Postcards from Mars

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The (brighter) light at the end of the tunnel

Yes, the title of this essay is an often used phrase, but one for which we seldom tire—especially when we have a tunnel, and with the final coat of paint the light really is brighter!. We are entering 2023 with a tremendous sense of accomplishment and forward momentum until we receive our first crew March 4. For the hundreds and hundreds of tasks we accomplished in 2022, many of which were monumental, multi-week undertakings, what remains is truly an exercise in a half dozen well defined projects until all systems are functional.

Every Sunday evening SAM project lead Kai Staats delivers an email with the list of items accomplished, those that remain, and an overview of the direction we are taking, where to focus our effort. The top five foci for December into January remain:

  1. Sealing SAM, with consecutive pressure tests.
  2. Electricity in the 20 and 40 containers, then finish in the TM.
  3. Running water, sink, shower, and toilet.
  4. Build-out crew kitchen, shared space, and sleeping quarters.
  5. Build-out the sensor array, start collecting data.

And a summary of most (not all) of the tasks completed in the past 45 days:

Test Module
– Install and seal 2 replacement windows – DONE
– Sand TM-to-lung tunnel – DONE
– Prime TM-to-lung tunnel – DONE
– 2x coats white enamel paint TM-to-lung tunnel – DONE

Workshop (20′ container)
– Complete roof panels – DONE
– Install all wall panels – DONE
– Poor concrete and mount workshop mini-split A/C condenser – DONE
– Install furring strips at bridge-end – DONE
– Fill voids with 1/2″ insulation panels, spray foam edges – DONE
– Install FRP at bridge-end – DONE
– Mount workshop electric power panel – DONE
– Mount electric power mounting rails – DONE

Crew Quarters (40′ container)
– Complete fabrication of the 40′ pressure door – DONE
– Clean, prime in/outside of 40′ pressure door interface – DONE
– Remove former name and logo from both sides of 40′ – DONE
– Prime bare metal areas of exterior – DONE
– 2x coats white enamel on exterior top/bottom trim, faces – DONE
– Seal floor edge at south end of 40′ – DONE
– Install insulation at door-end – DONE
– Install furring strips at door-end – DONE
– Fill voids with 3/4″ insulation panels, spray foam edges – DONE
– Install RFP at door-end – DONE
– Install FRP in the bathroom – DONE
– Mount RV wastewater holding tank – DONE
– Install toilet and drain – DONE
– Continue to pressure test, patch and seal …

We now move into the second half of January focused on electricity, plumbing, food prep, shower and toilet, and sleeping pods. Almost there!

By |2023-01-16T01:12:43+00:00January 16th, 2023|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Wrapping up construction of SAM in 2022

Luna, Sean, Ezio, Kai at the final day of construction of SAM in 2022.

Sean scraping and sanding the tunnel between the Test Module and lung at SAM, Biosphere 2 As one who has managed teams for more than thirty years, in computer software development, business, and construction, I have come to recognize a number of things about myself in that leadership role: I work best with a dozen or fewer individuals; I am often the most difficult person on my team while setting an example for how to work through difficult times; I am thrilled when my team members arrive to solutions that surpass my own, when someone learns a new skill or accomplishes something for which we are proud.

John Z. laying the second row of cork flooring at SAM, Biosphere 2 It doesn’t really matter to me what we are doing together—landscaping, metal work, electrical wiring or plumbing, computer software, robotics, or combining them all to build a Mars habitat—as long as we are engaged in a manner that celebrates who we are as individuals and how we perform as a team. It’s about finding a rhythm, a dynamic, flexible flow even when the music is always changing.

Luna snapping a chalk line at SAM, Biosphere 2 In the fall of 2020 Trent and I estimated that SAM could be operational in six months with a half dozen volunteers, then grow over time. With the close of January 2023 we will complete our second year of construction with some thirty volunteers and contracted team members. SAM has grown, the physical habitat itself now part of the experiment. The end result will be a higher fidelity facility than we had originally envisioned, with substantial opportunity to grow.

Nathan Schmit replacing more than 170 rivets in the future crew quarters of SAM at Biosphere 2 SAM is a work of passion and a labor of love. It is the kind of project that people will look back to and say, “I was a part of SAM, I was there at the beginning.” We’re doing something wonderfully unique while echoing the work of the original Biospherians, our hands directly involved in metal, glass, and paint. I would not build SAM any other way for no amount of funding can replace the experience we have gained, and the sense of accomplishment each team member carries with them.

When visiting research teams engage SAM we hope they will carry findings, ideas, and personal experience to help shape a better world here, today, as we prepare to become interplanetary. —Kai Staats, Director of Research of SAM at Biosphere 2

By |2022-12-24T17:20:37+00:00December 21st, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

SIMOC-SAM Team Summit

Members of the SAM development team at Biosphere 2

(left to right) Anastasia Stepanova, Trent Tresch, Bindhu Oommen, Luna Powell, Atila Meszaros, Sean Gellenbeck, Kai Staats, and Colleen Cooley with Dr. Gene Giacomelli via the magic box. Jas Purewal of the Analog Astronaut Conference, Dr. Cameron Smith of Pacific Spaceflight, and Meridith Greythorne of the SIMOC team attended remotely.

Members of both the SIMOC and SAM teams met for a three days summit to design and develop the SAM visiting team experience. On Thursday, December 15 co-founder of CHaSE, the Center for Human Space Exploration at the Biosphere 2 Trent Tresch lead team members through the use of pressure suits and a crash course in the history of human space travel.

On Friday, December 16 the team met in the University of Arizona Center for Innovation (UACI) room at Biosphere 2 to develop a core philosophy around how visiting teams will be received and what they will take away from their experience at SAM. This effort was given foundation in an opening “safe space” visualization and discussion lead by Director of Research for SAM Kai Staats, followed by open discussion, ideation, and development of critical components of the SAM experience. Just after lunch the entire team participated in a pressure test of SAM, the first following the completion of the third pressure door by Nathan Schmit that very morning. Ezio Melotti, lead developer of SIMOC gave a demonstration of the latest version of SIMOC Live with real-time carbon dioxide, oxygen, temperature, relative humidity, and VOCs sensors, both Vernier and Adafruit products.

On Saturday, December 17 the team met for a final five hours to discuss the logistics for receiving SAM research teams to the Biosphere 2: training in conflict resolution, use of the SAM facilities, communication protocol and mission control, time in SAM, exit and debrief. The summit was captured in hand written notes and transcribed audio, and will be encoded into a comprehensive user guide for both the SAM team and visitors to this unique research facility in early 2023.

Notes and sketches were principally captured on a single roll of construction paper that stretched the length of the conference table, with pens, markers, and Crayons employed to express thoughts and capture ideas.

By |2022-12-23T04:25:53+00:00December 18th, 2022|Categories: Research & Development|0 Comments

Working in serial

Sean Gellenbeck sanding the tunnel from the Test Module to the lung.

We often speak of multitasking as a measure of performance or value in a fast paced society, yet the quality of work of any one individual is readily correlated to focus on a single, given task. In our work at SAM we do move through a half dozen projects in a single day. However, with an unwritten agreement to keep cell phone interruptions to a minimum, regular check-ins to revise the chalk board task list and tools in hand, we are a dynamic team, each of us able to transition from landscaping to metal fabrication, from concrete mixing to painting without hesitation. And in each task, that is our core focus from start to completion.

This past few weeks has seen our team struggle to get the 40 foot shipping container air tight, with far more leaks than anticipated. A few shipments and contracted component builds have seen delays too. We have taken advantage of the delays in one arena to make significant strides in others, tasks that might have otherwise been put off until March or April.

Sanding, priming, and painting much of the exterior of the two shipping containers and airlock, Test Module to workshop interior bridge, workshop to crew quarters bridge, and workshop floor are now complete. The upper lung pan and lower lung wall are primed. Luna has planted a “soup mix” in the experimental soil grow beds while John Z., Luna, and Bindhu were successful in pouring a concrete footing for the workshop mini-split condenser. Sean tackled the arduous paint scraping in the lung tunnel and Ezio came out from his programming lair to assist with landscaping and painting, his tenacity for detail welcomed. Kai, as usual, shuffled between all projects in order to keep the team focused and moving forward, providing sharp tools, ample supplies, and (mostly) appreciated guidance while trying to get back to the one thing he promised himself he’d get done that day.

By |2022-12-23T04:31:05+00:00December 16th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Installing the third pressure door

Nathan Schmit sands the third pressure door at SAM, Biosphere 2

As shared in a prior post, Kai Staats and Nathan Schmit were successful in cutting free one of the original pressure doors from the basement of Biosphere 2. This door had not been used for some twenty years and is a perfect fit for SAM, where it will serve as an emergency exit from the Crew Quarters space and provide a small but vital natural lighting portal.

It was the original intent to retain nearly the full steel plate into which the door was mounted such that it would fit neatly into the opening of the 40 foot shipping container without additional framing. However, upon inspection prior to cutting, Nathan and Kai discovered that that heavy 1/8″ thick sheet was heavily warped and would have been very difficult to weld without a great deal of bending and fill. Therefore a small frame was cut around the door. While the total mass was reduced to ~150kg (330lbs), some rigging and planning was required to safely maneuver the door into position in its new frame.

As with the end of the 20 foot container, the original doors were removed and 1″x3″ steel tubing was installed as frame and studs. The tubing is bolted to the thick steel frame of the shipping container, with temporary brackets holding the studs until welded. Nathan welded the studs to the frame, then the door, and finally the 12g sheet metal which forms an air-tight seem around the entire frame and to the door.

During the SIMOC-SAM Team Summit the first full SAM pressure test was conducted with the 40 foot container end in place. While the welds themselves held strong, leaks between the layers of the original floor were detected and then mitigated over the subsequent three days, before the holiday break.

By |2022-12-21T03:48:45+00:00December 15th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Wall panels for the SAM Workshop

Kai Staats using a reciprocating saw to cut a wall panel for the SAM Workshop at Biosphere 2.

Luna snapping a chalk line at SAM, Biosphere 2 The SAM Workshop will house a power panel, mini-split heating and cooling, 3D printer, sewing machine, and repair bench with a variety of tools for in-hab repair and fabrication. This room has a five layer sealed floor topped with steel sheets and Insofast brand, closed-cell foam panels with built-in plastic studs. On these panels we have added fiberglass reinforced panels (FRP) to protect the insulation, provide a strong structure on which to mount electrical conduit, shelving, and lights; and provide a readily cleanable surface.

By |2022-12-19T07:09:51+00:00December 7th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

The third pressure door

Nathan Schmit, Kai Staats salvaging an original pressure door from Biosphere 2 for SAM.

The south end of the 40′ shipping container, soon to be completed as the crew quarters at SAM, will include an emergency exit for visiting crew. We are proud to have been gifted yet another pressure door assembly from the original Biosphere 2. Kai and SAM team member Nathan cut and with the help of Tim move the mass from the ‘technosphere’ to SAM. Nathan spent the better part of a day preparing the door frame for welding. On Tuesday, December 13 it will be attached to the new steel stud wall, and soon thereafter put into function for the first time in some twenty years.

Nathan Schmit, Kai Staats salvaging an original pressure door from Biosphere 2 for SAM. Nathan Schmit, Kai Staats salvaging an original pressure door from Biosphere 2 for SAM.

By |2022-12-19T07:04:43+00:00November 29th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Patch, rattle, and roll

Nathan Schmit replacing more than 170 rivets in the future crew quarters of SAM at Biosphere 2

Patching the 40 foot shipping container has proved to be significant challenge, setting us back two weeks from our intended schedule. Yet, each day we make progress toward a functional pressure vessel, each test demonstrating that our efforts are worth while—the audible space grows more quiet and the rise in pressure more rapid.

In parallel Luna and Kai applied paint to the workshop floor, bridges, and exterior roof of the airlock while Ezio (visiting from Italy) and Grant (visiting from Vietnam) worked on SIMOC Live, a new version of the Mars habitat simulator that will function as the live data capture system for SAM, collecting data in real-time from dozens of in-hab sensors.

By |2022-12-23T04:38:28+00:00November 23rd, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Uplift Aerospace, AstroAccess at CHaSE

Uplift Aerospace, Astro Access complete first class at the Center for Human Space Exploration (CHaSE) at Biosphere 2

Uplift Aerospace’s Space+5 team has completed the inaugural spaceflight training program at the Center for Human Space Exploration (CHaSE), University of Arizona Biosphere 2 alongside three ambassadors from AstroAccess, and the humanoid robot Bina48 from Terasem Movement Foundation. The mission for this historic training program is to increase access, diversity, and inclusion in human space exploration.

The Space+5 is a five person spaceflight training class within Uplift Aerospace’s new community-led space program that embraces blockchain technology as a means to advance access to space with activations and research focused on key mission pillars: Art, Science, and Philanthropy. The Space+5 class is composed of Ruben Salinas who has been contracted by Uplift Aerospace for an upcoming suborbital space flight, Sydney Hamilton, Mike Mongo, Trent Tresch, and Joan Melendez-Misner.

The November 17-20 curriculum and training at Biosphere 2 and the University of Arizona recreation center was in collaboration with AstroAccess to develop ongoing programs and resources for future astronauts with disabilities. The training program was taught by Space+5 astronaut candidate and CHaSE founding Director Trent Tresch, Space+5 astronaut ambassador and mentor, Dr. Sian Proctor, executive director of the University of Arizona’s APEX aerospace medicine fellowship Dr. Mira Milas, with assistance and support by CHaSE co-founder Kai Staats, UA PhD student Atila Meszaros, and Paragon SDC aerospace engineer Baily Burns, and Mason Robbins of the Saxavord Space Port, Scotland.

The AstroAccess ambassadors are Sheila Xu, Eric Shear, and Mary Kate Cooper. Sheila Xu is currently pursuing dual MPP and MBA degrees at Harvard University and the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. She is the first Deaf Asian female pilot and has interned at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Eric Shear is a graduate student at the University of Florida, where he is studying chemical engineering with the goal of working in the space industry on life support and in-situ resource utilization. Eric flew as part of the Deaf Crew on MAA1. Mary Cooper is a student pursuing a Masters of Science in Aeronautical & Astronautical Engineering at Stanford University, where she recently graduated with an undergraduate degree in Aerospace Engineering & Computer Science. Mary is a champion athlete and a below-the-knee amputee. Mary worked at SpaceX on the spaceflight training team to help prepare Polaris Dawn, NASA Crew-5 and Crew-6 for spaceflight.

The spaceflight training program included participation by humanoid robot Bina48 who was present for rount-table conversations and was represented in an emergency water egress training session at the UA pool.

By |2022-11-24T16:52:54+00:00November 22nd, 2022|Categories: In the news|0 Comments