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NASA's Need for Closed Ecology

Posted April 23, 2014 11:31 AM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: Mars NASA space colony space travel

NASA is ready to take the next step in space exploration. Yesterday--Earth Day--they announced plans to send a human to an asteroid by 2025, followed shortly by Mars in 2030. Nevermind that they don't have a manned space vehicle at the moment. And nevermind they relinquished their partnership with Roscosmos after Russia's recent international transgressions. And let's ignore the fact that the $2 billion in underwriting needed just to redirect the aforementioned asteroid will probably never be approved.

It seems NASA is ready to send people to Mars strapped to bottle rockets if need be.

I applaud NASA's ambition because they'll never get close to any of their cosmological goals if they don't publicize their efforts. NASA does this by leveraging the imagination of the individual taxpayer, hoping that by appealing to everyone's inner astronaut, they can gain enough political traction to financially renew the space race.

The space race and NASA inspired over a thousand planetariums to be built in U.S. high schools in the 20th century. And in fact it was NASA and Apollo 8 which first inspired Earth Day. Astronauts would comment on how fragile and small Earth looks from space, and photos of our planet enveloped by nothingness truly illustrated how isolated humanity is.

Eventually, we'll get to Mars, so one has to assume the next-next step, the one after humans land on Mars, would be an established space colony, right? Why else would NASA hold an annual space colony design competition? And in the past, they've publicly released some their most imaginative designs. Since there hasn't been a manned mission to the moon since 1972, (because we're so over the moon) this colony would also probably end up on Mars.

This concept is what has inspired four Mars Analog Research Stations (MARS) around the globe. In these stations, scientists and engineers simulate the experience of living on Mars to test tools and procedures which will eventually become useful to astronauts who are conducting Martian operations. The MARS are located in the Canadian Artic and the Utah desert, with two others in planning stages, where certain environmental parameters (wind, dust, temperatures, etc.) match what could be expected of a real Mars-based colony.

The Mars Society defines the MARS goals as identifying which tools and machines are best suited for permanent deployment on Mars, and how this deployment and the living quarters affects human psychology. While MARS may provide all the cramped sleeping and work quarters a handful of scientists need, it's not the self-sustaining closed ecological system that would be needed to set up a permanent residence for true Martians.

Instead, NASA would need to return to the now-dormant idea of a biosphere, where a mix of ecological zones balances the resource consumption and waste of human inhabitants.

Pauly Shore made light of such an experiment with 1996's awful satire Bio-Dome. His stoner character mistakes a biosphere for a mall and accidentally gets locked in for the experiment's duration of 1 year, or 385 days. Of course, he wrecks the experiment with nonsense and misbehavior, which isn't that far off from the real Bio-Dome.

Biosphere 2 is a structure in Arizona which was home to two attempts of scientists living in a sealed structure to maintain homeostasis. BS2 contained a rainforest, an ocean with a reef and tides, mangrove wetlands, grassland, a desert, farming tracts, and a human habitat. The first mission enclosed eight scientists for two years, but was ultimately a failure. Oxygen levels eventually dropped to the point where crew suffered from fatigue and sleep apnea. Conversely, exposed concrete had begun to absorb carbon dioxide, and plant life also suffered. Eventually gas injections had to be made. Ants from the Arizona wilderness had also found their way inside BS2, meaning it was never really a closed system. The scientists completed their duration, however.

If the first mission was a failure, then the second was equivalent to a tire fire. It was intended to last ten months, but only lasted six. Not only did BS2's management run into financial problems and infighting, but scientists from the first mission smashed through airlocks and emergency exits, exchanging more than 10% of the biosphere's atmosphere and ruining further studies. Since this attempt, no other human-sized closed ecologies have been attempted.

While NASA is just now announcing their intent to travel to Mars, we know they've been planning for it pretty much since, "One small step for man…"

In order to be ready for the giant leap headed their way, NASA must be considering biosphere designs in the present, even if they aren't ready to recognize it. It's like the proposed mission to an asteroid: they're planning for it even if it never happens.

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#1

Re: NASA's Need for Closed Ecology

04/23/2014 2:00 PM

And let's ignore the fact that the $2 billion in underwriting needed just to redirect the aforementioned asteroid will probably never be approved

Just wait until they discover an asteroid will impact the earth. Watch the money flow.

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#2
In reply to #1

Re: NASA's Need for Closed Ecology

04/23/2014 4:50 PM

Why?

If the asteroid comes here they won't need billions of dollars to go to it.

Anyway, the exploration of space has been pretty much in hibernation since Apollo 17.

Since then the goals of NASA change more frequent than the political winds that drive them.

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#3
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Re: NASA's Need for Closed Ecology

04/24/2014 8:07 AM

Why?

Simple, its called panic.

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#4

Re: NASA's Need for Closed Ecology

04/24/2014 8:08 AM

Ain't never gonna get funding in this entitlement society.

Hooker <-- NASA employee '66-'78

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#5

Re: NASA's Need for Closed Ecology

04/24/2014 9:10 PM

We could possibly get to Mars by 2030 if we hadn't quit in 1972 (Apollo 17).

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#6
In reply to #5

Re: NASA's Need for Closed Ecology

12/28/2016 2:14 PM

I know this thread has been inactive for a while, but back when we were in the Space Race with the Soviet Union, I do believe that Werner von Braun approached Nixon (POTUS at the time) about going instead to Mars, however he was overruled, retired a short time later, and passed away not many years after that. Von Braun had long planned for a mission to Mars, and it was always his dream, with the Lunar missions being a far second. In fact, I do believe the Saturn V booster was designed with Mars exploration in mind.

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#7

Re: NASA's Need for Closed Ecology

12/29/2016 8:32 AM

I personally see Mars Colonization(1) as a 'second step' endeavor, our first step should be a permanent Moon Base/Colony. There are a number of good reasons to start there:

  • Crew Safety: being so close, an emergency supply/rescue mission could arrive in a matter of days, instead of months/years.
  • Ease of communication: the time lag in radio and laser communication is relatively short, so information can be exchanged in near 'real time.'
  • Scientific platforms: a permanent base could serve as the 'hub' for a number of outpost bases built at increasing distance from 'home port.' This could lead to such things as optical and radio telescopes built on the 'dark side' of the Moon, able to observe the Universe with ALL the 'noise' from Earth blocked out, and be easier to maintain, since the problems of working in Freefall are avoided.
  • Logistics platform: large, interplanetary vessels could be built on the Moon's Surface an/or in Lunar orbit, and launched more cheaply/easily due to the lower escape velocity, saving on the amount of fuel required to start the mission. The moon would also make a good 'refueling' station for interplanetary vehicles.

Notes:

  1. Since Earth and Mars only align for 'short' transit times once every seven years, we should accept the fact that, logistically speaking, we're not sending 'explorers' to Mars, we're sending 'colonists.'
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#8
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Re: NASA's Need for Closed Ecology

12/29/2016 10:09 AM

Several counters to the claims you made here:

  1. Luna is not really any closer to Mars than is Earth. True it would be less energy required to launch from Luna, so I leave you that one.
  2. Your time lag considerations are way off. It still takes about 28-30 minutes for signals to reach Luna from Mars.
  3. Putting telescopes on Luna might not be a good idea at all, since Luna dust is very small, very angular, and apparently static wants to stick it to everything. Could you imagine what cleaning a mirror of that would be like, not to mention anything with a liquid lubrication system? How about a stationary orbit above Luna, centered on the "dark side" to shadow out Earth interference, light, etc.?
  4. This is a point you and many others have brought, even me. I think providing an environment for doing this major construction on Luna could be problematic, but the payload/propellant advantages are clear and very tempting. I think they will still experience major problems/failures due to Luna dust infiltration. Perhaps, they could use something to suck up all that dust, and make a clean, level playing field, shaded and environmentally controlled to avoid the wide temperature swings that could play havoc with construction efforts.
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#9
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Re: NASA's Need for Closed Ecology

12/29/2016 1:57 PM

For 1 & 2, I was not referring to Luna-Mars interactions, but Luna-Earth interactions.

We can launch a rescue mission from Earth to the Moon and have it arrive days after launch, whereas a rescue mission to Mars from Earth would take months to arrive, assuming we're in the favorable alignment. Otherwise we might have to delay the rescue recovery mission by up to seven years because trying to reach mars from the 'wrong' alignment would just be a pointless suicide mission.

3, you have a good counterpoint, I forgot about the 'sharp' lunar dust. The pros and cons of lunar ground-based versus lunar orbit telescopes will need to be looked at.

4, one thing I have heard of to control Lunar dust is to have a 'wet' section on the inbound airlock, to rinse the dust off before it enters the habitation/machinery area. As a bonus, the 'waste slurry' from that, once the water level is reduced a bit, is expected to make a very strong concrete mortar. Yes, that means that airlock expenses are doubled, unless we want to lose moisture from the 'wet' section every time someone leaves, but it would be worthwhile to test out, in a limited scale, at least.

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