As we’ve noted many times, the defining aspect of life in space is life indoors. But, what sort of life? Though the very grand, vast, fantastical spaces Marshal Savage described in the original TMP are likely to be a much later development, the environment of Avalon habitats, even in early periods, is likely to be far from claustrophobic and far removed from the military submarine environment of the pre-fab outposts commonly proposed. The most challenging aspect of the design of Avalon habitats will be the crafting of spaces creating an impression of an outdoor environment even though the entire habitat is enclosed and, for the most part, subterranean. Though most of us in industrialized countries today spend most of our time indoors, the sense of a relationship between indoor and outdoor environments is psychologically important. How does one create this in a place where everything is indoors? There is no perfect simulation of a natural outdoor space and even transparent domes cannot completely fool the senses. But this is not a new problem and as builders and architects of even the ancient past have learned, crafting the impression of exterior environments indoors is not that difficult to accomplish.
When Buckminster Fuller started working with large geodesic domes, such as the Biosphere American Pavilion at Expo 67, he encountered an interesting reaction from visitors to these structures. Given enough distance, brightness, independence of interior structures, and some obscuring of perimeter edges, people would readily accept a geodesic dome structure as a ‘second sky’ and regard its interior as another kind of exterior. Fuller inadvertently rediscovered something ancient architects were very familiar with and which explains their obsession with domes and vaulted spaces in political and religious architecture. Many ancient forms of religious structure were very deliberate attempts to craft an impression of a different, special, world. A microcosm where the cosmic order of the supranatural reality of a particular mythic system could be portrayed in a visceral way, creating a transcendent personal experience simply by entering the space. To enter these places was to be transported to a higher reality where one’s relationship to the divine and supernatural was made plain, and often reinforced by art and sculpture depicting deities or particularly important mythological stories. At first certain special places in the natural landscape were employed as such ritual spaces but as construction technology advanced builders found ways to recreate in built structure the transcendent aspects of these special natural places.
One of their key discoveries was the perception-stretching aspect of edgeless, cornerless, forms. Without visual dimensional cues like corners, it becomes difficult to judge dimensions of a space. A round courtyard may sometimes seem much larger in areas than a rectangular one simply by virtue of a lack of corners. A smooth surfaced arched roof, from the inside, more voluminous than one with a visible peak. Though less apparent in small volumes, in large spaces such edgeless shapes, with the proper lighting and color, can lose their sense of substance, becoming virtual hollow spaces, portals to a virtually larger area. Painters of frescos commonly exploited this aspect for a trompe-l'œil effect, turning smooth cornerless arched ceilings into virtual atriums under a painted sky. Domes were especially good in this respect as long as their apparent perimeter edges could be kept obscured or ‘framed’ in some way by other perimeter structure. (much as the mountain walls of a valley frame the horizon in some places –there are few places other than at sea or in deserts and plains where a completely flat horizon is apparent)
One of the most famous ancient examples demonstrating all these aspects combined was the Roman Pantheon where a vast dome covered in alcoves once housing statues and plaques of many deities creates an impressive microcosm around and over the floor-bound occupant –creating a vast interior outdoors and very plainly putting man in his place in the cosmos. Curiously, architectural historians tend to be more interested in the exterior and technological features of the domed structures of antiquity –their size, their structural systems, their external decoration– than their interiors. Perhaps this is because when domes are used right, they tend to have no ‘interior’. They become perceptually invisible relative to anything else inside them. Like Fuller’s Biosphere, as far as visitors are concerned they turn into another sky.
Today, with our science of optics and acoustics, new lighting technologies, sophisticated indoor gardening and water feature systems, and new radically large span construction techniques, our potential for building on these ancient methods to create ‘interior outdoors’ is greater than ever. Certainly, we are still far from fooling anyone with a simulation of the real thing, but history shows us that isn’t strictly necessary for the required sense of comfort associated with access to an outdoor space. It’s enough to have some open space, often gardened or with water features, with some aspects of the outdoors. And we are using this capability in surprising ways. The small intimate domed spaces of a planetarium become, with the lights turned down, quite literally a whole universe. Tourist trains and aircraft now have virtual light-changing skies on their ceilings to help fight a sense of claustrophobia over long trips. Museums and even luxury homes now have virtual skies in various rooms, complete with moving clouds and stars. Casinos and theme parks build city streets and whole classic European public squares indoors. And sports stadiums, now often entirely enclosed, serve as vast sheltered open spaces for thousands. If you want to get a feel for what living on the Moon or Mars may actually be like, don’t look to the mock-ups of tin-can habitats from NASA or the like. Look at the Eden Project greenhouse dome in the UK (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Eden_project_tropical_biome.jpg) or the Tropical Islands indoor beach resort built in a German airship hangar. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Tropical.JPG)
Transparency doesn’t seem to matter much to the sense of an exterior environment with such structures, though size certainly helps. It is generally enough that the overhead structure is relatively large in span, out of reach, edgeless and cornerless, and sufficiently well lit. There’s no question that large spaces like greenhouse domes and airship hangars are indeed enclosures. They cannot offer the aspect of the wide-open plains or the sea. And yet they aren’t interiors in the way that rooms in a house or office building are interiors. They are in-between. They have the aspect of an open-topped but enclosed atrium or courtyard. And this can be just enough of a sense of the outdoors to be comfortable. Light is the defining aspect of the sky. We don’t need to see clouds to have an impression of a sky and most large domed enclosures have not been truly transparent. You could reconstruct the Eden Project domes with some more advanced form of electroluminescent or fiber-optic lighting panel instead of its texlon membrane cell panels and the interior aspect would be exactly the same. And this is exactly what the settlers of Avalon will do in creating their own underground interior outdoors, from the atriums of personal homes to the natural lava tubes some scientists speculate may be wider than Central Park in New York City.
How will these habitats and their interior outdoor spaces be built and what sorts of designs will they employ? In general, we are talking about very simple structures; conjoined complexes excavated from natural rock or built-up from regolith-derived concretes using variations of simple techniques such as mound-formed construction where structures are made by piling up and packing regolith into the desired shapes, covering them in concrete and more regolith, and then excavating the interior. These techniques have to be pretty simple since they will rely predominately on telerobotics to perform –and it may be quite some time before even the communities of TMP can realize the dexterous androids of SciFi. To make these simple structures habitable they will be retrofit, relying on a technique very similar to that employed on the concrete structures of Aquarian marine colonies. Their interior surfaces would be covered with grids of formed-in or drilled-in sockets and light truss structures that smooth out irregularities in the geometry of the larger structure and provide attachment points for a system of interior finishing panels and structures, likely very similar to the UtiliHab components employed with some of the earliest structures built as part of TMP. Little of the natural rock or concrete superstructure of these habitats would be visible to the inhabitants, being normally hidden behind this retrofit structure of lighting panels and a host of comfortable and locally produced materials –particularly finished stone, ceramics, easily recycled alloys and thermoplastics, textiles and laminates from fast-growing plants like bamboo and compactly farmed animals like silk worms and shellfish. Interior design for homes may have many similarities to that cultivated on Aquarius and many similarities to that of traditional Asian culture, with its preferences for similar materials.
There would be several phases of habitat construction; early habitats based on rectilinear vault systems used initially unpressurized for telerobotic outposts but optionally employing pneumatic hull modules following the model of those used on MUOFs and modular bulk-head systems to pressurize sections of the vaulted area. Then intermediate habitats based on pressurizing whole regions of chambers and using the general configuration of radial complexes of domes. Finally the largest habitats based on natural lava tubes and both excavated and built-up domes and vaults of comparably large spans.
Even the earliest of habitats may be generous in space compared to the tin-can outposts. Currently, mines and tunnels on Earth typically support spans of about 10-15 meters without arches or domes, which can allow even greater spans. The Super-Kamiokande neutrino detector in the Mozumi mine near Hida Japan is one of the largest spherical man-made underground chambers with a diameter of 40 meters. Some natural caves can exceed spans of 400 meters, hinting at the so far unexplored potential of domed excavations. On Mars such spans could be roughly three times greater, on the Moon, six times.
Atriums under luminous domed artificial skies based on advanced lighting technology (often using fiber or evacuated tube optics to bring light in from outside heliostats) would be the dominant architectural feature of excavated colonies. Following a radial pattern of design akin to that of the lunar dome home once described by Marshal Savage, habitat complexes would employ a hierarchy of self-similar atrium-dome chambers with smaller outer-edge atriums encircling progressively larger neighborhood and community atriums. Each atrium would tend to confine functional structures to terraces and alcoves around their perimeter, obscuring the domed ceiling edge and leaving the open center space for generous amounts of naturalistic landscaping and water features as well as an extensive overhead lighting panel space. Industrial and farm areas and spaces close to the openings to the exterior environment would employ the simpler grid vault arrangement, often on levels below and above the main habitat spaces. Created by initial telerobotic outposts, these outermost areas would often be used like large unpressurized garages and hangars.
The typical dwellings of Avalon would share many similarities to housing on Aquarius, consisting of two common forms; pavilion-style homes based either on radial alcoves around a private atrium dome or loft spaces in terraces in tectonic landscape forms at the perimeter, and occasionally in the open spaces, of much larger shared domed chambers. Generous volumes will be outfit with modular paneling systems and mezzanine structures, often integrating active electronics and utilities systems as well as appliances and furniture. Occasionally, some larger atriums may employ free standing buildings in their central area, most-likely very light pavilion structures or buildings carved into stylized landscape forms. Though Modernism may predominate, it may not be unusual at all to find such things as traditional Japanese tea rooms and houses or Greco-Roman pavilions on the Moon and Mars, even if they are made from less-than-traditional materials. Even the earliest dwellings, based on reuse of the industrial grid vault structures, may share some of these common characteristics, smaller garden atriums set between supporting pillars of the gridded vault structure interspersed by habitable spaces the width of those supporting pillars.
Extensive Closed Environment Life Support Systems based on Living Machine systems will need to be employed for Avalon colonies, backed-up by additional chemical-driven life support systems. Large water reservoir chambers will be employed not only as water storage but, in conjunction with cryogenic gas storage, as a convenient means of storing oxygen in bulk and as parts of fuel cell power buffer systems. Many of the mariculture, algeaculture, and hydroponic farming techniques developed by Aquarius settlements will be repurposed for automated closed environment farming in vast chambers lit with heliostat collected light. Early settlers may need to be very conservative in their use of resources but as colony industrial infrastructures become robust and efficient in their by-product gas and water recovery greater abundances will develop. Water features may become common for many dwellings and atriums and vast public swimming facilities may become practical.
For some time Avalon settlement habitats may need no more mechanized transportation beyond a few small light electric vehicles and pedal-powered vehicles built from repurposed robotics components. Many of the robotic systems used to build the colonies and support their industrial activities will be repurposed for interior use, surface rovers, excavators, and factory machines turned into landscape maintenance and garden care systems, delivery systems, and infrastructure maintenance systems. Most long-range transit will be based on pressurized exterior vehicles; rovers and monorails based on modular mass-produced components. But as the colonies grow –particularly with the employ of lava tube and other large habitats requiring more particular geologic conditions– they will likely employ PRT/PPT systems akin to those of Aquarius and deploy long distance pressurized transit tunnel systems, again in a combination of both excavated tunnels and built-up tunnels based on modular concrete sections.
Again like Aquarius as well as the colonies of Asgard, digital communications, media, and computing will feature strongly in the Avalon culture. Virtually all media and communications will be digital by default and all residents will likely rely on a small variety of multi-functional PAD devices carried or dispersed about the habitat. Digital community infrastructures just like those of Aquarius will be employed, linking infrastructure systems and personal computing and communications under common IP based (assuming nothing radically superior evolves by the time) networks and communal cloud computing resources based on Distributed Computer architectures.
Virtual Window-Wall systems –facilitated by membrane based display technology– may be common, both as a means of communication –particularly between very distant and relatively isolated settlements– but also as a means of decoration and for entertainment facilities such as Immersive Entertainment Rooms. Virtual environments will likely be a popular form of entertainment, repurposing the tools of teleoperation of robots. By this time the first forms of VR based on passive neural interfacing may be available. Latency will limit the integration of extraterrestrial Virtual Habitats to the emerging Virtual Habitat of Earth, creating demand for increasingly sophisticated intelligence for these virtual environments and their characters.
Artificial intelligence, largely a passive tool or underlying intelligence in games, may find a practical application in the form of simple companionship for the sometimes sparsely populated early settlements of Avalon. Should sentient AI emerge by the time of Avalon, Virtual People may quickly become the solar system’s most frequent travelers, able to travel between settlements at the speed of telecommunications.
Settlers of the Moon and Mars will not be going there to work temporarily in the hopes of building wealth for a retirement back on Earth. There will be few exports to Earth save knowledge. These settlers will be seeking the Good Life right there on these new worlds and one of the key things they will be seeking is space to create a lifestyle of their own devise, places to build dream homes that may not be possible back on Earth. Though the environment compels conjoined structures of an urban aspect, personal space built with the leverage of robotics could be generous. Early stages of settlement will rely on modest sized atriums –several times the 80 square meters of Savage’s personal domes– shared by a small community. Later, these may become the typical personal or family atrium space, set surrounding shared neighborhood atriums many times larger still and in some cases linked to natural lava tunnels like meandering canyon valleys linking these neighborhoods together. These large atrium gardens –personal parks in scale– may rely heavily on robotics for their care given the relatively small populations of early colonies but will still be a key focus of human activity and a key venue of personal expression.
The compulsion to create ever-larger and ever-more-naturalistic or fanciful atrium environments coupled to ever-advancing robotics will eventually compel the use of very large built-up surface habitats relying on structural technology similar to the EvoHab hull systems discussed in the Asgard phase. These will indeed approach the vast multi-kilometer sized imaged by Marshal Savage in the original TMP but will be virtually transparent, relying on vast, possibly image-corrected, heliostat panel arrays matched to holographic emitters on the interior, creating apparent transparency from the inside while, in fact, being many meters thick. Growing like vast coral reefs or masses of soap bubbles over ever-expanding areas, conjoined clusters of habitat domes may spread over the surface of these worlds like a synthetic skin, producing a virtual terraforming based not on altering the atmospheres of these worlds but creating a new second surface to protect a terrestrial-like environment. The aspect of these habitats would be of vast greenhouse roofs supported by columnar arcologies at the vertexes created where domes join. These may be the ultimate surface habitats, eventually subsumed whole into the NanoFoam-based BioZome we will discuss in the Solaria phase.
A Garden of Self-Indulgence for the Lazy Engineer:
The cultures of Avalon colonies are likely to epitomize the Post-Industrial culture cultivated from Aquarius on. The settlers of the Moon, Mars, and other locations in the solar system will not be going there to ‘work’ but to ‘live’. Many initial settlers will be people who –almost as a life-long hobby– have been building these environments via telerobotics from far away in the hopes of moving to them or giving them as a gift to later generations. As we’ve mentioned elsewhere, space is not a place for industrialists, capitalists, heroes, or even scientists but rather a place for artists whose medium of choice is lifestyle. These will be people matching the technical sophistication of aerospace engineers to the imagination of Walt Disney. The ultimate ‘imagineers’ whose objective is to create interesting places to be, not make money. Indeed, the entire premise of Avalon development could be summed up in the concept of the CELSS –the Closed Environment Life Support System; living machines that maintain a habitat, and themselves, with a minimum of human intervention. This is the ultimate expression of the notion of ‘lazy like an engineer’, and that sums up the cultural character of the space settler.
Above all, the inhabitants of the colonies of Avalon may come to see themselves as gardeners –not ‘farmers’ simply producing a crop but gardeners using their habitats as an artist’s canvas, each crafting personal or shared visions of the Good Life as their ultimate life’s work. One would expect great diversity to evolve in the design of these pocket worlds, perhaps even competitiveness. Many may seek to recreate specific terrestrial biomes, though it’s not likely that many forms of natural animal life on Earth will easily survive the altered gravity. That will be challenging enough for human beings to overcome –assuming they ultimately can in some clinical fashion. Marshal Savage –like many space futurists– imagined lunar and planetary colonization as a way of creating safety deposit boxes for terrestrial life elsewhere in the solar system. For life in general this may be true. But it is likely that very select biomes and engineered forms of life may ultimately be required to thrive in the crude approximations of the true terrestrial environment even the largest of habitat structures may be able to manage. Others may simply seek to realize their wildest fantasies, whatever they may be, in the dust and rock of these distant worlds. Fantasy realms, pleasure palaces, or grandiose live-in works of art. Some may simply be happy with a modest and quiet private biome. A personal garden as a kind of constant, living, symbiotic, companion. There are far worse ways one might spend a life.
- Telerobotic Outpost
- Excavated Settlement
- Excavated Colonies
- Surface Transit Fleets
- Surface Transit Waystation
- Mass Launcher System
- Lunar/Planetary Space Elevator Systems
- Avalon Supporting Technologies