22 October 2020
While many people dream about changing lives, many others dream about being able to live in space. Until just a few years ago the Moon seemed to be the most sought-after destination, but once it had been accessed and explored, we understood that it could not be an ideal habitat. Now people are thinking about colonising Mars, which is more similar to our own planet. Another Utopia or a real possibility? The Red Planet seems increasingly to be less of a fantasy and more a part of our future. The first non-science fiction project devoted to it was all the way back in 1952 but, over the last few decades, a number of different space agencies have been busy working on interplanetary travel plans for human crews and potential further trips. Even Elon Musk, the visionary entrepreneur helming a range of different companies - including Tesla and SpaceX - has been caught up in the rush to visit Mars, dreaming of building thousands of spaceships in the next ten years which, with an average of three flights a day, would be able to transport up to 100 thousand people to the planet.
A number of scientists are testing what life might really be like on Mars, the fourth planet from the Sun. The Interstellar Lab research centre, which was launched in 2018, with headquarters in Paris and Los Angeles, is designing a biome system – large areas of the biosphere identified and classified according to dominant plant species, on land, or fauna, in water – in California’s Mojave Desert, to test future human settlements in space. The first of these is expected to open in 2021.
“Sentient life is likely very rare in our universe. Complex life may be rare in our solar system,” said Barbara Belvisi, founder and CEO of Interstellar Lab, an entrepreneur and the youngest European venture capital investment manager, listed among the Top 10 Women in Tech in France and the Forbes Global Top 100 in 2018. “We are building technologies to help its preservation and regeneration on Earth now and on other planets in the future. The two planets share a common ground. What we need to bring on Mars for life is what we need to protect on Earth right now.”
The idea, therefore, is to develop technologies that will make life on Mars feasible and, if that works, to apply them to other planets. What does this involve? In short, the first self-sustainable and bioregenerative village on Earth. Let’s start with the name: EBIOS, an acronym for Experimental BIOregenerative Station. Experimental because it is a village created using space technology and able to host all sorts of people, not just staff, so that we can all have a shot at this new way of life on Earth. It is bio-regenerative, because biology is at the heart of the entire system and because, in line with the Interstellar Lab philosophy, the only way to live on this planet and on others in the future, is to be in harmony with nature, amalgamating it with technology, seen not as the enemy of nature but as its perfect integration.
The station looks like a real urban agglomeration, a village made up of many different units, some with totally transparent domes and some with less light-permeable ones, laid out in circles so as to create a “closed- loop” system, symbolically reflecting the total self-sufficiency guaranteed by the regenerative life support systems. Designed by a team of architects and engineers leveraging the principles of parametric architecture – which assigns precise mathematical values to functions, and assesses their relationship to each other as parameters – the structures are resilient but easily dismantled, and have been designed as a collection of modules, currently geared to a maximum capacity of 5 people. Each station has an arts and music centre and a science area equipped with laboratories for experimenting and testing life support technologies.
The ultimate objective of EBIOS is to produce and recycle water, food and energy for 100 people at the most. Interstellar Lab is working closely with NASA, studying water treatment, plant growth systems, 3D printing technologies and analysing human behaviour in a closed environment. Designed as a closed-loop system, EBIOS ensures a carbon-neutral footprint, zero waste and nature conservation.
Conceived as a training ground for astronauts and a scientific and agricultural research centre, it is open to the general public – families, students or just the frankly curious - for six months of the year. In other words, to all those keen to play their part in tomorrow’s world, on Earth or elsewhere. Each visit lasts for a week. EBIOS is therefore a very real living space, in which everyone can give free rein to their imaginations, helping to build a future of hope and life. A second EBIOS near the Kennedy Space Center at Cape Canaveral is already under discussion, and another eight are planned over the next ten years.
If human beings were settling on Earth for the first time, what would their first base be like? This is what EBIOS is all about. A new beginning on our own planet. All we can do now is await a response to David Bowie’s famous question: Is There Life on Mars?