Inflatable habitats  may soon permit the long-term, self-sufficient colonization of extreme environments

Inflatable habitats for polar and space colonists

Humanity has long since established a foothold in the Artic and Antarctic, but extensive colonization of these regions may soon become economically viable. If we can learn to build self-sufficient habitats in these extreme environments, similar technology could be used to live on the Moon or Mars. So far we seem to have managed well; Antarctica has almost forty permanently staffed research stations. These installations are far from self-sufficient, however; the USA alone spent 125 million dollars in 1995 on maintenance and operations. All vital resources must be imported construction materials, food, and especially fuel for generating electricity and heat.The most efficient way to generate heat from sunlight is, of course, the well-known "greenhouse" effect. Given a transparent or translucent roof, any structure can hold onto the energy of sunlight long enough to transform it into heat. Glass works well for this, but glass is heavy and expensive to transport. Some good alternatives to glass are now available, however, and more options are on the way. Innovative manufacturing techniques have created many useful composite materials, including translucent, flexible membranes such as Saint-Gobain's Sheerfill®. While these materials are certainly more expensive than glass, very little is required to construct a useful shelter.The principle advantages of this design are the low weight and flexibility of the material. If only a few people at a time need shelter, an enclosure the size of a small house would weigh only about 65 kg, or as much as a person. This is light enough even for a space mission, and setting up would be as easy as turning on an air pump. For large colonies, enough membrane to enclose 200 hectares would weigh only 145 tons. The interior would be warm and sheltered, a safe environment for the construction of more traditional buildings and gardens.

Source: physorg.comAdded: 21 February 2007