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The Mars Yard has a new roof!

Mars Yard roof installation at SAM, Biosphere 2

Two years ago this summer the SAM development team met via Zoom to discuss the best way forward for the Space Analog for the Moon & Mars. At that time, it had been our intent to move the Test Module, piece by piece, from its original location to the north yard of the Biosphere 2. This difficult task was, at that time, intended to give maximum exposure to SAM as it would be directly on the tourist walking path and in the shadow of Biosphere 2 proper.

However, through conversations with individuals at NASA we were reminded that for long-term missions isolation from tourists would be ideal, off the main campus with minimal disturbance. Furthermore, we could drastically reduce the cost of construction by leaving the Test Module on its original, sealed foundation. Once we changed that mindset, it opened a whole new way of embracing the project. And as is often the case, we saw what was right in front of us as something wholly beneficial with incredible potential.

When Biosphere 2 was opened in 1991, the visitor center and parking was above the Test Module. Tourists walked past the Test Module and a half acre botanical garden complete with working simulations of the biomes inside of B2. In this manner, tourists could experience some of the interior environment and learn about the analog experience without being sealed inside.

Last summer we removed five greenhouse structures to make way for our exterior Mars yard, a space that will be reconfigured for long-duration teams and for rover competitions. We retained the 6,400 square foot rain forest greenhouse with intent to replace the former plastic panel roof with corrugated, galvanized steel. In March we removed the remaining plastic panels (most had fallen to ruin after thirty plus years) along with a massive amount of aluminum framing, steel cables, and no-longer-in-use electrical components. Just two weeks ago we rented a scissor lift to complete this effort, the articulating ridge lines of each half dome removed.

When complete, the full steel roof far overhead, we will greatly reduce the thermal load on the Mars yard terrain, offer shade for crew members in already difficult to cool pressure suits, and reduce the ambient lighting to something closer to Mars than the direct, Arizona sun.

It took six months of research and negotiation to find a local company willing to work with this unusual building and within our limited budget. We are pleased to have engaged Skyland Roofing of Tucson, Arizona. The crew worked through difficult conditions, from 104F+ degrees to wind and rain, on scissor lift and cherry picker 24-40 feet off the deck. Thank you Skyland for your services. And thank you LP Steel of Laveen, Arizona for the custom-made roofing panels delivered on time and at a reasonable price.

By |2022-06-28T13:58:38+00:00June 24th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Phase III construction is well underway …

Luna removing roof structure at SAM, Biosphere 2

Following the Analog Astronaut Conference, the entire team took a well deserve break, a week without hammer, drill, construction adhesive, or paint in hand. Kai Staats was then in Washington D.C. to present to and participate in the National Space Society’s International Space Development Conference while John Z. and Luna constructed a prototype sleeping pod (photos and story coming soon).

We are now engaged in applying the corrugated steel roof to the indoor Mars yard at SAM, with just two weeks remaining in construction at SAM until October. It is our intent to install insulation, air conditioning, and to work toward the pressure seal of the extended habitat.

Stay tuned for more entries!

By |2022-06-16T04:58:40+00:00June 16th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Bringing Phase II Construction to a Close

Luna adds another task to the SAM project blackboard at Biosphere 2

In the final days before the Analog Astronaut Conference 2022, hosted at Biosphere 2, the SAM construction and fabrication team worked tirelessly, from sunrise to sunset to get as much of SAM ready as possible for the more than 100 attendees. While most of the effort was on the task list for Phase II, some undertakings were temporary, a light treatment of a room or space to provide visitors a glimpse of what will come.

By |2022-05-28T14:59:55+00:00May 6th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

An all natural, VOC free floor is installed

Cork flooring in the SAM crew quarters at Biosphere 2

After several weeks research, locating vendors, confirming inventory, tracking and motivating shipment, Dick and Linda Staats (Kai’s parents) delivered 320 sq-ft of all natural, VOC-free cork flooring to SAM at Biosphere 2 … and just in time to install with the close of Phase II construction before the Analog Astronaut Conference 2022.

John Z., Kai, Luna, Anastasiya, and John Adams worked to install the backer board and cork tiles over the course of four days, assuring each step was conducted with integrity. Each product selected, from the glue between the backer board and original aluminum rails of the 40′ shipping container, the backer board itself, and the cork (which was simply set down, not glued) were selected for their low- or no-VOC characteristics. Visiting teams to SAM will breathe easy in an environment far healthier than the average American home, and not far from what very well could be a Martian habitat.

What’s more, the flooring is simply beautiful, warm, and welcoming.

Kai, John Z laying backer board over the aluminum rails at SAM, Biosphere 2 John Z. laying the second row of cork flooring at SAM, Biosphere 2

Anastasiya Stepanova working with John Z to cut cork flooring for SAM at Biosphere 2 The cork flooring is nearly complete in SAM at Biosphere 2

By |2022-05-28T15:02:58+00:00May 4th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

The hydroponics are operational!

Grant and Greg transplant lettuce at SAM, Biosphere 2

After more than 30 years the Test Module is once again living!

Thank you Dr. Giacomelli for your patient guidance to the assembly and operation of our new research system, and to Bill Nichols for your careful management of the transplant and fertilizer adjustments. Already, we can see the lettuce growing!

By |2022-05-28T15:03:39+00:00April 27th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

A race to the finish!

Charlie from the UA Welding shop at SAM, Biosphere 2

We are in a race to the finish, just 10 days until the Analog Astronaut Conference hosted by Biosphere 2. We have completed all major Phase II construction and are now moving to the interior space, installing flooring, shelving, kitchen and bathroom appliances, lights and a small SIMOC-enabled sensor array.

The effort is intense, 15-18 hours a day, with John Z., Luna, Bill, and Kai while Greg and Grant complete the effort to integrate a sensor array into the new SIMOC ‘Live’ interface. It’s an exciting, exhausting time!

The short list of TODOs includes:
– complete the exterior priming of SAM AIR and the adjacent wall
– lay the sub-floor and cork flooring in the 40′ container
– build 2 racks with shelving in the 20′ container
– move the CO2 scrubber into the 20′ container and build a workbench on the second rack
– complete the hydroponics and get the lettuce transported
– build a soil bed and transplant the Cascabel tomatoes
– complete the TM east wall electrical wiring
– install (without plumbing, for now) the toilet, shower, and sink
– install the skylight-window in the 40′ container
– sand and prime the airlock floor
– roll-out carpet in the walk zones
– continue landscaping under Luna’s leadership
– install the stainless steel kitchen appliances

Thank you James for providing us with the expert work of Charlie and Steven from your UA Welding shop. They performed a minor miracle with their work today, both ends of the 20′ shipping container / SAM workshop now one step closer to being pressure ready.

By |2022-04-30T14:23:24+00:00April 22nd, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Steel, steel, and more steel

Kai Staats cutting steel at SAM, Biosphere 2

We are becoming regulars are Superior Steel, Tucson, where every shape and size of factory steel can be found. It is a commodity that we take for granted, as we use steel products each and every day. Yet the tremendous volume of steel manufactured, distributed, purchased, and fabricated is astounding. Learning to work with steel is both a science and an art. At SAM we are working to build a research facility that will serve for a generation, and at the same time explore fabrication techniques that inform our understanding of how to live in a pressurized vessel.

By |2022-04-30T06:21:13+00:00April 12th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

Hydroponics racks have arrived!

Hydroponics racks installed in the Test Module at SAM, Biosphere 2

Four hydroponics racks have arrived to Biosphere 2! These systems distributed by Hort Americas are designed for research in that they are durable, agile, and smaller than commercial racks. While we await the water pumps, plumbing assembly, and lights we got to work. New to the team William Nichols is working with us to install, test, and maintain this grow system under the expert guidance of Dr. Gene Giacomelli of the University of Arizona CEAC facility. With 200 heads of lettuce already sprouting in an incubator, we are eager to transfer the partially mature plants to SAM for the first official crop in our new, permanent system.

As the systems came with casters appropriate for a research lab or industrial floor, not the one-in-twelve slope of our stainless steel tub, we took the four bases to the UA Welding shop and secured a 3/8″ nut to the bottom. High quality swivel feet enable us to maintain a strong, stable base over the unusual floor.

Hydroponics racks arrive to SAM at Biosphere 2 Hydroponics racks arrive to SAM at Biosphere 2 Luna, Bill photograph test assembly for remote inspection by Dr. Giacomelli, SAM at Biosphere 2 New feet are welded to the hydroponics racks at SAM, Biosphere 2

By |2022-04-13T15:58:00+00:00April 8th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments

A Container Home on Mars

Kai Staats wire brushing welds on the end plate for the Crew Quarters at SAM, Biosphere 2

With the removal of the massive refrigeration unit from the forward end of the 40 foot shipping container, the process began to determine how, exactly, to seal it up again. As with the steel plate fabricated to replace two windows on the Test Module, a larger, much heavier plate now provides a bolt-on pressure seal for the end of the 40 foot shipping container.

At 81″ x 89″ the size of the plate dictated two 1/4″ thick sheets welded along a seam or a single sheet of 3/16″ which is considerably heavier. We opted for the later, and discovered just how hard it is to manipulate that much steel. With the Test Module plate no two holes were equally spaced and yet, with careful measurements we were able to get the bottom and top rows of holes perfectly set without any adjustments. With this new plate the threaded inserts were factory set and we applied the same careful measurements, double checking with even the diagonals less than an eight of an inch over 100.

We drilled an 1/8th inch pilot, then 1/4″, 3/8″, 1/2″, and a few 5/8″ before the bit grew dull and jammed the drill one too many times. Our attempt at sharpening the bit produced a sharp edge, but it dulled too quickly, a typical artifact of sharpened bits used against metal. The attempt to go straight to the final 3/4″ bit was fatal, destroying the transmission in the battery powered drill and then nearly breaking Kai’s wrist with a more powerful corded unit. Clearly, we were not applying the correct tool for the job.

We took the ~500lbs plate to the B2 machine shop and used the stable drill press on the slowest speed. With a new titanium bit and ample cutting oil Kai and Colleen were able to complete all 30 3/4″ holes in less than four hours. However, despite precise measurements the holes were not all aligned. Using a car jack and 2×4 we shifted the plate to align the greatest number of holes possible, and then hand ground the remaining holes into an oblong shape such that the bolts would all enter by hand, without the use of a wrench. This assured no cross-threading and in the end, a solid fit.

This is a clear example of the old adage, “Perfect is the enemy of good enough” for had we simply used the 3/4″ sloppy hole saw (which we tested on the first hole), nearly all of the bolts would have fit on the first go, saving two days extra labor. It remain unclear how the measurements were ill fit, but may be a combination of too many stages of bits compounded by the threaded inserts in the container frame not being perpendicular to the face and set back 1/2″ each, causing the bolts to enter at an obscure angle.

Welcome to Renovation 101!

By |2022-04-13T07:01:23+00:00April 5th, 2022|Categories: Construction|0 Comments