Sunday, April 15, 2012

Part 3: Finding a Room in Space

Sleep Module, Ady age 7
My wife keeps telling me what she wants in her next house.  "I guess I will just add it to my list," she says folding clothes, as she runs down why we need a bigger closet, or another bedroom with a luxury bath.  I tell her that I think we should have a giant tilapia pool in the basement that filters through a subterranean hydroponic garden, that way we can grow our own meat and vegetables.  She roles her eyes.  I say it would also be nice if we had thrusters.  "Thrusters?" she asks, (got her).  "Yeah," I say, "How else will we maneuver in the vacuum of space.  A good low energy ion thruster would be valuable on any space house just in case it needs to be moved out of the way of some space debris or something."  Which got me thinking about other things that are valuable when designing useful space habitations and even how we could test them.  I will discuss some of the subsystems necessary for life in  space in this the third installment of my TIS guide.


The Transductionist's Intergalactic Survival Guide Part Three: Finding a Room in Space:

Most humans, have never been to space, let alone slept in space.  But I think that is all going to change thanks to the privatization of space efforts.  The cost to get out of Earth's atmosphere is the most expensive part, right now booking a trip out of this atmosphere is running at around $200,000 with Virgin Galactic.   But Virgin Galactic has the right idea; commercializing those expenses is the best way to cover the cost of increasing technology.  Just look at cell phone and digital technologies in the last two decades for an example of how consumers can pay for rapid technical advancement.  I suggest that all this talk from the 99% about what the 1% should do with their money, should be redirected toward building the Conrad Hilton Space Port and Casino (there are no gaming laws in space...yet).  If you really want to create jobs and stimulate growth, then support your local spaceport fabrication union and we can all create something that is both sustainable and profitable; a win win for everyone.  (Otherwise, you'll be diverting the money to the same organization that created 8% unemployment and sub-prime mortgages.)  I'm not saying that the rich are in it for everyone, they have a lot to gain from this operation as well, lucrative contracts with space resources for example, and maybe first dibs on camping in space.
To be sure, the first to find a room in space won't be doing so in the lap of luxury; it will be more like a rolling out a bed roll under the stars (only without the fresh air).  The sleeping conditions like those found on the international space station may be as high end as it comes for first adopters of a space vacation.  Expect tight quarters, re-hydrated meals, maybe a personal port hole from your bunk, but definitely no day spa at first.  I suspect that a lot of these vacationers will be wealthy men, the aristocratic type that first traveled to third world India and South America come to mind, perhaps dragging their wives or significant other along even though they were horrified by snakes and insects.  Luckily, there are no snakes and insects in space (but also no air to breath either), but still I suspect that drinking her own recycled urine isn't on Kim Kardashian's to do list.  Not that she would be one of the first anyway, since the cost of a two or three night stay in space will probably run in the millions of dollars, since you would be paying not just for your ticket but for the the development of the technology as well.
Eventually it will get better, paid for by these first elite few, and larger hotels or even condominiums will  be built.  And these larger space ports are going to be where we can really test our abilities to create sustainable environments outside of Earths atmosphere. 

The Transductionist's Luxury Space Port and Casino:

Cost will be an important factor in deciding how the first inhabitants in space will live.  One of the main pushes to get us into space will  be our ability to shift the cost to customers while developing technology for space exploration and habitation.  Many of the commercial space tourism companies have proposed hotels in space.  (A company called Galactic Suite claimed they would have a space resort up by the end of 2012 but they seem to have crumbled, as their site is full of holes and not updated.  Here is are Reuter's article from 2009 about the project)  Despite the problems of getting a simple port up and running, I envision a future where we disembark from earth and are then deposited on a floating space port with amenities similar to the luxury cruise lines that sail the seas today.  I have been on several cruises and can attest that they have worked out how to show people a good time while trapped on a ship.  I suspect that these experts can and will lend there skills to the amenities of space tourism.  There are of course major differences from this model; floating on water is not the same as floating in space for example.  This is where human innovation comes in.  Like the cruise ship analogy, experiments and successes in habitation design can be seen at every turn.  Some examples are the shelters built in the arctic and antarctic that must incorporate renewable energy, like wind and solar.   The amazing Princess Elisabeth Station has been designed not just as a zero emission station but also has been architecturally designed to not require external heat supply even in extreme antarctic conditions.  Another example of architecture that may be retrofitted for space is the the Hydropolis Underwater Hotel, that also has all of the amenities that one might find in a luxury spaceport.  However; as my architect brother pointed out to me, a space hotel would have to be designed to withstand a low pressure exterior rather than a high pressure one.  Furthermore supplies can not reach these harsh environments or a moving ship, so they are built with large storage capacities.   All of  these seemingly disparate fields have technologies they can lend to space living.  Below I mention a few more that have bearing on our future in space. 

Compact Living and Modular Construction:

Above I mentioned the cruise lines as an example of some of the designs that may be important in building a hotel in space.  They also represent a modular design and compact but functional living space for every guest.  Another fun example of compact living is found in the Recreational Vehicle (RV).  RV design hasn't changed radically for the past decade or so, although some in the industry might retort that subtle changes to fabrication and components have changed.  They are however built to conform to the constraints of their environment; i.e. as part of a moving vehicle confined to a standard driving lane.  Expansion bays are a cool component that allows more living space when incorporated into RV design and I can see these type of structural features built into the modular space port design as well.  Like RVs and RV trailers, furnishings and appliances would need to be bolted down to the frame in our hypothetical space hotel rooms.  Furthermore a compact shape would be necessary for transport out of Earth's deep gravity well.  On board electricity an d plumbing are another component that might be adapted to space.  While shape and structure has not changed dramatically in the RV industry, what has changed are the electronic components and styles which have kept up with the times.  I imagine that these type of advancements will be incorporated into new modules for the construction of a space port as well.  The cost of fabricating an RV or motor coach is somewhere between  half a million to a million dollars and the final retail cost can be anywhere from over a million and up.  This cost basis might be assumed to be similar to the cost of an individual module sent into space.  However, this assumes a large scale production facility, such as the ones used to fabricate Winnebago's, airplanes, and automobiles.  This type of facility has its own start up costs and assembly line changes needed for non-standard and special modules would potentially cost more as well.  Furthermore, these costs do not include the sizable shipping charges to get the module away from Earth's deep gravity well.
While its not likely that we will see space faring RVs like we saw in the movie Space Balls, designers of this first complex space hotel would be wise to use the modular design and fabrication facilities important in RV construction.  Indeed modular assembly and dis-assembly of the hotel, or any space port, will maximize profits by allowing for paying customers while the hotel continues to expand.  That way guests could off set the cost of future components in the early stages.  These early customers would pay a premium due to the more intimate experience they would enjoy, and the more intimate experience with naked outer space as well.  Additionally, their transport to the newly made station would be accompanied by the delivery of new modules, supplies, and workers/crew.  Pricing would be based on double occupancy, satellite television (space; the ultimate end to cable) and pay-per-view would be available in all rooms.

As discussed above, the technologies for living in space are being amassed here on Earth.  Intergalactic survival rests on the back of our compiled understanding of the universe.  Building a commercial operation that is successful in space is predicated on providing many things that were not covered in this post, including the success of space tourism businesses such as SpaceX and Virgin Galactic, which will one day hopefully provide regularly running cargo ships to low earth orbit and beyond.  I mentioned in previous posts that we will go into space, and that we will explore new places to live.  It is not a question of necessity, as some have argued (humans are very good at adaptation) but it is a question of want.   Just like inhabitants living in the far north or dry deserts, in their car, underwater, or on a boat; we will do it because we can (and because its fun).  If the world governments don't get on the ball, then the private sector will. Here I discuss some of the technical efforts from disparate fields of study that will lend themselves to our first large scale semi-permanent settlements in space.  Some of you might be wondering about food production, playing craps in micro-gravity, and chlorination in the swimming pool, however the subtle details are more than one post is capable of covering.   So in the future I intend to discuss some of the necessary subsystems needed for living in a space casino ( which surprisingly does not include go-go dancers, although some would argue that they definitely effect the bottom line).  Beyond this, I intend to discuss how technologies being developed today may one day take us to new stars and new horizons.


There are other posts in this series, see them here:  12345

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