Lunar urbanism 3, or: the radically non-terrestrial

The housing bubble has become literally astronomical lately, as privately-owned plots – no less than *three and a half million* of them – have been auctioned off on the moon. Yes, the moon. That’s America’s moon.

In reality, however, such plots have been on the market for decades: there’s “a loophole in the 1967 United Nations Outer Space Treaty. Although no country or government can lay claim to extraterrestrial land, it makes no mention of individual or corporate ownership. Plots have been put up for sale ever since.”
So who else but the BBC has stepped into the property-rights fray this past Friday with some helpful lunar construction advice: first, search out “sites with a good supply of ilmenite… to extract oxygen, hydrogen and helium”; then “use lunar rocks as building supplies” because “it is so costly to lift even an extra kilo of steel into space”; finally, stay “on the far side of the moon” with your old Pink Floyd records and safely avoid unfiltered solar radiation.
Sound good? Then contact Dennis Hope, the “US entrepreneur” responsible for selling the 3.4 million private plots mentioned above – and the man behind text-messaging the moon. “Mr. Hope predicts [that there will be] moon-based colonies within 12 years, and [he] is a key investor in the TransOrbital project, which aims to launch the first private commercial flight to the Moon at the end of the year.” That’s less than 4 months from now, but hey…
Mr. Hope, I suppose, must hurry, because the moon is “open for business” (TransOrbital’s actual slogan). Indeed, they’ve already got at least one rival: “the Kennedy II Project, a private venture to establish a permanent, self-supporting community by the end of the decade.” Lunar urbanism redux.
And you can also buy a plot on Mars…
In this context, of at least passing relevance is the work of Constance Adams, one of National Geographic’s 2005 Emerging Explorers, and a self-proclaimed “Space Architect.” In a 2002 lecture Ms. Adams delivered at the Architectural League – entitled “Space Architecture After *2001*” – she discussed architectural life in zero g’s.

Adams has been working on “[t]wo initiatives in recent years,” to assist with life in deep space: “the Bio-Plex and TransHab projects.” Both “have been undertaken with the express goal of solving… problems of metabolism and choreography in space habitats. The two projects are part of… a planned trip to Mars… During transit, the astronauts will live in the TransHab module. On Mars they will live in the robotically landed Bio-Plex habitation modules.”
The biomimetic TransHab module “is revolutionary in two ways. The first is that it is the first spacecraft to feature an endoskeletal construction. The module consists of a layered Kevlar inflatable shell, which performs insulating and protective functions, supported by a robust yet lightweight structural ‘skeleton.'”
As but one bio-structural example, NASA describes how microorganisms can grow cytoskeletons made from “filaments [that] meet in triangular structures resembling a geodesic dome – an example of tensegrity.” (The pull-down menu on that last link has some *great* stuff on “tetrahedral spaceframe weaves” and “extended magnetic arrays,” for starters).

[Those images are of tensegrity sculptures by the supremely talented Kenneth Snelson].
Elsewhere, Constance Adams explicitly alludes to the influence that skeletal evolution in living organisms has had on her architectural designs. She explains that “the big moment [in structural biology] is when the first creature develops an endoskeleton such as we have, thus separating the job of support from protection and permitting an almost infinite field of possibilities for variance and differentiation.” This provides her with an architectural metaphor – and there you go.
But this “infinite field of possibilities for variance and differentiation” is therefore not just architecturally liberating – it is biologically generative. NASA, aware of this, already has a deep space biology program in place to study the chemical, genetic, and macro-anatomical structures of living organisms. Why? To learn who – or *what*, I suppose – might survive in radically non-terrestrial environments. This is the exuberantly named field of astrobiology.

[For an interestingly Warholian presentation of the famed Miller/Urey experiment – in which a lightning chamber was used to generate amino acids from a mixture of inorganic chemicals – see this article from Astrobiology Magazine].
To limit myself to questions of architecture and urbanism, however, I’ll stop here and refer anyone who wants to know more about inhabiting other planets (specifically Mars) – or anyone who just wants to see cool, interactive animations – to the website Explore Mars Now – which also featured in nothing other than the second BLDGBLOG entry ever published (oh, those were the days…).

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