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"Total Life Support": Systems Stability and Visions of Sustainability in Space
KTH, School of Architecture and the Built Environment (ABE), Philosophy and History of Technology, History of Science, Technology and Environment.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-0866-0487
2014 (English)Conference paper, Abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

In the Cold War era of extremes, systems stability and equilibrium became key concepts. Visions of politically and ecologically balanced worlds stimulated high hopes in works of science and in works of science fiction. Particularly prominent was the vision to create a self-sustaining system, on the small scale of closed artificial life support systems and ultimately on the scale of an entire planet. Space research provided the experimental setup to link these scales. The space capsule, a high-tech minimized and an optimized vehicle, brought together subsistence-based and innovation-based solutions. The space capsule merged sufficiency and efficiency visions of environmental sustainability.

This paper explores the intersections of space technology and ecological research by studying three projects of experimentalizing the earth’s life cycles in the form of self-contained and self-maintained metabolic systems to be operated on earth and beyond. The first project is the experiment of terraforming Mars described in the film Red Planet (2000). The second is the BIOS (USSR, 1960s-1970s) project that conceptualized human life as biotic mass. In a closed habitat human elements and algae entered a symbiotic relationship to maintain a viable atmosphere. Finally, the project of Biosphere 2 (USA, 1980s-1990s) technologically recreated the major biospheric cycles of the earth on a miniature scale, complete with cycles of soil, air, mineral, water and waste. All these projects inserted humans into short-circuited supply systems for long-range survival. They reconsidered humans’ place in nature in different but related ways, as part of the earth’s life cycles and as top of and in control of its food chains.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Keyword [en]
biomass, food chain, space research, ecosystems science, sustainability, Cold War, BIOS, Biosphere 2, Red Planet
National Category
History History of Technology
Research subject
History of Science, Technology and Environment
URN: urn:nbn:se:kth:diva-157501OAI: diva2:770258
WCEH World Congress of Environmental History, Guimarães, Portugal, July 8-12, Session "Science and Science Fiction of Biomass. A Film Session"

QC 20150416

Available from: 2014-12-10 Created: 2014-12-10 Last updated: 2015-04-16Bibliographically approved

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