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ISECCo's first project, a Closed Ecological Life Support System (defined), is best pictured as a garden in a house. More technically, our CELSS is a human life support system using biological systems to provide our inhabitants with food, air, and water. This technique is particularly suited for planetary colonies and permanently manned space stations, not to mention underwater habitats. We have named our CELSS Nauvik, which is an Eskimo term meaning nurturing place, and our CELSS project the Nauvik project.

The Nauvik structure will be a 40+ foot diameter, airtight dome completely underground. We have not yet determined the actual size; it will depend on a) the size Mars Base Zero seems to indicate; b) whether we want to include things like chickens; c) how many people we want to be able to live inside; d) how much spare space we want.  Currently we are building/operating a semi-closed greenhouse (Mars Base Zero) to further extend our experimental capabilities.

We are well along with the preliminary research. We have grown many varieties of grains and vegetables, using both hydroponics and advanced soil techniques. We have raised fish and flies, chickens and earthworms. We have operated Mars Base Zero for more than a month with a person closed inside.  Systems integration will be very complicated (the water cycle, for example, interacts with every biological subsystem, and balancing each areas' requirements with production may be tricky).

A lot of our research has been done by simply planting gardens. Some of the integration trials have been undertaken in a corner of Ray Collins' basement. This basement corner has been dubbed the Basement Biosphere, though it is far short of a real biosphere! The next major step is our semi-closed greenhouse called Mars Base Zero, where we are expanding our integration experiments

After we have got the ecosystem to the point where we can support (or nearly support) a person, with as much closure as possible in Mars Base Zero, we'll build the Nauvik structure with the goal of running it completely sealed--though it'll be run as an open system while we get the ecosystem balanced.

When the dome is finished and Nauvik comes alive, we expect our ecological environment to take at least a year or two to achieve a balance. Once the ecological system is in balance we'll start shutting the door for longer and longer periods. We have defined proof of a working system as operation (sealed) for one year. It will probably take several years to develop the technology necessary for Nauvik to remain sealed for the entire proving period; there are still many unknowns. We expect to minimize the input in the first few years and successful operation should follow as the technology develops. Once we have completed a successful mission we'll try stressing the system in various ways (more people, different air pressure, reduced/alternative lighting, etc.)

In 1993 we drafted a tenative set of diagrams for Nauvik.  The cross section shows the burried aspect of Nauvik, with control shack, water tunnel access, crop and living areas, etc.  The top floor diagram shows the living area, airlock, storage area, preplants, etc.  The ground floor diagram has the principal components of the ecosystem.  If the results from Mars Base Zero show that this size is capable of supporting a person, we will build it to this diagram.  If it proves to be too small, we will scale it up so there is more crop area.

Our timeline for developing Nauvik is very long.  Using a very small input of resources persistently is what will achieve our goals.  As yet we have no specific time in mind to build Nauvik.  We hope it will not take too many decades to develop the technology required to determine (via  Mars Base Zero) how big to make Nauvik so when we build we'll be confident the size is correct.  We'll also have a gotten a very good idea of the components needed to impliment our completely closed ecosystem.

Nauvik technology is absolutely required for colonizing space. The costs of supporting a person, even in low earth orbit, is prohibitive. Our first project is aimed directly at reducing the costs of supporting a person in space. We chose it for a number of reasons, the most important being it is within our capabilities. Almost, anyhow: we have a very marginal budget to accomplish the ambitious goals outlined here!

Copyright © January 2004