A journey through space and time

Mason and Matthias

by Mason Robbins

In a quiet corner of the historic Biosphere 2 campus, a team of dedicated individuals continues their mission, now in progress for nearly three years. SAM (Space Analog for the Moon and Mars) is expanding to include a massive indoor Mars yard, a terrain park that works to replicate the harsh environments of the red planet right here on our own planet Earth. Over the past several weeks, they’ve made remarkable progress in bringing the massive, indoor SAM Mars yard to life.

Join us on a journey through time and space as we delve into the captivating narrative of their ongoing work … with photos coming soon!

The Journey Resumes (Week of 7th August 2023)
With three years of dedicated effort behind them, the team carried on work at SAM, ready to take their project to the next level. Their first task was to untangle the complex web of electrical wires and conduit that had evolved over time. With precision and patience, they meticulously labeled and toned out 95% of the wires, bringing a sense of order to the chaos. The quarter-steel wings that lined the support posts were given attention, as sanding commenced, preparing them for future use. A trip to Home Depot was on the agenda, with Kai picking up essential parts for the upcoming phases. Work on the yard’s electrical blueprints began to take shape.

Crafting the Foundation Anew (Week of 14th August 2023)
The team approached their tasks with a deeper understanding of the project’s intricacies. They set out to complete the sanding and priming of bay door headers, now with a well-honed technique. Unneeded conduit and wire were removed, further simplifying the yard’s layout. Electrical backboards received the sand-prime-paint treatment, ensuring they would stand up to the challenges ahead. Collaboration with Kevin, the electrician, yielded progress on J-box placements and switch wire toning. Another Home Depot visit followed, expanding the growing parts list. On the east wall, electrical preparations were made for the removal and installation of new poly panels. The steel for the west wall arrived and was carefully offloaded and stacked.

Assembling the Pieces with Seasoned Expertise (Week of 21st August 2023)
The team supervised and assisted the C&D doors team as they embarked on the installation of two bay doors. Backboards and frames received their finishing touches with a fresh coat of paint. An electrical junction box was installed on the west wall, accompanied by the meticulous process of re-labeling wires. Conduit and wire that had outlived their purpose were removed, streamlining the setup. Plans for J-box cut-ins and a 3-way switch were laid out with Kevin. A meeting with the general contractor regarding crater walls and poly panel installation shed light on the project’s broader scope. New drawings were created to assist poly installers with roof measurements, and parts runs to Home Depot continued. Meanwhile, a unique challenge presented itself as the team battled a persistent wasp population.

Pushing the Boundaries with Three Years of Wisdom (Week of 4th September 2023)
As they pressed onward, the team leveraged their experience, their focus on the west wall, and the intricate task of fitting panels within the c-channel guided by Kai’s expertise. Multiple visits to metal fabrication shops ensued, driven by the need to re-manufacture horizontal support beams. Abbott Metal Fab emerged as a potential partner, with a template beam dropped off for a quote. Home Depot remained a reliable source for parts, as the team worked to make electrical piping align with the new panels. East and North Wall Power boxes were mounted with precision. Conduit runs that obstructed progress were ruthlessly removed, and updates were shared with Kai through photos and emails.

As we reflect on these past three years of intense effort and dedication, it’s evident that the SAM project is not just about creating a physical space analog; it’s about the meticulous planning, collaboration, and relentless pursuit of perfection that will eventually propel humanity to new frontiers. Each day brings new challenges and discoveries, and as the SAM team continues to work tirelessly, they inch closer to realizing their dream of simulating the conditions of Mars right here on Earth. Stay tuned for more updates as we follow this incredible journey through space and time.

By |2023-09-13T06:25:56+00:00September 8th, 2023|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Mars yard takes form

UA welders Charlie and Chad framing in the Mars yard bay doors at Biosphere 2

Following six months straight construction, the Analog Astronaut Conference and two sealed missions, the SAM crew took a much needed break. With the close of May, Matthias Beach, a space enthusiast with a background in the military and telco moved from volunteer to staff to head up the continued construction of the SAM Mars yard.

This 6400 square-foot facility was in the late ’80s and early ’90s the rain forest greenhouse for Biosphere 2. It served as a staging facility for the Landscape Evolution Observatory (LEO) more than a decade ago but has sat mostly empty since. The roof panels had fallen to ruin and were removed by Kai, Tim, Colleen, and Luna in the spring of 2022. A new roof was installed that July. In the final days before the first sealed mission at SAM, Matthias and Tasha completed the construction of a prototype Mars yard in miniature, in which both crews of four were able to explore in a pressurized suit during their respective EVAs. The Inclusion I and Inclusion II crews demonstrated the value of such a facility, even in its then simple, sandbox form.

Now, the effort is expanded to completely gut the original electrical wiring, remove all unused conduit and support structures that once gave greenhouse heaters purchase; replace the florescent lights with modern, brighter LED panels; install roll-up garage doors in each bay, and by the close of the year, install a massive sculpted, hand-painted, synthetic rock Mars crater!

Matthias Beach and Sean Gellenbeck have taken on this arduous task in the peak heat of the Arizona summer, having to remove a small army of skeletons (literally) while fighting a never ending battle with very aggressive wasps (sometimes the wasps win; sometimes the humans). The past six weeks are captured, in brief, in these twenty photos.

By |2023-09-12T16:34:07+00:00July 14th, 2023|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

A much needed break

The turtles that snip at the heals of the chipmunks that spin the wheels that wind the springs that drive the automatons to write the essays that accompany the photos taken by the unsung heroes of the Fourth Planet Revolution are, for what may feel like an eternity to you who wait patiently, taking a break.

Construction of the full Mars yard commences with the first week of June. However, updates to this forum will be shared a little less frequently than in the prior phase due to all efforts to slow the Earth’s rotation and thereby increase the productive hours in day having failed. As such, said heroes of the Revolution, automatons, chipmunks, and turtles will be unable to process, color correct, and publish associated photo essays in the course of these not-long-enough summer days.

By |2023-07-14T16:02:18+00:00May 22nd, 2023|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Debrief, reset, and upgrade

One-day construction blitz at SAM, Biosphere 2

Shortly after their exit from the very first six days mission at SAM, crew Inclusion I met with Director of Research Kai Staats and his team for a debrief. Stories were shared, lessons were learned, and both crews came away with understanding for what worked, and the ways in which future missions could be improved.

The very next day, May 3, Kai and the SAM crew went to work, completing a total cleaning of the facility, including linens (thank you Kai’s mother and father), reset of the food supplies, and several physical upgrades to the facility including the addition of a Magnehelic pressure gauge on the outside of the airlock for improved visibility and safety, the addition of a middle set of handles on the interior airlock pressure door, fabrication of a new out-bound air filter for improved air flow, an all new water filtration system, the addition of an “OCCUPIED” sign on the bathroom door, resetting the hydroponics (thank you Atila), hanging a curtain at the end of the airlock as that space was used as a changing room, and replacing the tool bucket with a proper tool box and a greater assortment of tools, to name a few.

Thank you Inclusion I for your honest feedback! And thank you SAM Crew for your impressive one-day turn-around!

Matthias Beach upgrading the workbench in the SAM Test Module Sean Gellenbeck upgrading the airlock door at SAM, Biosphere 2

Atila Meszaros resetting the hydroponics racks in the Test Module of SAM, Biosphere 2 Atila Meszaros resetting the hydroponics racks in the Test Module of SAM, Biosphere 2

By |2023-07-13T02:03:33+00:00May 3rd, 2023|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

It’s all coming together

Constructing the prototype Mars yard at SAM, Biosphere 2

We continue with avid construction of SAM in preparation for receipt of our first visiting research teams. We are working sunrise to sunset with projects completed daily. Each week in review sees “TODOs” transform into “DONEs”. Evenings are time for communication with the first two teams to visit SAM, a review of their proposed mission plans, research objectives, and many details in preparation for the first sealed, pressurized experiment at Biosphere 2 in thirty years.

In brief, we have complete the installation of the fully networked, computer controlled fire detection and alarm system, all wiring throughout the habitat, installation of our fourth and final mini-split A/C unit, all plumbing including potable water storage, gray water recycling, and waste water containment is complete. Sean has constructed the prototype inner door of the airlock, and we are eager for the first pressure test.

Atila and Kai upgraded one of the hydroponics racks from last year for an improved water flow and reduced algae build-up. This is centerpiece to Atila’s PhD research at the University of Arizona under the direction of Dr. Gene Giacomelli at CEAC. By no means the final product, this prototype will serve us well for the coming two missions. Lettuce is installed and water nutrients added. John Z. returned for a Saturday morning to assist with the final mini-split install, and Colleen rejoined the team for a few days, lending her keen eye for detail and experience with fabrication.

The Mars yard too has seen a completely transformation from our workshop for the past two years into a functional, prototype test bed for pressure suits, tools, and drones. Tasha and Matthias assembled a barrier to contain the crushed basalt (a close facsimile to Martian soil) and then retraced the original Biosphere 2 rain forest walkway with a fresh coat of Mars-red paint.

The lung is now fully refurbished, complete with a variable frequency drive, electric actuated valve, and a new set of legs for a more stable touch-down and ease of measuring height from the lung floor.

The SIMOC Live server is fully operational with support for a variety of Vernier and Adafruit sensors, and our light-travel time delay server will soon be deployed, providing the limited internet (email only) for visiting research teams, communications delay by 1.3s to the Moon, or 7-20 minutes for Mars.

By |2023-05-12T23:46:42+00:00April 23rd, 2023|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Fire detection system nearly complete

Matthias Beach studying the fire detection system wiring diagrams for SAM at Biosphere 2

When we first reached out to the University of Arizona Facilities Management Electrical Services, Fire Safety & Prevention Assistant Director Joseph Branaum for guidance on how to design and install the fire detection system at SAM, we were concerned that the unique nature of our research facility might invoke a high degree of scrutiny. While the vessel is built from steel, aluminum, and glass with very limited flammable materials inside, the fact that four people will be sealed inside with pressure hatches as exits could have raised alarm.

Matthias Beach pulling wire for the fire detection system at SAM, Biosphere 2 The first two teams to SAM will each have one blind crew member. This elevates the need for our fire detection and alarm system, beyond off-the-shelf, battery powered smoke detectors available from local resellers. Instead, SAM must integrate a fully networked, computer controlled system that raises audible and visual alarms across the habitat should any of the heat or smoke detectors be triggered. Furthermore, each exit must have an illuminated sign in the case of a power outage. We are taking that one step further, to make certain that each pressure hatch is fully lit with power loss, such that crew members can readily assist each other in egress, emergency or not.

Joe visited SAM in February and immediately recognized the need for a fire detection system that met the University safety guidelines and upheld the need for SAM to closely approximate an actual, other-world habitat. He designed a system that meets code and serves our needs.

Matthias Beach pulling wire for the fire detection system at SAM, Biosphere 2 What’s more, the entire system will be upgraded later in 2023 to include active data generation and capture for real-time temperature, humidity, and air quality, then integrated into the SIMOC Live terminal at SAM, thereby elevating the SAM analog experience even closer to that of a real habitat while further informing the SIMOC model.

Joe and his associate Matt have guided the complex wiring of this system, and will return to SAM for the final installation of the pull stations, A/V units, and detectors. Thank you Joe and Matt for your patience with our 100+ questions, phone calls, text messages, and emails.

By |2023-04-24T06:13:07+00:00April 6th, 2023|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

We’ve got the power!

Matthias Beach in the SAM Lung at Biosphere 2

Today we completed the electrical wiring of SAM, with the Workshop (20′) and Crew Quarters (40′) fully lit up and operational. We also conducted our first pressure test since January, and with the new 1HP Variable Frequency Drive. We can now bring SAM from ambient to full pressure in just under 3 minutes, a 4x speed increase over the original, 1980s blower which is now replaced.

This is a noteworthy and exciting day, for it marks months of sequential work come to fruition.

By |2023-04-24T06:03:36+00:00March 30th, 2023|Categories: Construction|0 Comments
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