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So far kai has created 110 blog entries.

Cutting a new door

Luna Powell removes rivots at SAM, Biosphere 2

Kai and Colleen cut a doorway from the crew quarters into the workshop at SAM, Biosphere 2 Kai and Colleen cut a doorway from the crew quarters into the workshop at SAM, Biosphere 2 Kai and Colleen cut a doorway from the crew quarters into the workshop at SAM, Biosphere 2 Kai and Colleen cut a doorway from the crew quarters into the workshop at SAM, Biosphere 2

Between the Crew Quarters (40′ shipping container) and Workshop (20′ shipping container) there will be a bridge. It will not offer a pressure door, although we may add a standard interior door for the sake of noise mitigation from the Workshop into the Crew Quarters. We have given this passage a good deal of consideration, with concern for the width and height being such that the average crew member does not have to mind his or her head or shoulders when moving tools or supplies, yet the passage is not so large that it cannot be closed. The step-up height is identical to that into the airlock, so the crew will be accustomed to the motion. The bridge must hold a hermetic seal, be insulated (as with the rest of the living space), and offer a stable, non-slip floor plate.

Colleen removes a foam panel from SAM at Biosphere 2 The first effort was to remove a 34″ wide by 72″ tall door way. Kai applied the cutting wheel while Colleen and our new volunteer Luna Powell took turns with the angle grinder to remove the rivets. We then peeled the exterior aluminum and interior stainless steel skins from the foam, used a reciprocating saber (“saws-all”) to complete the cut across the full depth, and pushed the foam panel out of the wall space.

By |2022-03-22T14:05:35+00:00March 8th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Through the roof!

Kai Staats removing an old panel from the Mars yard roof at SAM, Biosphere 2

While the Biosphere 2 was being built, a series of on-campus greenhouse structures, quarantine facilities, and insect farms were used to harbor the plants and animals collected from around the world. While in operation, some of these structures served as a botanical garden, a place for visitors to experience something similar to the Biosphere without being sealed inside. Last summer we removed five greenhouse structures to make way for the SAM outdoor Mars yard. Between this space and the Test Module remains a 6400 square foot greenhouse (that has seen better days). It is our intent to renovate this building, to become the SAM indoor Mars yard and terrain park. But first, we must replace the dilapidated plastic panels with a new, corrugated steel roof. This will serve the purpose of both protecting the Mars yard from the weather and minimizing the direct light and reducing the temperature in the warmer months.

This week saw Terry, Kai and Colleen engrossed from sunrise to sunset high above the concrete in a 45 foot cherry picker (a.k.a. “snorkel” or lift). While exciting to be 7-10 meters up, suspended on an incredibly powerful and precise articulated arm with six degrees of movement, it was an five exhausting days. The fumes of the diesel electric generator (which drives the hydraulic pump), the constant hum of the combustion engine and unceasing BEEP! with every motion of the vehicle up, down, left or right was tiring. The body’s adjustment to the constant motion of the bucket, as though standing on the deck of a sailing ship was enough to invoke a sense of unsteady legs and uneasy sleep when back on terra firma, as though returning from an ocean voyage and weeks at sea.

The panels were most often brittle and fractured, yet they remained resistant to this final effort to bring them down to a final resting place. With full body harnesses and tethers, helmets and gloves we pushed, punched, hammered, and sawed our way from one end of the greenhouse to the other a half dozen times to reach every corner. For Monday and half of Tuesday we moved along the outside north and south edges, reaching in to remove several rows of self-tapping screws from the plastic, aluminum, and steel interface. Wednesday through Friday we carefully navigated the lift through the interior of the building, ever so slowly rising, twisting, reaching through small corridors in the overhead frame, cables, and supports until the unnecessary debris and structure could be cut free.

Driving the lift became second-nature. Driving the wheels from nearly full extension was a testament to the design quality of the Genie.

By |2022-03-11T06:07:03+00:00March 4th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Sometimes it just takes …

Fridge removal from the 40 footer at SAM, Biosphere 2

There are those projects that present a very real challenge. Shape, mass, and position fight with gravity, and even as the weakest of the forces, gravity always wins. A dozen solutions exist, yet none are straight forward. With each iteration, the solution gives birth to a problem only more complex.

Fridge removal from the 40 footer at SAM, Biosphere 2

Then one person says, “I know how to get this done. I’ll be right back.” The rest of the team members shuffle their feet, continuing to discuss alternatives. What, exactly, is he going to do? Best guesses are made, shoulders shrug, and we wait.

Fridge removal from the 40 footer at SAM, Biosphere 2

The plan is laid down. Again, we walk through the concept from start to finish. One by one, each team member contributes. It appears no one will get squished, which is good. Ideas are bounced, voices heard, and improvements are made. Confidence increases, even if some doubts remain.

Fridge removal from the 40 footer at SAM, Biosphere 2

The physical implementation of the plan is invoked. A tailgate lift is placed to take the weight. Tow straps are secured. Ropes are made to function as make-shift block-n-tackle for a 2:1 increase in force; looped, tested, and tied off. Everyone is ready, ready for the plan … and if the plan doesn’t go as planned.

Fridge removal from the 40 footer at SAM, Biosphere 2

A visiting professor lends a hand at a most opportune time, with borrowed gloves and a can-do smile. In this moment the adventure in applied physics outweighs the concerns for things going wrong. We narrow the communication to specifics, gas pedal is engaged, and the massive cooling assembly at the end of the 40′ container is released from its frame.

Fridge removal from the 40 footer at SAM, Biosphere 2

It works! Sighs of relief are audible, accompanied by nodding, and laughing, recounting the effort as though a battle had been won. Gratitude for the bold approach is shared and a conclusion expressed, “Well, sometimes, you gotta just go for it.”

By |2022-03-09T16:52:34+00:00March 1st, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

The airlock is installed!

Airlock to SAM at Biosphere 2

Following a year of imagination, three weeks preparation, and a beautiful snowstorm the night before, Steve, Kevin, Tim, Terry, Amin, Colleen and Kai were successful in moving the airlock from the basement of Biosphere 2 to the new concrete pads, and then securing it to the side of the future crew quarters at SAM.

As noted in prior posts (Preparation, Concrete, and Pen & Pad), this was a significant engineering effort as we worked to find a way to merge a 30 year old, steel airlock chamber with the exterior aluminum wall of a new shipping container. While the weight of the airlock is held entirely by the new concrete pedestals, we had to bring the interior frame of the airlock box into an airtight interface to the exterior wall of the shipping container. As they are dissimilar materials (steel, aluminum) welding was not an option. Furthermore, we discovered that the silicon-rubber seal held between the airlock and the bulkhead wall in the basement of Biosphere 2 was yet pliable and fully functional. We left it in place, lightly cleaning the exposed face.

With careful placement by Tim at the wheel of the rented forklift, the 3000+ lbs airlock was moved a quarter mile from Biosphere 2 to SAM, and then to within 1/16″ of our desired location, pressed against the exterior wall of the container such that the silicone-rubber was touching at the bottom and lower sides. However, we discovered that the wall of the container was not fully vertical, slanting in 1/4″ over the total 9 foot rise. Furthermore, the airlock container was not square, one of the four corners was not touching the perfectly level concrete pedestals. We cut aluminum shims to make certain all four corners are equally load bearing, and to tilt the unit backward just a bit, enabling the silicone-rubber joint to be evenly pressing against the exterior wall of the container.

Kai drilled nineteen holes through the 3.5″ assembly of aluminum skin, insulation, stainless steel interior, and the newly fabricated 1/4″ steel plate which holds the frame for the interior pressure door. Using the original bolt holes and pattern of the airlock itself, nineteen 5″ bolts work to compress the silicone-rubber seal between the shipping container and airlock frame. Next, we will shave any exposed silicone-rubber to be level with the metal edge, and then cover with the Dow-Corning 795 silicone product that has proved itself over 30 years at the Biosphere 2.

As with any project in which old and new parts are assembled, there will be surprises. But in the end, we were able to make it work perfectly.

By |2022-03-03T05:45:32+00:00February 24th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Preparation for the airlock installation

John Z and Colleen cleaning the airlock pressure plate at SAM, Biosphere 2 Kai painting the airlock pressure plate at SAM, Biosphere 2

Kai cutting the airlock entry at SAM, Biosphere 2 Amin grinding the heads off rivots at SAM, Biosphere 2

The UA metal shop completed the custom pressure plate based upon our design. Now we learn if our careful measurement, sketches, and computer layout were accurate. If designed correctly, this steel insert will distribute the load of the airlock attachment across the otherwise relatively fragile foam-filled sheet aluminum and corrugated steel walls of the insulated shipping container. With 19 five inch bolts across the top, left and right of the frame, we anticipate a rigid interface to hold the interior pressure door of the crew quarters airlock and primary entrance to SAM.

Colleen and John Z. cleaned the residual oil from the surface. Kai follows with a coat of a rust inhibiting primer. Amin and Kai conduct the final cuts and grinding to prepare for removal of the insulated wall unit and installation fo the airlock. Will it all come together? Will everything line up just right?

This particular story began with Pen & Pad, continued in Concrete, and concludes with Airlock Install.

By |2022-02-28T15:19:46+00:00February 22nd, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Clearing a new path to SAM

Colleen, John Z. removing window scaffolding at SAM, Biosphere 2

With the concrete footings in place to hold the airlock it is no longer possible to drive from the main road into the large greenhouse / soon to be Mars yard. Therefore we endeavor to clear an old semi-paved path on the south side of the greenhouse structure to the concrete slab south of the Test Module lung. This space is, in theory, large enough for a concrete truck to enter, and for a cherry picker to turn about.

The effort was initiated in December with the removal of a few trees and brush, and continued with the total clearing of the landscape, and subsequent disassembly of the scaffolding and machinery used to open and close two rows of greenhouse shutters. The two south side rows are now screwed shut so as to not buffet in the wind. The upper of the two rows on the north is also removed and secured. We cut the steel poles down to retain only the lower row of articulating louvers such that we can yet invoke a cooling draft in the near-future Mars yard, when coupled with the electric fans that remain in the overhead structure.

The end effect is a drastic improvement in aesthetics, form, and function.

This week we welcome our new volunteers John Zelenky and Admin Mody! John is a former high school physics instructor and collegiate football player who’s keen eye for detail, understanding of applied force, and raw strength are a welcomed measure at SAM! John will be with us on a regular basis, Tuesday and Thursday mornings. Amin will be at SAM for a week, en route from Portland Oregon and the Pacific Spaceflight group to a new job in Houston, Texas. Amin holds a Masters degree in Bioastronautics from the University of Colorado, Boulder. em>Welcome!

By |2022-07-11T23:45:29+00:00February 17th, 2022|Categories: Construction, Visitors to SAM|0 Comments

Airlock concrete footings prep and pour

Preparing for the airlock footing pour at SAM, Biosphere 2

With the 40 foot shipping container in place, and the airlock released from the Biosphere 2 basement bulkhead wall, we’re ready to attach the airlock to the exterior of the crew quarters as the primary entry and exit of the SAM habitat structure. As noted in a prior post, very careful planning has gone into the alignment of this pressure vessel extension such that it is structurally sound, hermetically sealed, and designed for a path of least obstruction from the Mars yard through the crew living space and workshop into the Test Module.

Kai and Colleen used plumb lines, triangulation geometry, and a level to assure the proper placement of the concrete forms. The end product is less than an eighth of an inch deviation in any direction over a 10 foot run. Thank you Terry for your guidance in the rebar placement, box ties, and assistance with the pour.

This particular story began with Pen & Pad, continues with Preparation, and concludes with Airlock Install.

By |2022-02-28T15:16:19+00:00February 4th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Arizona Space Business Roundtable at Biosphere 2 and SAM

Arizona Space Business Roundtable

The Arizona Space Business Roundtable held its monthly meeting at the Biosphere 2! The evening started with a walking tour of SAM (Space Analog for the Moon and Mars) at 4:00 pm followed by the Roundtable presentation and discussion at 5:30.

In summary, Stephen Flemming writes, “We had a great turnout at Biosphere 2 last night… about 40 people made the drive up from Tucson or down from Phoenix! We ran until 7:30 pm, so I know a lot of people didn’t get home until a lot later than usual. Thanks for taking the time!

We were welcomed by John Adams, Deputy Director of Biosphere 2, then Kai Staats led a walk-through of the SAM facility which is being built as a Space Analog for the Moon and Mars. You can learn about SAM at samb2.space/.

Biosphere 2 set a new standard for the Arizona Space Business Roundtable by providing pizza, which we enjoyed before a pair of lectures by Kai and Trent and a lively Q&A session. The audience enjoyed learning about the plans for SAM and the opportunities it creates for academic, industry, startup, and government activities. It’s an amazing resource available to the Arizona space exploration community. We should take advantage of it!

SAM needs volunteers to help with construction and, like everything else, needs money. If you have an interest in contributing time, treasure, or attention, please contact Kai via the SAM contact form.

Arizona Space Business Roundtable at Biosphere 2 and SAM, photo by Stephen Flemming Arizona Space Business Roundtable at Biosphere 2 and SAM, photo by Stephen Flemming Arizona Space Business Roundtable at Biosphere 2 and SAM; quote by Trent Tresch

By |2022-02-18T05:23:01+00:00February 1st, 2022|Categories: Visitors to SAM|0 Comments

A tape measure, pen and note pad

Sketch of the original Test Module window seal, SAM at Biosphere 2

In a conference call with a potential corporate partner we had completed introductions and moved into discussion of how we might work together, at SAM, when one of the team members asked, “What it’s like, a day at SAM?” and “Do you have plans and drawings, or do you just, well, go for it?”

I laughed, for the answer is both. Given that most of our effort in 2021 was refurbishing a thirty year old sealed structure (which did not include drawings or instructions) we reverse engineered as much as engineered, learning how the Test Module worked as we went.

Side of crew quarters at SAM, Biosphere 2 Now that we have transitioned into new construction we are engaged in proper design and engineering, planning several steps ahead. As we fabricate the workshop-corridor and Crew Quarters from 20′ and 40′ shipping containers respectively, much of our time was this week spent in careful measurement of the containers in order to build both hand-drawn and computer models.

When I look back to my varied, formal education I can honestly say that my 8th grade drafting class was one of the most important ever taken. As with geometry, drafting is a language for precise communication. With a degree in Industrial Design I had once held advanced skills in rapid, 3D rendering by hand, though I admit to having not touched my pastels for two decades, and my markers were long ago dry and discarded. Yes, simple pen and paper ideation continues to beat a computer interface for immediate results, the ability to share an idea with someone standing right there, next to you, and provide foundation for computer models and fabrication of specific components.

Airlock for SAM, basement of Biosphere 2 Colleen and I spent this week in careful, repeated measurement, design, and layout for the means by which we will attach an airlock (currently located in the basement of Biosphere 2) to the outside wall of the 40 foot shipping container. There are many challenges in doing this as the walls of shipping containers are not designed to carry a load, nor are they designed to sustain lateral compression. It is therefore imperative that the 5,000+ lbs airlock be supported on its own set of concrete pads, yet bound tight enough to the sheet aluminum exterior of the shipping container to extend the pressure vessel of the original Test Module.

In the same breath, we are conducting preliminary design of the interior, making certain the hatches and pressure doors are aligned for easy transition from the airlock into the 40′, the 20′, and the Test Module in a relatively straight line, with trip hazards limited and the space to either side of the hatches and pressure doors unrestricted by framing.

We have a long way to go, but it feels great to be making this kind of progress.–Kai

This particular story is continued in Concrete, Preparation, and Airlock Install.

By |2022-02-28T15:17:44+00:00January 28th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Installing the 20′ container floor

Installing the floor in the 20' shipping container at SAM, Biosphere 2

Where in a home remodel you might make decisions based on aesthetics, energy efficiency, historic context, quality, an HOA, or price, in building a Mars habitat analog you are asking a different set of questions:

  • What will maintain a hermetic seal?
  • What will not invoke condensation given the temperature extremes in the high desert winters of southern Arizona?
  • Does this immediately give off heavy VOCs? Will it subside over time? Stabilize completely?
  • How will we maintain the pressure vessel when connecting these two structures?
  • Given that our funds are limited, what off-the-shelf products will get us as close as possible to what might actually be used in a real, other-world habitat?
  • What would NASA say to this selection of construction material, sealant, or paint?
  • What will hold up to the variety of visiting teams?

While the 40 foot shipping container came to us fully insulated (refrigerated) and essentially sealed (save a few openings at the front which will be easy to fill), we searched for more than three months to locate an insulated 20 foot container, to no avail. The 40 foot unit will be the living space for the crew while the 20 foot will serve as a corridor from the airlock to the crew quarters and Test Module. To facilitate a reduced thermal load and associated electrical consumption (with our intent to eventually go off-grid), we are manually insulating the 20 foot container, from the floor to walls to ceiling.

Starting from the ground up, we are designing a system by which the floor is insulated using standard building materials (plywood, foam board, adhesives) that will remain outside (below) the hermetic seal such that the inhabitants will not be breathing the space that contains the resins and glues associated with these products.

Our first (bottom) layer is a tight steel mesh to keep the rodents from chewing their way in (we hope that pack rats do not yet inhabit Mars). Then a layer of plywood to provide support for the insulating foam board, the foam board, and then another layer of plywood to protect the foam from the top and to provide a solid surface for the fifth and final layer—sheets of carbon steel.

By |2022-01-25T05:19:36+00:00January 20th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments