Visitors to SAM

Mars Society and Robert Zubrin visit SAM

Mars Society and founder Robert Zubrin visit Biosphere 2 and SAM

[from left to right: Olivia Drayson, Michael Laine, Kai Staats, Bruce Mackenzie, Caleb Pool, Daniel Thompkins, Hope Zubrin, Robert Zubrin, Doug Plata, Andre Fernandez, and Ashton Zeth]

We are honored to have Mars Society Robert Zubrin and several 2023 conference volunteers and staff visit Biosphere 2 for a tour of the historic facility and SAM. Director of Research for SAM at Biosphere 2 Kai Staats provided the group with a four and a half hours tour including all of the biomes, historic living quarters, south lung and ‘technosphere’, and then SAM and the adjacent Mars yard and terrain park, currently under construction.

It was an engaging morning and afternoon with plentiful conversations and debates for the challenges of humans establishing long-term residence on Mars.

By |2023-10-23T16:12:59+00:00October 4th, 2023|Categories: Visitors to SAM|0 Comments

Analog Astronaut Conference 2023 concludes

Analog Astronaut Conference night tour of SAM, May 5, 2023

Analog Astronaut Conference night tour of SAM, May 5, 2023 There are those things that if planned would not likely have worked nearly as well as they did when implemented last minute. Such was the case with the night tour of SAM. The majority of the Analog Astronaut Conference 2023 participants arrived in the SAM Mars yard at roughly 9:30 pm, eager for a comparison to the previous year in which SAM was little more of a skeleton of its current form.

The SAM crew opened the entire facility to a shoes-off tour of the completed Phase I facility, including (last minute decision applied) a full pressurization of the habitat with some thirty folks sealed inside. Once settled in the lung, they took advantage of the unique acoustic space with harmonic chanting, and were then audience to our very own Dr. Sean Gellenbeck who is not only a PhD aerospace engineer but a choir member as well. He shared his talent with humble approach, bringing tears and applause in those seated in the lower SAM pressure vessel.

But there remained another 45 folks in the Mars yard, waiting to get in! Instead of depressurizing we moved those inside out, and those outside in through the fully functional airlock, six people at a time. It was, quite simply, incredible. Every six person group that emerged was met with applause and those who entered crawled the length of the tunnel, down into the lung for another acoustic experience.

Thank you everyone for bringing your sense of adventure and beautiful voices to SAM!

By |2023-05-11T14:07:24+00:00May 8th, 2023|Categories: Visitors to SAM|0 Comments

Mars Society Staff and Volunteers visit B2 and SAM

Mars SOciety at SAM, Biosphere 2

Mars Society at SAM, Biosphere 2 Today we were honored to receive Executive Director James Burk and several of the Mars Society staff and volunteers to Biosphere 2 and SAM. B2 Executive Director John Adams and Research Director at SAM Kai Staats provided a tour of B2 and then a visit to SAM with walk-through of the Test Module, Workshop, and Crew Quarters under construction.

SAM is in many ways given form on the foundation laid by Biosphere 2 and more than two decades in which the Mars Society’s Mars Desert Research Station (MDRS) more than 1000 individuals have worked to help our species prepare to live and explore beyond our home world.

“Thank you Robert Zubrin, Shannon Rupert, and the many analogs worldwide for the inspiration to design and construct SAM.” — Kai Staats

By |2022-10-28T04:27:09+00:00October 19th, 2022|Categories: Visitors to SAM|0 Comments

Biospherian Bernd Zabel visits SAM

Bernd Zabel at SAM, Biosphere 2 Today we had the sincere pleasure of receiving Bernd Zabel, project manager for the Biopshere 2 construction and team member in the second (1994) sealed mission.

As with our time spent with Phil Hawes and Linda Leigh in 2021, it was a true honor to receive his passion, intellect, and stories for the challenges and rewards of the audacious Biosphere 2 project, reinforcing what can be done with vision and focus toward a single goal (and a sense of humor along the way).

“I was again a bit nervous receiving one of the Biospherians, thinking, What will he think of our modifications and additions to the Test Module? On our tour Bernd expressed his enthusiasm, saying more than once ‘This is beautiful!’ A few times he stopped with a puzzled look on his face, as he worked to recall how things were originally configured. ‘Our water storage tank was over there, and here was …”

When we came to the airlock I noted, “We pulled this from the basement of B2. Do you know its history?” to which Bernd responded with a grin, “Well, I should hope so. I built it!” and went on to share how it was quickly put together to isolate part of the Biosphere 2 during construction and early pressure tests. Thank you Bernd for your engaging support of our work at SAM, and surely we will host a SAM workshop at your resort in Costa Rica soon!” –kai

Born in Germany, Bernd was raised in Munich where he graduated with a Master’s degree in electrical engineering from the Technical University. Following extensive travel in Africa and Asia as a student, he made a trip across America to investigate alternative energy systems. He landed at the Synergy Ranch in New Mexico to conduct experiments in fully integrated production systems where the end products of one stage become the raw materials for the next. He designed and operated systems for water-conserving arid land agriculture, water harvesting, wind and solar energy, composting, and aquaculture.

In 1985 Bernd joined the Biosphere 2 project as General Manager of construction for the two-acre sealed experimental system. In 1994 he served as a member of the second team for a six months, and under Columbia University was Director of Engineering and Operations for the atmosphere, living conditions, and physical structure of Biosphere 2. Bernd worked in Tibet to bring running water to a monastery and consulted in Inner Mongolia at a demonstration project to stop desertification. From 2001-07 Bernd served as the systems engineer at the Garchen Buddhist Institute in Prescott Arizona. Thereafter he and his wife developed Biothermales, a resort in Costa Rica.

Presently Bernd is returning to his Biosphere roots and developing a material-sealed dome structure in which he will again experiment with total systems integration. Bernd is also an accomplished artist who had several exhibits of paintings.

By |2022-07-11T23:18:20+00:00June 15th, 2022|Categories: Visitors to SAM|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

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

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

Saying farewell to SAM volunteers

SAM team and B2 staff at SAM, Biosphere 2

Yesterday we said goodbye to volunteers Jolene Varga and Rob Ronci (far left) from Colorado. They lived on the Biosphere 2 campus and worked with us at SAM for a full week. Thank you for jumping into the fire of the final week before pressure tests!

We also bid safe farewell to Trenton Kenney (back row, between Rob and Kai) from the University of Minnesota. “Kenney” was with us for three weeks and worked on just about every aspect of the project. We’ll miss your incredible cooking, fun anecdotes, and updates from the halls of NASA. But thank goodness my First Aid kit will no longer be used a few times each day!

Natasha Loving (front left, red shirt) is with the University of Arizona and provided her second week of volunteer work at SAM (Thr/Fri). She will be working with us over the summer, receiving credit for her work at SAM. Thank you for your diving into every project handed to you, and for singing while you worked as your voice echoed up into the Test Module—it was quite relaxing.

(SAM developers Trent Tresch and Kai Staats are in beige and black shirts, respectively)

Katie, Brittany, and John (right side) of the Biosphere 2 management and research staff, your support and enthusiasm for this project continues to be imperative to our success—thank you!

By |2021-06-30T05:28:23+00:00June 27th, 2021|Categories: Construction, Visitors to SAM|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 and Biome Design Manager for the rainforest, savannah, and desert where she 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 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 and continued work as a plant ecology instructor and manager of the Oracle Community Learning Garden.

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

The following material is consolidated from interview with Linda for an article for the Edge Effect, 2021.

In her early undergraduate days, Linda was inspired by a University of Wisconsin-Madison botany professor, Dr. Hugh Iltis. Exuberant in his love of earth’s diversity, he painted a grim picture of a diminished-diversity Earth with only robins and white-tailed deer remaining. They traveled to nearby patches of native tall-grass prairies and burned them, learning about nature’s “services” and how, in the absence of natural processes such as fire, humans could take their place in an attempt to maintain ecosystem diversity. This set the scene for her use of a systems approach to understanding the earth. Before Linda joined the team at Biosphere 2, she worked as a field botanist locating endangered plant species’ habitats for recommendation as conservation sites.

In 1985 Linda joined Biosphere 2 as the “Biome Design Manager” for the rainforest, savannah, and desert, contracting specialists in termites, ants, aquatic insects, galagos, reptiles and amphibians, rainforest plants, soils, desert plants, and many more. Her team worked to answer the questions How many individuals of each species would be needed for 100 years of survival, and what were their pollinators? Did we have enough plants to provide the oxygen we would need? Since her work at Biosphere 2 she has worked in research and as a professional educator. She co-founded and manages the Oracle Learning Community Garden with intent to build habitats for migrating birds, insects, and bats while maintaining diversity of species for feeding people with plants that are appropriate to this region.

By |2022-07-11T23:44:18+00:00June 15th, 2021|Categories: Visitors to SAM|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

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? Taber MacCallum and William Dempster 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 Modules in 1986-87.

Biosphere 2 architect Phil Hawes visits the Test MoBiosphere 2 architect Phil Hawes visits the Test Module at SAM 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.

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 |2022-07-11T23:48:07+00:00May 12th, 2021|Categories: Visitors to SAM|0 Comments
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