Saturday, July 22, 2017

"Swedish for common sense."


At some point, we will begin to colonize the rest of our solar system.

Science fiction - and science fiction fans - just take that as a given.  How could we not?  And as such, science fiction is full of example of Moon bases and Mars colonies and space stations and so on.


However, the finer details of the process are frequently left to the imagination.  I've been rewatching The Martian, the excellent 2015 adaptation of Andy Weir's equally excellent novel*, on Netflix™ and it occurred to me that they never really discuss where the Hab module on Mars comes from.  In the movie, it's apparently quite a solid structure, although in the novel, it's just a bubble, held in shape by air pressure (which makes the scene where the airlock blows out a bit more challenging for the abandoned astronaut Mark Watney, because the entire structure collapses).


But it takes more than air pressure to make a house a home, to misquote Walter Brennan.  It takes desks. It takes desks, and beds, tables and chairs, shelves and cabinets, and all the other bits and pieces that make up a functioning living and working space, whether it's on Mars or the Moon.

Ignoring the question of how the Ares 3 team put all this together in a couple of Martian weeks, how did all the bits and pieces get there?  We're looking at a situation where both space and weight are at a premium: every milligram matters when it comes to fuel consumption, as demonstrated by the process of demolishing the Ares 4 Mars Ascent Vehicle so that it has enough fuel to take Watney to a rendezvous with the Hermes.

So far, this sort of thing hasn't been a real problem for NASA.  The International Space Station is constructed from prefabricated modules that have been boosted into orbit and assembled** over a time span of almost 20 years, and it doesn't need furniture as such - lack of gravity makes wheeled office chairs a bit redundant.

However, as soon as we start setting up a base in any kind of a gravity well, furnishings will become an issue, and NASA will need to look at the logistics of transporting all the associated bits and pieces required to create a functioning and livable habitat to another world. It will require lightweight modular furniture, packaged so that there is no wasted space, and which can be assembled easily and quickly with a minimum of tools.

But where can they go for this sort of expertise?  Hmmm...oh, wait, I know...


- Sid

* To be honest, I feel that the novel is a bit more excellent than the movie.  It's certainly more sciency.

** Shout out to both the Canadarm and the Canadarm II.


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