Postcards from Mars

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It’s really, really hot

113F in the Test Module, SAM at Biosphere 2

Notice how completely casual Trenton and Natasha appear, despite the intense heat?! As it has been said many times, “It’s a dry heat” We soak our outer shirts with the hose every thirty minutes, enjoy the constant breeze in this high desert region, and drink a lot of water.

The air conditioning units will be installed in one week!

By |2021-06-22T06:30:36+00:00June 17th, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Biospherian Linda Leigh visits SAM

Kai Staats, Linda Leigh, Trenton Kenney, Douglas May at SAM, Biosphere 2

Today we were honored to receive Linda Leigh, one of the original eight Biospherians. Linda was responsible for coordinating the planning of B2’s land sections as well as collecting, storing, propagating and transferring more than 2,000 plant species for the original 1991-93 experiment. She is a resident of near-by Oracle where she continues her study of and intensive work with plants and food cultivars. She was featured in the 2020 documentary film “Spaceship Earth“. Linda conducted the longest stay in the Biosphere 2 prototype Test Module, sealed inside for three weeks. All of her air, water, food, and waste were recycled by the plant systems contained within. The fully refurbished Test Module is now cornerstone to SAM, the habitat analog being constructed at Biosphere 2.

Linda was joined by Douglas May, Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering, University of Arizona. Doug mentors the Engineering Capstone team projects each year, and was involved in the team that recently completed the Automated Pressure Regulation System for SAM. Trenton Kenney, volunteer at SAM for the month of June from the University of Minnesota and NASA intern is between Linda and Doug in the banner photo.

We enjoyed Linda’s stories about her time in the Test Module and are eager to learn more about her time in the Biosphere 2, her work as a plant ecology instructor, and continued work in community gardens and as a lecturer.

Welcome back Linda! We look forward to your next visit to SAM!

By |2021-06-24T04:52:16+00:00June 15th, 2021|Categories: Visitors to SAM|0 Comments

SAM Construction – Preservation for the next generation

A bit of overspray!

The Test Module was designed and built as a prototype for the Biosphere 2 in 1987. It was not likely conceived that 33 years later it would be repurposed, sealed up again as a hermetically sealed Mars habitat analog. While the greenhouse (controlled environment) structure itself seems to have held up quite well to the sun and rain of three decades, the lung suffered from a great deal of water collecting on top of the lung pan due to the upper shell of the lung not having been sealed.

The inner sheets of steel were only riveted to the underside of the visible steel ribs such that all precipitation quickly found its way inside, collecting in the bottom of the pan. A great deal of work has been applied to restore the pan, and the full exterior of the lung shell sanded (twice), washed, primed, and painted. The upper, triangular roof elements were coated in a 100% silicone elastomeric while the ribs on the side walls will be sealed with a silicone caulking.

This should inhibit the majority of continue corrosion and degradation over the coming years

Trent painting the lung shell at SAM, Biosphere 2 Kai painting the lung shell at SAM, Biosphere 2

By |2021-06-26T22:04:04+00:00June 10th, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Space Radio with Dr. Paul Sutter

Astrophysicist Dr. Paul Sutter interviews SAM Director Kai Staats from within the Biosphere 2!

“This week on Space Radio I had the opportunity to catch up with my good friend Kai Staats. Kai joined us from the grounds of the University of Arizona’s Biosphere 2 as we talked about his newest project, Space Analog for the Moon and Mars. Among other topics, we discussed the removal of perchlorates from the Martian soil and how Methane could potentially be used.” — Dr. Sutter

By |2021-06-22T06:23:06+00:00June 10th, 2021|Categories: Publications|0 Comments

Kai Staats Presents SIMOC and SAM to the Space Habitat Event

The Space Habitat Event is an international event dedicated to debate the operation of space analog stations and future Mars and Moon colonies / settlements / stations. The theme of this second edition is: “Sustainable Technologies for Future Space Habitats (Moon and Mars) and Analog Space Habitats”.

Director of SAM at Biosphere 2 Kai Staats provided an overview of SIMOC and SAM to the international audience.

By |2021-06-03T19:20:12+00:00June 3rd, 2021|Categories: Publications, Videos|0 Comments

SAM Construction – At the Close of 4 Months

Test Module at night, SAM at Biosphere 2

When Trent, Tim, Terry, John and I dove into the refurbish of the Biosphere 2 Test Module the last week of January, we were overwhelmed by the scope of what lay before us. The lists guiding our effort week to week grew as we discovered projects within projects, as only the hidden gems of a remodel can do.

Yet each day we felt accomplished. Broad, sweeping strokes of physics labor left visible imprints on the landscape of the SAM construction site. Removing the old heat exchanger, cutting up electrical conduit and wiring, and the sanding and painting of the exterior. Physically exhausted, sore hands and feet, each day of tearing down was a day closer to building again.

Then there was a middle time when we were continuing to remove the old while installing the new. Those days were also satisfying, but the effort to find particular parts and assemblies grew to consume as much time as the application or installation itself.

Now, with just one month to go until our first round of funding is complete and our deliverable of a complete first stage due, the project is terribly exciting and sometimes equally frustrating. So many loose ends are coming together! Yet the pieces that remain are complex and multi-faceted, not just a coat of paint or a trench dug to a certain depth. We are down to the stuff that will make or break the function of SAM—determine if SAM will work as a sealed vessel able to hold it’s atmosphere, or lose pressure more quickly than anticipated.

We are now focused on the re-seal of the lung and windows on the west side of the Test Module, install of the mini-split A/C units, and preparation for the first pressure and CO2 levels test. At this critical stage, it feels good to look back since January 20 and appreciate all we have accomplished:
– initial repair (grinding, sanding) of the lung plate
– prep and apply silicone elastomeric to the external top of the lung shell
– prep and first coat of paint of the external, vertical lung shell
– remove debris from the interior of the lung shell
– remove metal ring segments that bound the membrane to the lung plate
– power wash and scrub Hypalon membrane
– extensive research into paints for interior, exterior
– cleaning, cleaning, and more cleaning of the Test Module
– removal of the original data collection boxes and visitor signage
– grinding, sanding, and 2 coats primer to the TM base
– removal of the massive heat exchanger and steel platform
– removal of all electrical components; rewiring of the panel
– seal 21 ports and refurbish of the gas exchange manifold
– removal of the two grow beds and wood floor
– scraping, brushing, cleaning (3x) the stainless steel floor
– removal of all former data collection devices and cabling
– pressure wash the entire TM exterior; hand-scrub windows
– application of silicone membrane to the top of the TM
– sand entire interior of the TM; prime primary support beams
– test of window films for closest approximation to lightfall on Mars
– acquisition of a CO2 scrubber from Paragon
– full pressure suit test with Dr. Cameron Smith, Portland State
– removal of the original computer terminal outside the TM
– removal of two dozen root balls from the surrounding yard
– drain water from steel beams; mitigate rust
– apply silicone elastomeric to top and 45 degree windows on the TM
– apply seam seal and acrylic elastomeric to the TM porch roof
– shuffle four windows on the west side of the TM in prep for window tint and re-seal
– apply window tint, reducing optical light by 50% to match that on Mars
– grind and sand the lung ring segments
– attach unistrut and electrical disconnects to the south wall of the TM
– attach unistrut mounts for electrical and water walls
– move a birds nest to save the chicks from construction
– dig a ditch from the 200A electrical panel to the TM to power the HVAC
– pour a new concrete footing for the 200A electrical panel
– pour a concrete slab on the south side of the TM, to the lung
– remove all old threaded studs from the lung plate
– weld all new threaded studs to the lung plate
– remove lung inflation blower, clean, and test
– initiate removal of the five failing greenhouse structure in prep for our Mars yard
– continued development of the Mars yard
– design and initial development gravity off-set rig
– research into the type and cost of shipping containers (quarters)

With the close of May we completed the installation of the new power feed that will bring electricity to the mini-split heat pumps (heating, cooling for the TM) and eventually, to the living space for the inhabitants. We also removed the lung inflation blower, cleaned, and tested this thirty year-old fan. It works perfectly! Next, we will build a rig to attach the motor in a new location, adjacent to the lung itself instead of in the former, boiler building.

By |2021-06-03T19:18:31+00:00June 3rd, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

SAM Construction – From Red Sands to Red Planet

Colleen Cooley using a stud welder at SAM, Biosphere 2

This week Colleen Cooley, MSc visited SAM from the Diné Bikéyah (Navajo land) of the four corners region of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico. Colleen brought her tenacity for detail, creative solutions, fearless engagement of physical labor and stimulation for good conversations.

A raft guide of more than a decade Colleen is a consultant, volunteer, and advocate for various not-for-profit conservation organizations that work to find sustainable solutions to protect land, air, and water in the American Southwest. She brings a keen awareness of “water is life” in a region of our country that is only drying year after year. We discussed how as with the original Biosphere 2 our effort to build a hermetically sealed habitat for bioregeneration helps prepare us for living on another planet while at the same time informs how we can improve our interaction with our first home, here on Earth.

So much of our modern psyche is built on the false narrative that “technology will save us” when in fact our personal actions and life style choices (for those of us privileged to choose a “life style”) are what got us in this mess in the first place, but can help us move to a more sustainable future.

In her time volunteering at SAM, Colleen was immediately a member of our team, exclaiming “Let’s get it done!” when we entered the lung by headlamp (at 9 pm) to conduct our first stud welds, something none of us had experienced before. Thank you Colleen for five days of shoveling, drilling, welding, and motivation!

Don't mess with Colleen! SAM at Biosphere 2 Colleen Cooley shoveling dirt at SAM, Biosphere 2 Colleen Cooley measuring placement of new studes in the Test Module lung, SAM at Biosphere 2 Colleen Cooley placing rebar, SAM at Biosphere 2

Colleen is featured in a short documentary called “Water Flows Together” that reminds us of the importance of water conservation and protection, for everyone.

By |2021-06-12T22:36:39+00:00May 21st, 2021|Categories: Construction, Visitors to SAM|0 Comments

Mars is for the birds

Hungry birds! SAM at Biosphere 2

As with all construction projects, there are unknown hurdles and roadblocks, physical and logistical challenges that slow forward progress. How we deal with each of these defines the integrity of the project, in some ways more than any other factor.

Birds nest at SAM, Biosphere 2

Trent was preparing to rebuild the lower lung door when he discovered a bird nest on the high, narrow ledge of the old steel door frame. In the nest were four recently hatched chicks, their mother distraught by our disruption of her feeding. The grinding, sanding, and welding over the subsequent days would surely cause further disruption to their health and maturation at this critical stage.

Birds nest, SAM at Biosphere 2

I called my childhood mentor and good friend Ron Spomer, avid outdoorsman, wildlife photographer, and conservationist. He quickly dispelled the myth that touching a bird nest or even the baby birds themselves would cause the mother to abandon them. ‘Birds really can’t smell very well. It’s just not their most keen sense,’ he claimed.

Ron then proceeded to explain how to move the nest, in one or a few stages:

  1. Build a new platform of similar height and protection from the elements.
  2. Carefully move the nest 8-10 feet, and no more such that when the mother returns she can hear the chicks and find them readily.
  3. If needed, wait a day or three for the mother to adjust to the new location, then you can move the nest again.

I ran over to the B2 wood shop and was pleased to receive Tim’s immediate assistance. He and I built a nesting platform in the course of a few minutes, using scraps of wood. I returned. Trent and I mounted the sturdy “C” shaped box on an old piece of unistrut. We moved the nest, and then photographed it for Ron’s review. He quickly noted that the top board was too close to the lip of the nest, disabling the mother from walking around the edge to feed her young. Argh! Of course. Trent and I lowered the box and nest and removed the top board. We were pushing into the second hour since the chicks were fed. Ron said it was unlikely they would survive, given their need for constant nourishment.

Birds nest at SAM, Biosphere 2

We replaced the nest on the unistrut, and just before dusk headed up to our apartment on campus.

For the next two days, we didn’t see the mother and assumed the worst.

But when Trent reached over the nest and photographed what we could not see, sure enough, all four chicks were living, each with a thicker down than before. Trent discovered that if he held his gloved finger above the nest and did his best to approximate a bird call, the chicks rose above the rim, necks strained, ready to receive.

Birds on Mars? No, neither living nor in skeletal form. But as we move from this planet to another, it is my hope that we slow down a bit, taking time to remember where we came from, and what we value most as we leave rover tracks, boot prints, and bulldozer cuts to build the first habitats on Mars. –Kai Staats

By |2021-06-03T05:47:01+00:00May 19th, 2021|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

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