Space Design for New Human Beings
17 January 2023 — 8 minutes read
Design for Space exemplifies sustainability and inclusion even beyond Earth and embodies the principles of the New European Bauhaus. The exhibition curated by Professors Annalisa Dominoni and Benedetto Quaquaro presents the research and projects developed within the Department of Design and the Space4InspirAction course, 6th edition 2022, in collaboration with the European Space Agency (ESA), to enhance the applications of microalgae on the lunar surface and increase the performance of parastronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS).
The first "New European Bauhaus Festival," which took place June 9-12, 2022 simultaneously in all European Union countries, awarded prizes to future-oriented projects, including the "Space Design for New Human Beings" exhibition in which the strategic role of design for the design and development of new habitability concepts for orbiting stations and moon bases clearly emerges.
In this sense, professors Annalisa and Benedetto argue that, today and in the near future, Space will have an increasingly decisive and impactful influence on people's everyday lives, behaviors and performance and, consequently, on the transformative capacity of private companies to generate innovation and new sustainable and inclusive business models, thanks to the contribution of design.
Among the various themes welcomed during The New European Bauhaus Festival, Space Design for News Human Beings turned its gaze toward microalgae cultivation on the Moon and motor disability in microgravity, disruptive themes oriented toward increasing values of sustainability and inclusion in Space as well.
For greater awareness and deeper understanding of the topic, the design was supported by two technical sponsors such as the Tolo Green company, a producer of microalgae, and the Hackability research laboratory, which combines the world of making with the needs of people with disabilities. The European Space Agency (ESA), which has collaborated with Space4InspirAction since its inception in 2017, also supported the projects by providing scientific and technological know-how.
The proposed goal is to increase the well-being of Living Space and extreme environments by looking beyond functionality, toward principles such as sustainability and inclusion, and designing sensitive and sustainable environments.
In this regard today, it is necessary to consider that, not only professional astronauts, but also tourists will go to Space, and they will need a high level of comfort, because people want to live "the dream": the role of design is also to shape this dream by designing extraordinary and unique experiences.
Microalgae on the Moon
The goal of the first project theme is to propose innovative solutions for the cultivation, growth, extraction, preparation, processing, consumption, and preservation of microalgae in the extreme environment that is the Moon, with no atmosphere, conditioned by harmful solar radiation, and with a gravity reduced to 1/6th that of Earth, affecting the behavior of humans, plants, and fluid substances. One solution can be found in the production of spirulina, a blue algae that converts carbon dioxide into oxygen and can be used as protein food, food suitable for extreme environments such as Space.
"Our satellite will initially be inhabited by crews of four people who will need to produce, autonomously from Earth, high-protein, sustainable food."
The home environment on the Moon is modeled after the Moon Village, a project by the American architecture firm SOM (Skidmore, Owings & Merrill), while the 11 concepts of 3D-printable structures, equipment and tools to be used inside the lunar base were designed by the Space4InspirAction team headed by Professors Annalisa Dominoni and Benedetto Quaquaro and supported by the European Space Agency (ESA) and are aimed at wellness, crew co-design, participation and sustainability.
Great attention has also been paid to analysis of the confined environment (which in the absence of natural stimuli affects astronauts' psychophysiology, as well as proxemic and spatial relationships) and reduced gravity, which can be transformed from limit to advantage, imagining opportunities that would not be possible on Earth.
The projects address two scenarios: the lunar base, the main one, but also "the analogue," in space jargon a habitat made on Earth that mimics a lunar or Martian environment and serves as a test, in which many aspects of missions can be tested. An example of a lunar analogue is currently under construction at the European Astronaut Center (EAC) in Cologne, Germany.
Some of the projects presented focus on creating new gestures that are generated spontaneously in a confined environment and in gravity reduced to one-sixth as the Moon is: an example is a kit to start the cultivation of spirulina algae inside the lunar base, which trains astronauts in the operations of extracting, growing and consuming microalgae; but also, changing scale, inflatable habitats made of breathable material that serve as "equipped green gyms" where fitness activities can be proposed, always taking advantage of reduced gravity and the opportunity to reinvent actions, movements and gestures, supported by dedicated and specially designed tools for jumping and climbing on the Moon.
Other projects, however, use liquid spirulina to create relaxation environments inside the lunar base-that could also be transferred to Earth-as exclusive, futuristic spas: chaise lounges that can be closed like cocoons, depending on the need for privacy, and that use the power of light not only for color therapy, but also to grow spirulina algae and be able to drink it; convivial spaces that encourage moments of entertainment surrounded by greenery thanks to structures that contain microalgae and are inspired by "technological forests." and, again, fountains with fluid forms that produce cascades of green liquid, from which it is possible to drink a beverage rich in nutrients, such as protein and minerals, made from microalgae, and that give an unprecedented spectacle, considering that with 1/6 gravity, liquids become denser and descend more slowly.
All of the projects are linked by a "green" thread that invites the inhabitants of the Moon to experience an almost symbiotic relationship with microalgae to become aware of the importance of nature in a confined and hostile environment, such as the collection of jewelry and wearables that contain algae and substances for their sustenance and that, thanks to the wearer's movement during the day, can stay alive.
Disability in Microgravity
The second theme aims to respond to the first call launched in 2022 by the European Space Agency (ESA) for "parastronauts " through new prosthetic objects, both for astronauts and for individuals with motor disabilities, in order to amplify performance aboard the International Space Station (ISS). Considering prosthetics real "extensions" of motor capabilities, which in microgravity undergo strong alterations compromising stability and movement, it is possible to support the crew by counteracting the negative effects of the lack of gravity. This concept is intended to bring astronauts and parastronauts closer together on the assumption that in Space, in microgravity, we are all somewhat disabled and less performing, and we need tools to support us in performing various activities.
ESA, in selecting who to admit into orbit, accepts only certain types of disabilities such as being less than 130 centimeters in stature or missing a foot or leg below the knee joint. To date, design for Space becomes a challenge that helps overcome currently unthinkable barriers and allows testing the boundaries of science and technology to find innovative ways to approach space travel.
However, the International Space Station (ISS) was not designed for humans with such problems. Therefore, it is necessary to design tools and devices to overcome such difficulties with innovative solutions and ideas that can serve to improve the comfort and performance even of astronauts who do not have disabilities.
One of the problems faced on the ISS is that of moving from one point to another on the Station: the absence of weight does not allow for free movement except by levering a hand or foot on something, and in order to remain stationary, for example when working on the computer, it is necessary to anchor oneself.
A difficulty for everyone, which would be even more serious for a disabled astronaut, but which can be solved by innovative solutions such as, for example, an extendable arm, connected to the body with adjustable velcro straps, to attach to an anchor point, which is useful for astronauts and parastronauts and can also be used during extravehicular activities; alternatively, a two-rope system to be stretched through the interior of the ISS, which allows one to position oneself in a specific spot to work, locking oneself with a velcro belt.
Or again, to move around in microgravity without the need to give oneself a push on a fixed surface, the use of a handlebar equipped with a central fan that pushes in the desired direction, the handles of which close for one-handed use, may be useful.
We must consider that astronauts living in space in the future will undergo physical mutations: legs will become thinner and feet will become more prehensile. That's why many designs are inspired by the natural world, such as a kit that takes inspiration from octopuses, lizards and monkeys and includes tools for hands, feet and toes to move around and accomplish on-board activities with greater ease and dexterity.
Also drawn from the natural world, from octopuses and also from the legs of geckos, is a "prosthetic sculpture " designed for parastronauts with a partially amputated limb. Kraken has a design reminiscent of precisely the way octopuses' tentacles grip their surroundings and is made of a soft, flexible 3D-printable material that, in the absence of weight, will not have to bear great loads: a small sphere at the end of the prosthesis allows it, as it deforms, to securely attach itself to the handles of the ISS to which it remains adhered by exploiting the same principle as geckos' legs.
For more on this topic, see Space Design for New Human Beings.