SAGA Space Architects asks how we could comfortably live on the Moon


In September 2020, Sebastian Aristotelis and Karl-Johan Sorensen, founders of SAGA Space Architects, embarked on a three-month mission to northern Greenland in the hopes of simulating the experience of living on the moon. Drawing on the tradition of origami folding and the shape of a budding leaf, SAGA designed a habitat specifically for the LUNARK mission, using folding panels that could contract for shipping and expand. in an ovoid shape when deployed.

Unlike Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) and ICON’s Olympus Project, or Skidmore Lunar Village, Owings & Merrill – proposals designed to meet the basic needs of astronauts to survive on the Moon – SAGA’s LUNARK has instead been focused on how humans could live comfortably, assuming these basic needs had already been met. What distinguishes simple survival from good living? Aristotle says A that they set out to create a home, not just a survival space station in a lab-like setting. To embody the feeling of comfort, Aristotelis and Sorensen refer to the Danish word hygge. Aristotelis described how “hygge is that feeling… imagine you are inside a tent and it’s raining but you are under a blanket, completely dry and comfortable and you can hear the noise. rain outside ”. Hygge can mean something different to everyone, but it’s a feeling that can only arise if basic, primitive needs, such as food, shelter, and protection, have been met.

A prototype of the circadian LED lighting panel (courtesy of SAGA Space Architects)

In search of hygiene in the habitat, SAGA used soft interiors, comfortable lighting, colors, surface textures and carefully configured spaces. The deployed habitat reached an interior volume of 607.4 cubic feet, a 750 percent increase in volume from its initial folded storage volume of 77.7 cubic feet, and was divided into three main zones. The lower section contained storage, food, a urine tank and training equipment; the middle cylinder contained desks, toilets and a radiator, and the upper part of the dome contained the sleeping pods and circadian light panels.

After identifying two key challenges that threatened the psychological and physical well-being of International Space Station astronauts, insomnia and monotony, SAGA worked closely with lighting manufacturer Louis Poulsen to develop a light system artificial circadian for the interior of the LUNARK habitat. The custom sized LED panels were designed to be able to emulate the phases of a natural light environment, simulating dawn, sunrise, daylight, sunset and dusk. To further combat the monotony, they have been programmed to vary from day to day, using different light intensities to mimic weather conditions such as sunny and overcast skies.

the LUNARK module designed by SAGA space architects when folded flat, resembling a pine cone
The LUNARK habitat when fully collapsed and compressed (courtesy SAGA Space Architects)

When asked if an optimal lighting environment had been determined, Aristotelis said A that such an environment did not exist; the inability to control or forecast the weather patterns simulated by the panels was more critical than finding an optimal setting. Team members in Denmark retained full control of the weather programming, although halfway through the 61-day experience they gave in to Aristotelis and Sorensen’s desire to exaggerate the specter. colors to better imitate the overwhelming and intense experience of observing a sunset or a sunrise from the outside. .

According to Aristotelis, there is a myth that if you could control the whole climate, he or she would make every day the best day in Hawaii. Aristotelis insisted that it was only through the variability and unpredictability of weather conditions that they could get a sense of the passing weather and an appreciation of sunny days. They currently aspire to develop a habitat capable of reproducing in a more visceral way the meteorological phenomena such as rain and snow.

In addition to the LED panels, Aristotelis and Sorensen used adjustable light sources in the home. Louis Poulsen’s NJP and Panthella portable lights gave them the flexibility to adjust their lighting preferences to suit their needs. Aristotelis pointed out that the availability of controllable and uncontrollable light sources greatly contributes to their comfort and emotional well-being within the habitat.

a group of mushroom shaped lights
Louis Poulsen Panthella Portable lamps were used for the adjustable lighting on board the habitat (Courtesy of SAGA Space Architects)

Although nowhere on Earth could closely simulate the Moon’s environment, habitat was isolated in Greenland in a relatively arid landscape, but SAGA may have benefited from more serious recognition of the initial limitations inherent in simulation and how these, in turn, impacted the resulting data and the conclusions that can be drawn from it. The mission consisted of 30 days of sunshine followed by 30 days of darkness, comparable to 14 days of sunshine followed by 14 days of darkness on the Moon, but the challenges posed by the extreme variations in temperature and pressure, the radiation, lack of oxygen and a low gravity environment were not present.

In support of the habitat’s alleged success, Aristotelis said A that after their stay, he and Sorensen performed better on the Spaceflight Cognitive Assessment Tool for Windows (WinSCAT), a test used on the International Space Station to assess the cognitive performance of spaceflight, than the professional astronauts returning to Earth. This seems like an inconsequential comparison to make, given that there were few control variables in the experiment.

the founders of SAGA Space Architects back to back in an office
At work in the central compartment of the habitat (Courtesy of SAGA Space Architects)

As a result of the expedition, several research projects, presented on the SAGA website, were launched to study the effects of long-term isolation and confinement on the cognitive abilities and coping dynamics of teams. . These research initiatives continue to demonstrate how experiments designed for space can help inform our understanding of life on Earth. As SAGA notes on its website, “Our generation spends 90 [percent] of our time indoors. The expedition allows to discover solutions in terms of well-being and indoor climate on Earth as in space.

Circadian lighting systems using LEDs are increasingly common in commercial and residential spaces. Ketra, Acuity Brands, Cree, Osram, Phillips, and USAI Lighting are just a few of the companies that have developed adjustable or dynamic lighting technologies that allow users to control the color temperature of a light source. Software has also been developed to combat the effects of blue light emitted by electronic screens in parallel with the body’s circadian rhythm; these include f.lux, RedShift for Linux, Twilight for Android, Blue Shade for Amazon tablets, and Night Shift for Apple iOS, to name just a small sample.

Circadian rhythms are notably 24-hour cycles, and the LUNARK mission presented a unique opportunity to study the effectiveness of lighting strategies in a confined environment, assuming all other light sources were taken into account. In an unconfined environment, bulbs can be updated and software can be downloaded to limit blue light emission from devices, but it is unlikely that all light sources can be controlled when a person is moving between. buildings, vehicles and streets during the course. of a day. Consequently, if several of the light sequences programmed by Louis Poulsen for the LUNARK habitat are similar to those programmed for office buildings – the day begins with cooler, high-intensity lighting, which changes to warmer lighting in the afternoon, encouraging a person to wake up in the morning and become more alert during the day. day – do not expect the same improved sleep or health benefits. However, the promise of nicer and more comfortable moods can be enticing enough to get someone to update their lighting schemes.

A man in a locker asleep reading a book
Inside a sleeping cabin on top of the LUNARK Habitat (Courtesy SAGA Space Architects)

At the start of the interview with AAristotelis mentioned a quote, attributed anonymously, that fueled his early fascination with space: “Born too late to explore Earth, born too early to explore space. It looks like the Reddit community has long since adapted the line into a meme (i.e. “born just in time to—”), but the quote might also raise questions about whether spending large sums of money. for spaceflight could be a distraction from or an escape from the environmental devastation on Earth and our inability to cope with climate change.

Moreover, one might wonder, if the Earth becomes unlivable for the vast majority, who then has the possibility of going into space? The headline of the SAGA mission press release reads: “LUNARK – Building and Testing a Lunar House for Everyone,” but that will likely remain an unattainable dream for at least the foreseeable future, when a ticket to a seat on Jeff Bezos’ Blue The Origin rocket ride, which only went to the edge of the atmosphere, cost $ 28 million. Aristotelis, for his part, is adamant that solutions developed for space can be useful for the Earth, even if they are not always related to the climate, and that our planet remains the best place for humans. Maybe some of the challenges of occupying space will make people more sensitive to this.

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