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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Science in Fiction: Living Arrangments Part III

In a very unsubtle attempt to change the standard housing in science fiction from cubes with hard-goods replicators to something a little more realistic, and a lot more fun, I'm spending this week introducing some of the overlooked options for sci-fi housing.

Sure, clean lines in basic colors are ultra-modern and mass produced, but that doesn't mean you want to condemn your characters to a future living in a Vogonic nightmare.

So far we've covered the near-modern solar homes, the possible near-future Earth homes, and today we're going to look at self-sustaining habitats.

The Self-Contained Habitat

What happens when you don't have a cushy, welcoming planet to dig into? What if your characters are stranded under the ice on Europa, or roughing it on some backwater space station? Where's the home for them?

The self-contained habitat is the hope of stranded humanoids everywhere. It's what we need our space ships to be. It's what we need our domes on Mars to be. And it's something that we don't have yet.

Unlike the prior homes in this series, there has been one self-contained habitat on Earth, and even that experiment didn't go too well. The Biosphere II Experiment in Arizona failed to provide a isolate biome for humans to live in.

There are two working, isolated, human habitats currently working. Some things are imported, but they showcase the possibilities and future of the human species. There is Aquarius, in the Florida coastal waters, an underwater habitat designed by NOAA for research. And there is the International Space Station, which isn't independent of it's mother planet, but hasn't killed anyone yet.

A self-cocontained habitat may not look cozy, but it's the best option for getting the human species out of our solar system. The next nearest star past Sol is how far away?

Proxima Centari is over four light years away, and we can't travel at the speed of light. When we pack our bags to move out in that direction, we're going to need a space vessel that can provide food, water, heat, living areas, recreation areas, and medical necessities for a large population. That's more than most first world cities can provide.

Pros: The ability to travel to, colonize, and establish a human presence outside our solar system makes the self-contained habitat a must for any work of science fiction. The self-contained habitat is a tiny city (or maybe not so tiny), and promises to provide endless hours of amusement for the writer as your torture your characters who are stuck in a tiny (or not) ship with each other for years on end.

As a plot device, the colony ship is too much fun to pass up.

Cons: This technology is currently out of our reach. Our terraforming and weather manipulation technology is better than our habitat sustainment tech is. And this isn't an area we are currently investing research and funds in. As far as feasibility for a near-future novel, this isn't an option. Maybe in a few hundred years, but not tomorrow.

That's why most writers resort to some fictional system, or alien technology jump, to get humanity out of the Sol System.

The images of the Woodland House were found HERE, design, copyright, and thanks go to Simon Dale. Aquarius images were found HERE and are copyright to NOAA. ISS images were found HERE and are part of the Boeing collection.


  1. Dude. You and I are on the same brain length :) My sci fi involves a self-contained habitat as people travel through space :)

  2. Beth - I use quite a few. Underwater habitats like Aquarius are my favorite. I use algae, bioluminescent gels, and force fields for my habitats. :o)