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

Co.Exist

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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22 Comments

  • Thomas Wrobel

    Nice art, but I dont see how they work as designs (beyond purhapes inspiration for a new season of Farscape).

    Typically if you want a fast moving ship - high fractions of C, Cigar shapes are generally agreed to be the way to go. Reducing surface area your likely to hit interstellar dust with.

    Meanwhile if they arnt designed to go fast, but rather be slow generation ships, wouldn't you at least want big wings to help gather solar energy?

    That all said, I suspect by the time we are thinking of this stuff seriously, nanotech and genetic engineering will be one and the same. "Growing" the insides of ships might well be the way to go.

  • Jonathan Vos Post

    (10) In conclusion, You are VERY STRONGLY advised to apologize to Freeman Dyson in an open letter in CO.EXIST, FASTCOMPANY, AND ON FACEBOOK for your wholesale theft of intellectual property.

    (11) You have been given NOTICE.

  • For being such a well published subject matter expert, I just have one question for you: Are you actually serious right now, or are you just a big TROLL with too much time on your hands??? Ersan Seer is right, the internet just gave you a HUGE middle finger.

  • Sorry, Jonathan. Whatever your history, whatever your credentials, you have only proven one thing:

    You aren't keeping up with the times.

    Pushing people around like that doesn't work anymore. Imagine a huge middle finger. That's what the internet is, in all conversations around Intellectual Property.

    There is so much blatant word-for-word, pixel-for-pixel stealing going on in high-profile, legitimate publications across the globe....

    And here you are complaining about theft of ideas.

    Guess what.

    The trends pointing us towards the futures described in the above article are EXTREMELY MOMENTOUS. They are detectable by everyone who cares to wonder about the future.

    These kinds of ideas are not Intellectual Property. No apology needed, Adele.

  • Jonathan Vos Post

    (8) Compared to Freeman Dyson or myself, neither of you know a damned thing about Sustainability, as, for example, I taught ECOLOGY in 1974-1975 at the University of Massachusetts before it was cool to fuzzy-headed New Age ignorant fools such as you. (9) For example, my professional author/scientist wife, Chair of the Department of the Sciences (Astronomy, Biology, Physics, and Environmental Studies of a private university, brings professor expert in Sustainability to her campus, and has dined with Freeman Dyson.

  • ". . . before it was cool to fuzzy-headed New Age ignorant fools such as you."

    That feels a bit unnecessary. If you were really plagiarized then I understand being upset, but resorting to statements like that kinda detracts from the rest of your argument.

    Also, an extensive rebuttal at another blog or site -- and then linking to that post -- would have been easier for us to read than the series of comments.

  • Jonathan Vos Post

    (7) I am also

    • co-author with Ray Bradbury
    • co-author with Richard Feynman, Nobel Laureate physicist
    • co-editor with David Brin and Arthur C. Clarke
    • co-broadcaster with Isaac Asimov
    • quoted by name in Robert Heinlein's "Expanded Universe"
    • Winner of 1987 Rhysling Award for Best Science Fiction Poem of Year
    • Published in Nebula Awards Anthology #23, 1989
  • Jonathan Vos Post

    (5) Compared to Freeman Dyson or myself, neither of you are writers. (6) I also write Math and Science research nonfiction every day, having developed that habit at Boeing, Burroughs, European Space Agency, Federal Aviation Administration, Ford, General Motors, Hughes, JPL, Lear Astronics, NASA, Systems Development Corporation, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, Venture Technologies, Yamaha, and my various professorships.

  • Jonathan Vos Post

    (3) Without Dyson, there would be NO ICARUS PROJECT.

    (4) Without DYSON there would be no written prior art that describes "SPACESHIPS LIKE THESE--ESSENTIALLY LIVING SYSTEMS THAT CAN FLY THROUGH SPACE--TO HELP GET US THERE AND KEEP US ALIVE" -- to use the plagiarized words of your friend and fellow fake-journalist Adele Peters who "is a writer who focuses on sustainability."

  • Jonathan Vos Post

    (2) A 1955 Los Alamos Laboratory document states (without offering references) that general proposals were first made by Stanislaw Ulam in 1946, and that preliminary calculations were made by F. Reines and Ulam in a Los Alamos memorandum dated 1947. The actual project, initiated in 1958, was led by Ted Taylor at General Atomics and physicist Freeman Dyson, who at Taylor's request took a year away from the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton to work on the project.

  • Jonathan Vos Post

    Freeman Dyson was the first and greatest scientific author on interstellar flight, and the co-inventor (with Ted Taylor and my late colleague Stan Ulam of Project Orion -- the study of a spacecraft intended to be directly propelled by a series of explosions of atomic bombs behind the craft (nuclear pulse propulsion). Early versions of this vehicle were proposed to take off from the ground with significant associated nuclear fallout; later versions were presented for use only in space.

  • Jonathan Vos Post

    This is a VERY diluted version of what I've been posting on Facebook for years, including my peer-reviewed 28-29 April 2014, Interplanetary Small Satellite Conference, Caltech
    presented: “Dyson Precursors” -- my paper, with Freeman Dyson's participation, of Dyson's published ideas for LIVING SPACECRAFT. This has also been used in depth in this series of short science fiction which was also serialized on Facebook: Short Fiction Sequels to Decadal Hard SF novellas, after “Cosmic Mind 2140” all set in the Oort Cloud in 2150 and 2160 AD

    Words Pages Title StartDate EndDate ==== == =================== 1,850 6 All Spaceroads Lead to Rome 27 Oct '13 27 Oct '13 5,300 16 Half a Trillion Miles to Earth 28 Oct '13 29 Oct '13 [need printed] 7,200 22 Beatrice Between the Stars 30 Oct '13 3 Nov '13 17,550 57 The Spaceroads Must Roll 9 Nov 2013 17 Nov 2013 16,500 53 Plasma-Life 2160 19 Nov 2013 27 Nov 2013 17,500 58 Mind-Search 2170 28 Nov 2013 8 Dec 2013 ==== == =====

  • alanaforsyth

    The illustrations seem pointless without any explanation of their function and so forth. The article fails because of that.

  • alanaforsyth

    It would have been a good article if there were captions on the pictures that explained what that design was intended to represent. They look like monsters from the deep or your worst nightmares. What these "things" have to do with new thinking is quite beyond me when there is absolutely no information about what these "things" are supposed to do or how they are to function, be powered, and so forth.