive in!

Robert David, Angus Gluck working at SAM, Biosphere 2

Robert David reached out to me (Kai) in November 2020, when SAM was building momentum toward construction at Biosphere 2. Robert is a resident-employee at the world renowned Arcosanti, a prototype arcology in the high-elevation Arizona desert. This testing ground for the innovative architect Soleri’s progressive urban planning concepts is now five decades since its 1970 founding. Arcosanti is regarded as an early example of sustainable architecture that prioritizes live-work spaces where the surrounding natural environment is cherished over urban sprawl.

In many ways, Arcosanti could be taken as an analog for the first communities on Mars. This intrigued Kai early in the conversations with Robert. Robert’s friend of many years Angus Gluck spearheaded research into insulated shipping containers for the SAM living quarters, and is guiding their level placement upon arrival. Angus is a resident of Flagstaff, Arizona, a builder in many trades, and regular visitor to Arcosanti.

Robert and David came to us with a can-do, doesn’t matter how hard the project, we’ll get it done! attitude. True to their word, they dove right into grinding and sanding in the lung (which is not fun), a first and second pass of rust removal on the lung rings (see the banner at top), sanding the exterior of the lung shell, hanging electrical disconnects, and applying the primer in the Test Module. Our days and evenings were filled with conversation guided by Robert about the incredible confluence of mathematics, programming, and augmented digital realities, while Angus share insights into innovative, often efficient methods for construction and the development of living spaces.

Thank you both for your many contributions over such a short period of time.

Angus Gluck grinding at SAM, Biosphere 2 Robert David sanding at SAM, Biosphere 2 Robert David painting the Test Module at SAM, Biosphere 2 Angus Gluck hanging disconnects at SAM, Biosphere 2

By |2021-05-13T07:04:49+00:00April 30th, 2021|Categories: Visitors to SAM|0 Comments

SAM Construction – Full Steam Ahead!

Sunset over Biosphere 2

This week brought welcomed, cooler temperature, rain, and hail. The desert was alive again after a much needed storm to break the dry spell. And with that invocation of precipitation came a highly productive few days, the start of our last, long dash to the finish line in May, and first pressure tests.

Trent and Kai removed the steel frame of the original data collection terminal and kiosk. From 1987-1989 this structure served as a station for monitoring, collecting, and displaying real-time data feeds from the analog sensors in the Test Module. Data feeds were brought from within the sealed Test Module to the kiosk through flex conduit, a junction box, and PVC pipe to the kiosk, with pressure fittings and silicone rubber used to maintain air-tight fittings.

Now, with most sensors transmitting via a digital communication medium, a single USB, Ethernet, or wireless feed can route all the data generated by the Test Module. As such, the entire kiosk will be replaced by a single, simple podium where a SAM manager, visiting researcher, or tourist engaged in a presentation can view data via a laptop.

While a dozen PVC conduits were terminated, filled with expansion foam, and buried in concrete, two conduits are retained: one for electrical power, the other for Ethernet and USB. Why? A hard line provides IT support on the outside of the habitat to provide direct support and potential firmware upgrades for equipment that misbehaving. While not desired and certainly not engaged regularly, this direct support does not require a break in the seal and simulation.

At the same time, Kai and Trent were eager to remove the last of the old, long-since abandoned and very much displeasing pipes and junction box from the space between the exterior and interior doors. The steel floor was cut free, pipes cut low, and concrete poured for a new, clean, elegant entrance. Next, the walls of this small space will be sanded, primed, and painted with the installation of the new, primary electrical panel.

Thank you Tim and Terry for helping with a six bag concrete mix, pour, and finish!

By |2021-04-30T07:21:59+00:00April 27th, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

SAM Construction – Catching the sunlight on Mars

Greg and Tristen Spencer applying window tint to SAM at Biosphere 2

In March we selected a window tint to apply to the lower windows in order to reduce the visible light transmission to that of ambient light on Mars. Owner of Tucson based AGTP Window Films Greg Spencer and his son Tristen arrived at 9:30 am Tuesday morning and within minutes were engaged in prepping, cleaning, and applying large sheets of the window film. As with hanging dry wall, this is one of those tasks that the experts make look easy. Yet, if ever you have tried to do it yourself, you quickly learn the real challenges.

Greg and Tristen pealed, soaked, and placed thirteen sheets of window film, then used a squeegee to remove all air bubbles before the adhesive set and dried. The end result is simple beautiful. Not only did we achieve the desired, reduced ambient interior light, but these thirty year old windows now appear brand new. The film selected provides a reduction of in light with a minimal reflection such that when research team members are working inside of the SAM greenhouse at night they can yet enjoy the Moon and starlight outside.

Greg and Tristen Spencer applying window tint to SAM at Biosphere 2 Greg and Tristen Spencer applying window tint to SAM at Biosphere 2

Greg Spencer applying window tint to SAM at Biosphere 2 WIthout and with window tint, SAM at Biopshere 2

By |2021-04-30T06:36:49+00:00April 20th, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Analog Astronaut Conference 2021

This coming Saturday, May 1 is the first-ever Analog Astronaut Conference. This first-of-its-kind forum is assembled in part by Dr. Sian Proctor, a member of the Inspiration 4 all-civilian mission to space.

The conference agenda is as follows:
09:00 – 09:55 EDT Keynote Astronaut Dr. Scott Parazynski
10:00 – 10:55 EDT Analog Astronaut Research Panel
11:00 – 11:30 EDT Keynote Dr. Ulyana Horodyskyj
11:30 – 12:00 EDT Break
12:00 – 12:55 EDT Space Training Programs Panel
13:00 – 13:55 EDT Analog Habitats Panel
14:00 – 14:30 EDT Keynote Dr. Sian Proctor
14:30 – 15:00 EDT Break
15:00 – 15:55 EDT Diversity and Inclusion in Analogs Panel
16:00 – 16:55 EDT Analog Astronaut Science Communication and the Arts

SAM Director Kai Staats will be participating in the Analog Habitats Panel.

Watch live at VIMEO
Password: AACon2021!

We hope to see you there!

By |2021-05-01T13:22:36+00:00April 16th, 2021|Categories: In the news|0 Comments

SAM Construction – Window Swap

Window swap at SAM, Biosphere 2 Window swap at SAM, Biosphere 2 Window swap at SAM, Biosphere 2 Window swap at SAM, Biosphere 2

On the west side of the Test Module two of the four windows were cracked. Luckily, we are going to remove two when the adjacent shipping container is attached to form the workshop and corridor to the crew living quarters. In preparation for application of the window tint, we had to swap the windows such that the two good windows were relocated to the north and the two broken windows temporarily placed in the south positions.

Trent, Tim and Terry, and student volunteer Michael Blum tackled this strenuous process with expertise, using professional suction cups and a lot of muscle (each panel weighs more than 250 lbs).

By |2021-04-23T06:11:44+00:00April 14th, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

SAM Construction – Scaffolding and Silicone

Working 'till sunset at SAM, Biosphere 2

Scaffolding for the Test Module at SAM, Biosphere 2 With the rather dismal failure of the cherry picker to provide an agile platform for our work on the exterior of the Test Module, we rented scaffolding instead. While a bit tricky to transport two double-stack sections on a 4×8 trailer, we managed and in fact prospered. By the end of the third day, Trent and I (Kai) could tear down and reassemble the entire rig in just under an hour!

Silicone elastomeric on the Test Module at SAM, Biosphere 2 We applied two coats of a 100% silicone elastomeric to the top two rows of glass panels and the structure between. As with the top of the Test Module, this highly reflective coating helps us more closely approximate a habitat on Mars by rejecting the unwanted radiation, reducing the visible light and thermal gain, and for our terrestrial application, drastically reducing the thermal load.

With each side of the TM, West, South, East, and then North we found the interior temperature reducing, the glare diminished, and quite unexpectedly, a sense of improved space. Where we feared the elegant space frame and all-glass structure might lose its futuristic style, instead it gained comfort, now more a habitat than an industrial structure.

Silicone elastomeric on the Test Module at SAM, Biosphere 2 Scaffolding for the Test Module at SAM, Biosphere 2

By |2021-04-23T16:07:21+00:00April 8th, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

SAM Construction – Water from Steel

Water from steel, SAM at Biopshere 2 Water from steel, SAM at Biopshere 2

Sometimes, you find water in the most peculiar places.

As we moved to paint the interior of SAM we became more acutely aware of both the location and density of the rust. Two full weeks after we last washed the interior of the Test Module, ceiling to floor, there was still rust colored water seeping from certain places. In fact, there is a fairly significant pattern—the heaviest rust was always on the left-hand side of the four corner support beams. How could that be possible?

Upon further inspection, we discovered that the mounting plates for the space frame each had four holes, but no more than two of them, often just one were filled with a bolt. The others were simple openings into the massive, horizontal steel beams. We believe that over the years the humidity condensed on the inside of the windows, rolled down onto the “V” shaped window sills, pooled and ran onto and then into the support beams by means of the mounting plate holes. There it sat, unable to further explore … until the water, oxygen, and iron worked their magic to turn much of the lower section of the Test Module to the color of Mars.

To test this theory we drilled a 1/4″ hole at the end of each beam. Sure enough, the water poured right out and into the waiting bucket. Dry at last, we are preparing to prime and paint.

By |2021-04-23T16:07:59+00:00April 7th, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments