On our travels last week, we decided to stop off at the Eden Project down near St. Austell in Cornwall for a few hours. It’s been one of those places I’ve always wanted to visit, especially since my involvement with the Mars Foundation. Well known in the UK for its “Biomes” – huge geodesic domes composed of hexagonal cushions of flexible but durable plastic – the project supports a huge number of plants and animals from around the globe. So, apart from looking pretty cool, why have I decided to mention it on astroengine? Well, Eden hasn’t only inspired environmentalists, it could aid the future design and implementation of structures beyond Earth…
As we drove through the lush Cornish countryside, along a surprisingly long road leading to the Eden Project, we thought we’d taken a wrong turn. For all its popularity and fame, the road signs leading to Eden were fairly understated. Eventually we got there, in the rain, realizing it was going to cost £15 each to get in. My mum and sister however were keen to see the place (probably more keen than me, I was content taking pictures from the outside. £15 seemed like a bit of an expensive glorified greenhouse to be honest!), so we parked up and walked to the main event. Any cost concerns soon ebbed away when I saw the biomes for the first time. It was one of those pangs of childhood curiosity that hit me. Not content with looking down onto the old China clay quarry, I wanted to get down there, into the guts of these huge geodesic domes.
The Eden Project is a charity, focusing on sustainable energy, environmentalism and conservation. Proudly supporting radically different ecosystems, the chain of biomes are carefully controlled to support a mini rainforest through to a temperate Mediterranean environment. For me, the most inspiring zone was the rainforest. There seemed to be a focus on educating visitors as to what the rainforest provides and how humans can exist in harmony under the palms and huge poles of bamboo. Interestingly, and this was something that only just dawned on me when I saw it, many of the structures and mock-up “settlements” were constructed with bamboo. Apart from the obvious biome structural design, I couldn’t see anything obvious that connected my work with the Mars Foundation to the Eden Project. But there it was, all around us: bamboo.
I was a little confused as to why Bruce at the Foundation was so interested in the use of bamboo for Mars settlement design when I first joined 18 months ago. In my naive view of settling on another planet I always assumed it would be a hi-tech world, not filled with the basic building blocks we have down here on Earth. But the Mars Homestead Project is just that, using local materials to aid the construction of manned settlements. Of course the bamboo would have to be grown in a controlled greenhouse environment, but this flexible and tough resource could be used in a variety of applications on the Red Planet as well as down here inside the rainforest biome.
But, the showstopper was most certainly the stunning dome structures covering thousands of plant species from around the globe. Composed out of huge hexagonal panes of tough plastic “cushions”, the membrane performs its task excellently. Not only is it light weight (allowing the elegant domed structures to be so large with no vertical supports causing obstructions inside), it provides excellent insulation allowing the internal temperatures to be regulated to a very fine margin.
This project is immense and I could talk about it forever, but for now I’ll let the pictures aid your imagination as to how the Eden biome design could be worked into extra-terrestrial settlement plans.
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