The system is designed to ultimately be self-sufficient, so it could support human life for generations.

Within 100 years, humans may venture beyond the solar system. What would it take to actually live there?

Icarus Interstellar, a project run by a global team of scientists, wants to achieve interstellar flight by 2100--and one of the questions they’re trying to answer is how to create an artificial environment that could support people indefinitely.

Scientists and architects are designing an ecology from scratch. x

“Rather than treat the interior of the starship like it was the pot for a plant, and just hack out a piece of earth and stick in inside a tin can, the proposal is to design from the bottom up an ecology that sustains itself within a particular space,” says Rachel Armstrong, lead researcher on Project Persephone.

The early iterations of the design include tunnels made of a synthetic soil recycled from space debris; the “soil” artificially supports life and recycles waste, and forms a structure to support buildings and cities.

Sensors in the soil monitor activity and communicate with plants and help the system evolve.

“We don’t build ecologies, we garden them--we take existing systems and we stitch them together in practices like agriculture and gardening."

"If we can’t build a sustainable ecology on Earth, we’re going to find it impossible to make one in space. So our design involves reconceptualizing our relationship to ecology.”

It looks nothing like the visions of space from the 1970s, which essentially put American suburbia on other planets.

“That was nearly 50 years ago,” says Armstrong. “There seems to be this nostalgia for the lost Apollo age when we were thinking about mining the moon, and I honestly think we can do a lot better than that.”

She hopes that project will inspire more true innovation, both on Earth and farther away.

Some of the work for Persephone may help directly solve issues on Earth, like an "augmented plant ecology" Armstrong is creating that considers how to use computers to help plants survive in areas of desertification or other difficult environments.

"We urgently need to challenge the global developmental conventions that are holding us in an environmental gridlock here on earth and find new ways of imagining our survival as a species."

Though the project is based around a sense of urgency, it's also fundamentally optimistic.

"Personally I think that an interstellar mission will come from a prosperous, forward-looking culture that actually has established the building blocks for interplanetary existence."

"I don’t think it’s going to be the last act of humanity before we die on Earth. I think that we’re seeing a different kind of thinking, a different boldness of vision."

"I don’t think it’s going to be the last act of humanity before we die on Earth. I think that we’re seeing a different kind of thinking, a different boldness of vision."

"I don’t think it’s going to be the last act of humanity before we die on Earth. I think that we’re seeing a different kind of thinking, a different boldness of vision."

2014-06-04

If This Is What Spaceships Will Look Like In 100 Years, You're Going To Want To Get In Line Now

If we're going to ever settle down away from this planet, we're going to need spaceships like these—essentially living systems that can fly through space—to help get us there and keep us alive.

Within 100 years, humans may venture beyond the solar system. What would it take to make it possible to actually live there? Icarus Interstellar, a project run by a global team of scientists, wants to achieve interstellar flight by 2100—and one of the questions they’re trying to answer is how to create an artificial environment that could support people indefinitely.

Scientists and architects are designing an ecology from scratch. “Rather than treat the interior of the starship like it was the pot for a plant, and just hack out a piece of earth and stick it inside a tin can, the proposal is to design from the bottom up an ecology that sustains itself within a particular space,” says Rachel Armstrong, lead researcher on Project Persephone, the part of the Icarus work that considers how to create an environment.

Trying to just reproduce Earth doesn’t work, as another project already proved. In the early 1990s, Biosphere 2 sealed a crew of eight people inside a biome filled with plants and food, but things didn't go as planned: The crew couldn’t grow enough food, they ran out of oxygen, and the soil failed.

“It proved that we don’t know how to build ecology on a life-bearing planet,” says Armstrong. “We don’t build ecologies, we garden them—we take existing systems and we stitch them together in practices like agriculture and gardening. If we can’t build a sustainable ecology on Earth, we’re going to find it impossible to make one in space. So our design involves reconceptualizing our relationship to ecology.”

The early iterations of the design include tunnels made of a synthetic soil recycled from space debris; the “soil” artificially supports life and recycles waste, and forms a structure to support buildings and cities. Sensors in the soil monitor activity and communicate with plants and help the system evolve. The system is designed to ultimately be self-sufficient, so it could support human life for generations.

It looks nothing like the visions of space from the 1970s, which essentially put American suburbia on other planets.

“That was nearly 50 years ago,” says Armstrong. “Yes, these designs do look surreal. I can imagine people looking at them and saying what the hell is that, that will never happen. But at this stage that’s not the point. The point is to recruit different kinds of thinking. There seems to be this nostalgia for the lost Apollo age when we were thinking about mining the moon, and I honestly think we can do a lot better than that.”

She hopes that project will inspire more true innovation, both on Earth and farther away. "We have some really huge problems to address. I think we need to resist this temptation of just finding incremental change and really radically rethink our existence. Many research grants, even Google Moonshot, are still extensions of what we already know. We need to open up that innovation space for the next generation."

Some of the work for Persephone may help directly solve issues on Earth, like an "augmented plant ecology" Armstrong is creating that considers how to use computers to help plants survive in areas of desertification or other difficult environments.

"We urgently need to challenge the global developmental conventions that are holding us in an environmental gridlock here on Earth and find new ways of imagining our survival as a species—not just for the next few decades—but also into the deep future, so that we can develop the necessary science, technology, and design skills that will be needed for our collective survival," Armstrong says.

Though the project is based around a sense of urgency, it's also fundamentally optimistic. "Personally I think that an interstellar mission will come from a prosperous, forward-looking culture that actually has established the building blocks for interplanetary existence," Armstrong says. "I don’t think it’s going to be the last act of humanity before we die on Earth. I think that we’re seeing a different kind of thinking, a different boldness of vision. It’s a reassertion of what human beings can do, not an apology for what we’ve done in the past."

[Images: JK Design Studios]

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47 Comments

  • fastcoexist

    Definitely makes me think of the differences between artists and engineers. What could one be without the other? Different restraints and different results, with one leading fast and the other pulling to slow down. Newton's 3rd law of motion - personified. OK engineers - you're up next!

  • Walter Adams

    The answer to this question has been provided by Jimmy Cagney in 'Mr Roberts'; "You ain't Never gettin' off this bucket mister." Multi-generational spaceships - warp drive - worm holes, are LIETRARY devices, plot tricks. They have NO reality. Human destiny is here, now. If you are unhappy with this planet; all the air you can breath, water you can drink, the food grows right out of the ground, swims in the seas, flys through the air and runs along the earth; What on earth makes you think you'll be happier with a world you don't even know exists?

  • n2rhv

    It's not about us. It's about life. Life, and man, cannot stay in the cradle forever.

  • Don McCoy

    HR Giger is coming back from the dead to design our spaceships 100 years from now?

  • Arthur Joseph Coté

    Earth 'IS' a spaceship. Earth already sustains multiple forms of life and ecologies and has been doing so for billions of years. Everything we need or want is here. The only thing preventing the needs and wants to reach each and every individual is government and monetary systems. Why want what we already have? Is 'having' not enough these days? Can one only find a satisfactory fullness by having delusional desires? Leaving everything that you have and trading it for the prolonged hopes to find it again is a dangerous psychology known only to this generation through distracting propaganda to create 'liberal' thought processes. If anyone feels they need saving from that that is, then going to a 'nowhere' or a void is an act of cowardice to an end that has no means and no escape from yourself. There is no rapture. No one is going anywhere. Eternity exists only here on Earth.

  • junkntrash

    Does anyone really want to get into a spaceship built by a company called ICARUS interstellar? . . .

  • junkntrash

    Does anyone really want to get in a space ship built by a company named ICARUS interstellar? . . . .

  • leadboned

    Ah, that explains it...the only JK Design Studios I've been able to find on the web do mostly print, packaging, web design, etc. They need concept artists doing this type of artwork;)

  • leadboned

    I have to comment on the designs/concepts, as I'm a concept artist by trade. I'd really like to know what design firm they're using and how much they're paying them to come up with these concepts. Whatever it is they're paying them, it's too much. Most of them appear to be jumbled images that are copy and pasted and/or simply scribbles. No coherence at all in most of them...or merely grainy textures in others. I mean I see what they're trying to go for...but seems to me they're failing miserably. There are tons of amazing concept artists out there (a lot I have worked with personally) that would be able to do a much better job, a more professional looking job, and probably at a fraction of the cost of what they're paying these guys. Just my thoughts.

  • John Wilson

    Well, I'm still trying to determine whether these designers are really science oriented, or just plain lazy. Most of the ethereal elements of this "art" can be created in a few minutes with a flame fractal program called Apophysis.

    Check out the site here, download the (tiny) program and have fun with it. Flame fractals are all math-based, and mathematics is the language of everything. Could they be on to something?

    • Wil

    http://www.apophysis.org/

  • beccaben32

    Note to any dumbass living in the awesome future that I will miss

    These are really ugly, just for aesthetic reasons I hope that this shit doesn't happen. what if some aliens found our derelict ships and thought they were giant space animals? what a stupid legacy to leave behind. I can just imagine all the alien children going to space museums and saying "Boy, Im sure happy I didn't live when these stupid space cows existed. How embarrassing for all the unfortunate space travelers of that time!" Anyway my point is that streamlined, natural and "futuristic" looks dumb. Give me the unnatural 90 degree angles and dangerous looking radiation spewing engines. Unfortunately Im not going to live long enough and I am not smart enough to help design them so for gods sake please just take coolness into consideration when designing these things.

  • beccaben32

    Note to any dumbass living in the awesome future that I will miss

    These are really ugly, just for aesthetic reasons I hope that this shit doesn't happen. what if some aliens found our derelict ships and thought they were giant space animals? what a stupid legacy to leave behind. I can just imagine all the alien children going to space museums and saying "Boy, Im sure happy I didn't live when these stupid space cows existed. How embarrassing for all the unfortunate space travelers of that time!" Anyway my point is that streamlined, natural and "futuristic" looks dumb. Give me the unnatural 90 degree angles and dangerous looking radiation spewing engines. Unfortunately Im not going to live long enough and I am not smart enough to help design them so for gods sake please just take coolness into consideration when designing these things.

  • Cynthia Davis

    sigh. If we as a species stick to insisting that we MUST control every tiny aspect it will never work. We may as well turn ourselves into machines modified to exist in a resource limited non-biological structure. Life is messy, resource hungry, unexpectedly varied and mutating all the time. Here in the US allowing even a simple private property piece of land to simply go "unmanaged" brings on animosity, fear, anger and even disgust - all very typical emotions tied to the human need to control and dominate. And yet that plot of land grows- becomes increasingly diverse and more fertile despite a human need to control it- NOT because of that need.. First we need to understand ourselves -then maybe we might understand how to take such wondrous evolutionary diversity with us. Then finally in partnership with life instead of at war with it - travel beyond the bounds of this planet.