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You’re Picturing Space Homes Wrong

Think less The Jetsons and more log cabins

CK Kimball
August 30 2021
Pop culture has trained us to view living in space in a very particular way. When a person thinks about space dwellings, that person probably imagines domed structures of plastic and metal. Or, if style is the priority over function, they picture designs emulating the starbursts and bold neon of the “Googie” type of futurist architecture, popular in the 50’s and 60’s at the height of the Space Age.

December 1953 Science Fiction Adventures magazine cover: Angie'’s List

Either way, the most consistent depiction of future space colonies are apartments reminiscent of “The Jetsons” and World’s Fair achievements with metal sliding doors and rings around everything from clothes to buildings. But what if the future of space living was less utilitarian and more homey? What if, instead of crazy, exotic materials layered into geometric shapes… we built a log cabin on mars? 

Instinct would tell you that fragile timber is not the best choice for structures needed to withstand the insane and unexpected elements of the upper atmosphere. However, a team from the Biomaterials Design Lab at Kyoto University's graduate school of agriculture partnered with Sumitomo Forestry and Japanese space agency JAXA have been finding evidence that wood can take a lot more punishment than previously thought.

Koji Murata showing a metal-framed wood panel that will be sent to the ISS Kibo: Kyoto University

In earthbound labs, wood has not only demonstrated that it can hold up against much higher temperature variance than once believed, like -150 to 150 degrees Celsius or -238 to 302 degrees Fahrenheit) but also it remained sturdy in near-vacuum like simulated conditions.

”Wood’s ability to withstand simulatedlow earth orbit—or LEO—conditions astounded us," explainedKoji Murata, head of the space-wood research effort. And that surprise inspired the team from Kyoto University to send a selection of wooden samples from various plant species to the International Space Station at the end of 2021. Hopefully, after six months of exposure to the vast and wild frontier of space, more data will support efforts to begin using lumber as a sustainable, and more easily disposed of, option for satellites (which are currently littering planet Earth’s orbit as space junk) and eventually… off-world housing.

Courtesy CK Kimball

It’s fascinating that the collective consciousness of humanity has been imagining a future in space generally the same way for decades. Even more current artist renderings of possible Mars colonies appear like domed greenhouses on a red, barren dirt when the reality may be closer to a poorly designed subdivision with box hedges in the front and furnished by IKEA. Who said life on Mars couldn’t look just like home?



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