Designing In Space

3 min read

From Catalhoyuk to Space: taking off to new environments for designing products and experiences.

In 6700 B.C, the human race decided for the first time to settle permanently in one place. From wandering around as nomadic hunters and gatherers, these neolithic humans built their permanent settlement in Catalhoyuk, present day Turkey. For the first time in history humans had to intimately understand their environment – the space around them – to learn how to best inhabit it. These first settlers extensively used brick, plaster and wood to make well designed homes that allowed humans to experience a sense of community and belonging – to the land and to the people.

In 2020, approximately 9500 years later humans face the same challenge and opportunity to inhabit new land – outer space. Filled with ambiguity and doubt, the problem seems larger today than the one that our neolithic counterparts faced, simply because in this new space environment the question is not just about building habitable enclosures, but also ensuring that humans are able to survive and actually thrive in an environment that is scientifically not conducive for us, i.e. incompatible temperatures, gravity, pressure and radiation can potentially kill humans in seconds!

Ironically, what is proved to be a challenging environment for humans is an ideal environment for certain manufacturing processes. Microgravity, which can wreak havoc on the human body actually makes for the perfect construction zone. One such in-space manufacturing endeavour is being led by “Made in Space” which makes technologies and materials to build things from scratch in space. Similarly, commercial microgravity applications range from full kitchen suites by Zero-G Kitchen to making the first ever freshly baked cookie in space by Double Tree Hilton, to using re-entry heat to roast coffee beans on a suborbital flight by Space Roasters. Space is the limit, or the lack of it to manufacture outside the boundaries of planet Earth!

The concept of “space environment” includes material environment and social environment. If we must colonise a different planet, it is imperative to allow for human interaction as well as look into details like sustainability. Nike’s Space Hippie explores the idea that materials are scarce on Mars and there is no resupply mission. So it goes on to create footwear from scraps or “space junk”. Researchers at the University of Calgary in Canada are pushing the boundaries of recycling by engineering bacteria to turn human waste into “astroplastic”.

Manufacturing in space has unique advantages like lack of gravity, manufacturing in a virtually 100% sterile environment and an abundance of solar energy. But the immediate benefit is reaped by keeping in my the needs of us earthlings. Techshot is working on printing a human heart in space, something that is virtually impossible to print on Earth due to how the materials react to the Earth’s atmosphere. By using bio-inks, one can print human hearts with greater ease and success in microgravity. Nike Air trainers, our water purification systems, wireless headphones and the humble ear thermometer are all results of technologies developed for space. It is now time to push the boundaries of product design by manufacturing in space.


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