Submitted by peregrinkm t3_111ath4 in Futurology

Would it be conceivably possible to create a fully self-contained, self-sufficient architectural ecosystem with modern technology?

Say, a space colony on the moon or orbiting the earth, powered totally by solar energy, with its own hydroponic warehouse agricultural operation, and some way of recycling waste with maximal efficiency, including converting carbon dioxide back to oxygen?

Is this technologically achievable with the means available to us today?



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kipjohnson03 t1_j8dklq5 wrote


peregrinkm OP t1_j8dl4n5 wrote

That’s really interesting, thank you. Now what if these could be built in relatively safe locations resistant to global wars and climate change? Like maybe in sparsely populated regions in the far north, or on Antarctica?

It seems like as the earth warms, new land will become arable for the first time. As agricultural regions closer to the equator become unviable, it may become necessary to farm areas that were previously tundra.


pinkfootthegoose t1_j8dwvkl wrote

new lands would not become as arable as you think. Though places would become warmer they would still receive less sunlight.


orangutanoz t1_j8hv2h2 wrote

Close to 24 hrs of of sunlight per day gives the arctic circle a short but very intense growing season. I’d be more interested in seeing how much viable farmland there is when the permafrost thaws and how much glacier scarring there is.


DixenSyder t1_j8ea5nm wrote

And agricultural regions closer to the equator probably won’t become largely unviable


AluminumAntHillTony t1_j8f81dm wrote

This response I go back and forth about. I think that, depending on how these equatorial ecosystems change in response to the climate, it is possible for desertification to occur, hindering viability. Deforestation is definitely beginning to take it's toll and could potentially cause an ecosystem collapse, leading to said deserts forming.

But, I think we're still too much into the early stages to form a solid hypothesis one way or the other.


DixenSyder t1_j8f87n5 wrote

There’s so much reforesting going on at the same time, too. Like you said, though, early stages. We’ll see what time reveals


doodoowithsprinkles t1_j8f7ryz wrote

Source trust me bro, we can wait to start fixing things till after I have lived an unsustainable life.


SoylentRox t1_j8gji4k wrote

Would the solution if it came to that be massive solar arrays along the now uninhabitable equator (maintained by remote controlled robotics or workers at night or in air conditioned suits) and vertical farms in cooler latitudes?


pete_68 t1_j8ghqwq wrote

You'd die, just like they would have, had they been actually completely isolated.

These things are incredibly fragile. The ecosystem gets out of balance and you're screwed. And the ecosystem is GOING to get out of balance at some point.

There's no escaping. Earth is our home. Once the environment is gone, so are we. That's not going to change in the next 100 years.


SoylentRox t1_j8gjv91 wrote

You think we would just die instead of rapidly genetically engineering our way of any imbalances? Any protein or nutrient we need, just have bacteria make it.

Bubble boy lived so it's not like this isn't possible. People have lived on meal replacement drinks for years with all synthetic ingredients. What precisely would kill humans?

I am assuming the biosphere collapses and the earth is as sterile as the Moon, but large numbers of humans have plenty of money and resources and the genetic code in compute files for everything that matters.


pete_68 t1_j8gkklr wrote

>Bubble boy lived so it's not like this isn't possible.

Bubble boy would have died if people didn't bring him food, replace his air filters, generate his electricity, etc.

The Earth won't be as sterile as the moon. We'll die off and the Earth will eventually recover and so will life, without us. The Earth doesn't give a shit about us and doesn't need us and while we can do ourselves in, we won't do it in. Life will go on and eventually the Earth will be a nice place again.

And no, we won't rapidly genetically engineer ourselves out of it because that's sci-fi technology we've yet to develop. I mean, we can genetically engineer, but we'd be more likely to do ourselves in that way through our ineptness than to actually improve anything. We're at the infantile stages of genetic engineering.


SoylentRox t1_j8gknwx wrote

Please don't just ignore what i said. HOW would we die. Assume we have better robotics also.


pete_68 t1_j8gl39x wrote

I already said. You're confined in a fragile environment. Anything goes around you'll die. You'll have insufficient oxygen, or too much CO2, or your food will get a disease, or your biosphere will spring a leak. All kinds of shit can go wrong. It's an incredibly fragile and isolated ecosystem. Go read about Biosphere 2 and what actually happened.


SoylentRox t1_j8gwv4n wrote

But why can't we just order robots to grow whatever we need.

I just don't see it. Biosphere 2 was small scale, had limited reserves of oxygen etc. A sealed biodome on earth can pull in oxygen still from the earths atmosphere even if it is sterile or full of bioweapons or radioactive etc.


greenman5252 t1_j8gocb3 wrote

Of hunger. The same overproduction of co2 that was seen in BS2 is occurring from the global overuse of N as fertilizer. Increased CO2 levels in the atmosphere lead to heating and increasingly reactive temperatures and precipitation. There will be some bad heat wave days and drought seasons sufficient to create crop failures leading to famine starting among the bottom of the socioeconomic hierarchy. You see this happening in Sri Lanka, Madagascar, Afghanistan, and Pakistan currently while in more economically privileged countries it is only manifesting as higher prices at every level of the food chain.


SoylentRox t1_j8gwy3x wrote

Why would you die of hunger? Just grow more crops in vertical farms. Biosphere 2 had a small growing area and no robotics.


DoktoroKiu t1_j8gyd0h wrote

The things you point to are still dependent on the Earth's biosphere. If you want a truly isolated system with no inputs other than sunlight you are screwed if anything becomes too unbalanced. The systems are complex enough that we cannot yet engineer them to be stable the way the Earth is, despite many decades of trying.

I do think that if it became important enough we might put enough resources into this problem to find a way, but as far as we know it may require a much larger biosphere to achieve it than would be practical.

And all of this is assuming you have fully self-sufficient manufacturing capabilities for everything you need to maintain these systems, which is itself a complex problem, especially regarding microelectronic components or other high-technology tools. They don't last forever, so even if you did figure out the biosphere problem your work is not finished.


SoylentRox t1_j8gypbq wrote

As long as you have some minimum number of people (specialized skills) and enough manufacturing machinery, this won't happen.

I agree there are scenarios where humans might die, but I just don't feel you are arguing in good faith. "despite many decades of trying". What are you talking about? There was biosphere 2. And..........................

What else? Literally when has this ever been tried? The ISS is far too small to attempt a closed loop life support system. So I know of 0 examples other than a small cult effort that hit problems because I recall they had CO2 releasing from the concrete pad the biosphere was built on, no automation (subsidence farming is very labor intensive), no genetically engineered crops to help (hadn't been invented yet)...


DoktoroKiu t1_j8nbh8z wrote

>As long as you have some minimum number of people (specialized skills) and enough manufacturing machinery, this won't happen.

You'd need quite a large number of people with many specialties, I think. The idea of a small self-contained system is more of the problem. You also can't forget about materials (how are you getting them?). Much of our technology relies heavily on the global economy, and there has been no effort put in to try to make these self-contained systems even on a nation-sized basis (except maybe North Korea, and even they rely on the global economy despite every desire not to).

We don't necessarily have a good reason to believe we can for sure make a smaller self-contained system. It may be possible, but it isn't a given, an. it's certainly not an easy problem.


SoylentRox t1_j8nzxgj wrote

We're not talking about self contained per say. We are saying "if the earth is no longer inhabitable" but we still have access to it, so we can send people out in space suits or robots and get water, air, and minerals that have to be decontaminated and then can be used.

Every human not in your hab is now dead.


DoktoroKiu t1_j8znbsv wrote

Odds are in such a scenario you starve to death when your mini biome has some minor issue that disturbs the balance and ends up killing some crucial part of the system. Assuming all life is also dead outside your hab, you are dead.

If it's something that kills animals but not plants/fungi then maybe you'd have options, but it's still a massively complex system that you are trying to keep stable.

Maybe a system of many different but self-contained habs would have more resiliency. If you lose some component to a blight then maybe the other hab has some different strain that is unaffected.


SoylentRox t1_j8znqe0 wrote

Yes. And/or isolated equipment for most life support steps. So far example oxygen processing comes from growth tubes isolated in groups, and their feedstock supply gets sterilized before feeding into the machinery.

Energy and spare manufactured part intensive though.


BlueberryTyrant t1_j8j0rtk wrote

You would need extremely advanced sensors tracking everything. You would also need to automate responses to each misbalance. It COULD be doable, but with so many moving parts, opportunities for failure are all everyone. The code running it all has to be perfectly stable, and a tech team needs to be on hand constantly. You also will still need ecologists on hand to provide an expert human’s eye on the system to catch deviations that the gear can’t.

We just aren’t there yet.

Frankly, unless we can achieve faster than light travel, this has to be developed to survive microgravity anyways, as an ecosphere is our only feasible way to keep people fed and watered and oxygenated and waste manages for years at a time. So you have to not only solve this, but you have to solve this for microgravity as well.


SoylentRox t1_j8j4b4y wrote

Hardly. The bigger the system the larger your buffers can be. You are talking about trying to keep people alive in a hab the size of ISS and with I guess just a few hours worth of surplus oxygen.

A multi kilometer long hab with isolated grow machines (so toxins etc can't cause them all to fail) and months worth of food water and oxygen stored in tanks, and redundant power, and redundant manufacturing, and a few other hand nearby within a reasonable travel distance with enough population cap to house refugees... would be much more stable.


greenman5252 t1_j8gzcxl wrote

Vertical farms only really produce water filled cellulose. Nutrient dense foods aren’t really part of the vertical farm program.


SoylentRox t1_j8h1cu8 wrote

Why? Like are you claiming you can't grow nutrients?


nohwan27534 t1_j8h0t96 wrote

Because the land needs per person are a lot more vast than most people realize- looking into that sort of stuff recently, an acre of farmland grows enough food for like 4 people a year. Probably different if year round growing is possible.

Vertical farms can help reduce the space needed, but it's a hell of a lot of effort when you no longer have the help of machines, for the plants per person in the dome, and it's still a lot of space. It's hard to enclose that much space entirely.

Even at like 1/10th the space, it's like 4k square feet for 4 peoples dietary needs. It's like there being a large home with 4 bedrooms and plenty of space for kitchen, bathrooms, living room, dining room, etc. And then double that space for a vertical farm, with you needing to pick like 16 plants per square foot, like every two.months or so.

But shit can still happen, potentially. Biggest issue isn't food anyway, it's probably dealing with waste and clean water - sewage treatment works in an enclosed thing, sure... but I don't think you can just get rid of the smells resulting from it as easily I'd everything is contained like that, including the air getting recycled in a closed system...


SoylentRox t1_j8h3czz wrote

You obviously have to use automation. And high pressure water and heat to break down the sewage to remove odors.

Keep in mind the scale I am imagining: a million plus people. Not 4.


nohwan27534 t1_j8h5jwm wrote

Again - space becomes the issue. You don't tend to easily make a giant fucking dome that big - screw the other stuff, structurally speaking this doesn't work well.

I've thought long and hard about this idea too, specifically in space - rather than bases on the moon or mMars, living in a Dyson swarm ish system with a acre of solar panels and a 1 mile diameter tube living space. That much solar energy will fuel about a million people, the tube could spin pretty slowly to simulate gravity, and it can be as long as needed.

But we don't have quite the strong resources for enclosing like, an 8th if NYC. It's spread around 300 square miles, and the entire state of New York has 7 million acres of farmland - and still only can grow like 30% of new Yorks food. And there's no way to just dome that shit.

It's an interesting idea. But atm we have the ability to do it, if unpleasantly, on a small scale (not just 4 people, lol), but we don't have the engineering capable of doing it on even a decent 50k sized city, really, much less a million people - and it's still not self sufficient. Even if it has enclosed and looped water, air, food, etc, it doesn't have self enclosed production of wood, plastics, fabrics, metals, industry, electronics, etc


SoylentRox t1_j8h5omo wrote

Go check the numbers on spirulina. The math says you need a few LITERs per person of growing algae. Even if it's 10 times less efficient than that it's just not the problem you think it is.


nohwan27534 t1_j8h6on5 wrote

Spirulina iirc is nutrient rich, but you still need calories - something a spoonful of algae isn't chock full of.

Not to mention you presumably also want to diversify your diet in other ways - waters a good idea for both aquatic plants and fish, potentially.

But this post wasn't about that. We literally do not have materials strong enough to easily dome a community this large. One of the biggest can hold like 55k people - not homes, not space for growing food, or businesses, storage, or any of the other minutia of a society, literally sitting space for bodies.

Underground and several story buildings can help magnify the usefulness of the space again, but it's still pretty impractical. It's a nice idea, it could potentially make for new city opportunities in desert or otherwise less than habitable areas, but there's not a good reason to do it, we can't do it very well, or to the degree you=e talking about, with current tech. - and even if we did force the issue, they still wouldn't be self sufficient in all ways.


SoylentRox t1_j8hmnw5 wrote

You wouldn't use domes. Either many underground bunkers connected by tunnels with logistics transport, or many sealed surface buildings. Depending how hostile the surface is. Domes don't provide radiation or blast protection.


nohwan27534 t1_j8jcv98 wrote

So, we'll all be mole people? Given the amount of land I already talked about, trying to put that all underground makes even less sense.

A small enclosed area propped up by the buildings themselves, would potentially make sense, you'd still be able to get sunlight for energy and growing food, it's just not that practical to do that for like a few dozen square miles. But it's a hell of a lot more practical than essentially doing exactly that but also digging out a few dozen square miles of underground territory...

As for blocking blasts - why. Radiation could be as simple as water, tbh. It's what we use in nuclear reactors NOW. Iirc a 30 foot deep pool with nuclear shit at the bottom, you'd be safe from the radiation on the surface.


SoylentRox t1_j8jdry6 wrote

You get the energy from surface solar panels.


nohwan27534 t1_j8jf3wn wrote

Yeeeeah, my mistake responding to you basically at all. I'm sorry.


nohwan27534 t1_j8h85zy wrote

Looking at a calculator, 40 by 10 foot pool by 30 centimeters deep is like 11k liters, 11 cubic feet, 36 square feet. You can get around 6 to 15 grams per cubic meter per day. It's about 660 wet grams per day, 66 dried. Not really a nutrient difference, just the wet is mostly water, would be more filling.

Spirulina per 7 grams is 20 calories, about 3% of your daily salt, 2% potassium, 1% daily fiber, 8% protein, 1% vitamin c, 11% iron, 3% magnesium. Presumably 9ther shit. Doesn't have calcium, weirdly, vitamin d, b6, presumably other shit.

Let's round up to 70 for ease - you'd only have around a tenth of the calories needed, be done with protein and iron needs, everything else iffy. It's only about 10 tablespoons of slime dried out, 70 spoonfuls of spinach stuff otherwise.

Kinda the same issue with food pills - even if you can add all the daily vitamin needs in a pill, calories aren't that easy to condense. It can grow a lot faster, for sure, but it's more than a "few" liters per person, which is fine, but it's also not nearly enough to be the end all be all dietary requirements.


SoylentRox t1_j8hmhvc wrote

You would use brighter than the sun grow lamps and genetically modify it to store calories and make b6 etc.


nohwan27534 t1_j8jco4b wrote

And now it's being ass pulled.

Look, you're just not getting that kind of calories into that small, that fast growing a thing, and that's fine. Even lower calorie plants, aren't great - a solid carrot is still like 30 calories.

Surprisingly, these seemingly miracle foods, cures, etc generally aren't. If it's too good to be true...


SoylentRox t1_j8jdkwn wrote

? So your argument is to compare actual biotech to late night informercials?

Ultimately your argument comes to energy. Each gram of algae can fix so much carbon as sugar per unit of time given max usable sunlight. How many grams of algae do you need to fix enough carbon to keep a human alive.

The algae has not been genetically modified to make more sugar because humans have not needed to do this yet, so I don't know why you have to resort to comparing to random scams.

To disprove my claim you would need to find at least 1 billion USD spent annually on this type of biotech. If it's not being spent this approach has not been tried, and you cannot claim it won't work.


nohwan27534 t1_j8jeyxr wrote

Getting all this calories from a few tablespoons of material just isn't going to happen. We also don't have fucking light bulbs brighter than the God damn sun.

Besides, I've went and looked shit up, you're the one making erroneous claims and when I did the research you just shrug it off with "but i mean it COULD happen you don't know unless you can spend far more than most scientists use for research".


WowzerzzWow t1_j8fk7f3 wrote

Idealistic to think that something humans built where they would have close proximity to one another would be resistant to war.


peregrinkm OP t1_j8g33gp wrote

It would need to have a highly regulated social order, and it would constantly be expanding. They would need a lot of material to continue building prefabricated modules that fit together like legos so you can add layers.


lordtrickster t1_j8gcyzs wrote

The "highly regulated social order" is where it falls apart. You'd have to be absolutely ruthless to maintain it, which tends to cause unrest and eventual rebellion.


greenman5252 t1_j8glfaf wrote

The actual end result of the biosphere research clearly indicated that ecosystems with humans and agriculture are unbalanced and will remain unbalanced. The smaller the system, the more rapidly things go awry. The system comprising the entire earth has been slowly going sideways for quite some time but there has been a very very large buffer. What happened in biosphere 2 at a small scale is essentially what is happening on the earth at a large scale.


Unsimulated t1_j8dmrxo wrote

Most answers seem to be saying the same truth.

It is possible, but only for a simple and unsophisticated lifestyle without heavy industry or its products.

Huge fan of Paolo Soleri, and have visited Arcosanti several times.


kyckling666 t1_j8f37uh wrote

I have a bell that looks like a nutsack from Arcosanti, so I’ve done my part to contribute to utopia.


99LivesGaming t1_j8gm4of wrote

I drove past Arcosanti with my kids on Saturday on my way down to Phoenix. I asked them if they wanted to join a cult and make bells so we could sell them to passing tourists and contribute to building a utopian society… they didn’t want to.


Karatekan t1_j8f2ukb wrote

The issue is you would need heavy industry to actually be self sufficient, systems essential for life would inevitably break down and it takes that to fix them. Radiation and impact events would damage the hull over time, solar panels or reactors would need repairs, and moving parts or communications equipment would break. Even the simple act of maintaining an atmosphere would degrade the ship over time. You would probably want engines or thrusters to keep a stable orbit, or in case a big asteroid came close to intercepting, and that would definitely require maintenance.


mertats t1_j8djpjo wrote

Define self-sufficient.

If you define it as energy, food, water and oxygen self-sufficiency. I believe it is possible.

But if you expand that to more complex products like computers etc. It would not be achieveable for a long time, I believe.


peregrinkm OP t1_j8dk01i wrote

Why is that? Is it because they would require more energy, or more materials to upgrade hardware?


mertats t1_j8dkqkg wrote

Modern CPUs and GPUs require highly sophisticated machines and processes, even today only handful of countries can produce them.

The more complex the product gets, and more exotic materials the product requires it becomes harder to be self-sufficient.


kjm16216 t1_j8dmkxm wrote

Plus if you are going to build complex things that you didn't set up for at the beginning, you will need to be more than self sufficient, you will need a surplus of time, energy, minerals to expand the equipment of the colony.


UnfeignedShip t1_j8ezylh wrote

Along with the people to operate them/


kjm16216 t1_j8f0gww wrote

And the supplies to sustain them. Your population growth has got to match your surplus, and your surplus has to grow with population growth. I feel like I'm explaining how to play SimCity all the sudden.


OriginalCompetitive t1_j8dtpz6 wrote

There isn’t even a nation on earth, much less a colony, that is self-sufficient in this sense.


earthsworld t1_j8ds1pw wrote

why is that we can't manufacture chips and circuits on the moon? what in the absolute fuck? did you just crawl out of the swamp or something? where do you people come from that you understand so little about how anything works?


guarks t1_j8dsudc wrote

Somebody needs coffee and a hug


earthsworld t1_j8e8eu4 wrote

no, i need to talk to people who aren't idiots.


Void_vix t1_j8eh8g7 wrote

You aren’t really talking; you’re ranting


annomandaris t1_j8e648x wrote

Lack of gravity plays havoc with crystal formation. It might be a lot harder to grow a workable silicon wafer on the moon without some kind of centerfuge facility.


h2opolopunk t1_j8dt8fn wrote

>why is that we can't manufacture chips and circuits on the moon?

We can't manufacture chips and circuits on the Moon for a myriad of reasons, one of which is the blasts of solar and cosmic radiation that the surface is regularly subjected to.


Matthayde t1_j8e0sim wrote

You would need radiation shielding anyway for people.. any moon base is likely to be built like a bunker


Sweet_Ad_426 t1_j8e7fdt wrote

You need extremely modern chip manufacturing equipment to manufacture the equipment to make the next generation of chips. Even if you had all the knowledge/plans for a modern chip manufacturing facility it would take you decades to build up the capabilities to manufacture your own modern chips. We could build a manufacturing plant here and transport it to the moon, after adding a ton of shielding, but it would likely be damaged in transport. You'd have to start several generations back at best to get something that could be transported safely.


peregrinkm OP t1_j8dscrs wrote

Condescension aside, I figure the necessary chips could be sent up from the earth. Once they’re installed would there really be a need for new ones?


ButterflyCatastrophe t1_j8dwbn5 wrote

Stuff breaks. Given enough time, absolutely everything breaks, and delicate microprocessors break fairly quickly. The atoms may all still be there, but you need to be able to reconstruct the original molecular and physical structure, and that's often not possible, even on earth.


Bewaretheicespiders t1_j8dtd98 wrote

Rule #1 of aquariums: the smaller they are, the faster catastrophes happens.

So in my opinion its less a question of technology than one of size. The larger the system, the more stable it is, the slower changes happen, and the more time you have to detect and fix any problem.


rileyoneill t1_j8ep0ou wrote

I own a copy of the book "Arcology: City in the Image of Man" that I bought when I visited Arcosanti back in 2005. I highly recommend it as its where the whole concept came from. In the book, Soleri really details why arcologies should exist and what real world ones would look like and how they would function. The second half is arcologies for various ecosystems, some for space.

Other than the space ones, the goal was never to be isolated or a biodome. They are proposed as a new type of city that is super dense and have a much smaller footprint than modern cities, that would then be surrounded by nature. So you could be living in this super megacity but then are a few minute walk away from a nature hike.

His project city in Arizona, Arcosanti. It probably could have been constructed in the 1970s-1980s if they had like, a few billion dollars worth of resources. At least to the point where it would have been economically productive enough to where it would have sustained future expansions for the next 40 years.

The vibe I also got was that figuring out how to make these things on Earth as working places will teach us how to eventually make them for space use.


zomgitsduke t1_j8efwf5 wrote

Modern technology? Eh, probably not.

There are known issues we will face, and most of our engineering can handle that.

But there are also unknown issues we would face. And that would be risky.

We're closer than we've ever been though!


paperwasp3 t1_j8fzmqe wrote

I think the Saudis mirrored "Wall" in the desert has aspects of arcology. But of course it's not a sealed environment. It is ambitious, and supposed to be self sustaining but I guess time will tell about that. Hopefully we'll learn from that and not make the same mistakes. But as you said it's the things that we don't know about or could ever imagine will be the real problems. Who's job is it to think of that stuff?


Scoobywagon t1_j8dk71v wrote

I don't know about doing it in space, but it HAS been done on Earth. Twice. Now, both of THOSE experiments were done to test the effects of long term isolation on a group of human beings. But they were both completely sealed, self-sufficient environments that satisfy the parameters you state, aside from being in space.

Building such a thing in space is more difficult, because the structure would likely need to be much larger than anything we've lifted into space at this point. So that would mean more lifts into space, more potential points of failure in space, more things to break, etc. So, yes it is PROBABLY possible, but also not terribly feasible yet.


genericrich t1_j8dl72p wrote

Biospheres were failures, though. Nobody has succeeded in this yet.


billtowson1982 t1_j8e6ryc wrote

Didn't biosphere 2 fail due to CO2 off-gassing from the concrete they used to make it? And that was in the 90s. That both seems like an avoidable problem and in general it seems like we ought to be able to do somewhat better anyway a 1/4 century on.

Of course it would be vastly more expensive in space regardless.


genericrich t1_j8edv7b wrote

Sure. But the time to do it is now and the place to do it is on Earth, before we send some poor slobs on a one way trip to a Martian grave.


billtowson1982 t1_j8eef8j wrote

I'm fine with doing it either way. If people want to volunteeer for a Mars trip, knowing the severe risks, good for them. People with explorer spirits have been doing that since time immemorial. In general it makes much more sense to risk the lives of a few volunteers than it does to spend extra 10s or 100s of millions on safety procedures for a few folks, when the same money could easily be spent on healthcare services for the poor that would save many more lives.

Hell, I'd probably do it myself. What's the value of a life here on Earth? You live, you die, it was all pointless and your only legacy is the resources you used and the environment you wrecked along the way. Whereas if you die on Mars...well at least you got to see Mars!


Scoobywagon t1_j8frew9 wrote

I'd need to go look them up (which I'm too lazy to do right at the moment), but as I recall, one of them failed due to outgassing of something or other. Obviously, that's a solvable problem since we already know how to build sealed modules for the space station that do not have outgassing (i.e. materials) problems. The other, I think, failed because the crew were having problems, not because the structure itself failed. If you know otherwise, that'd be interesting to know.


peregrinkm OP t1_j8dkjt3 wrote

I see, thank you. What if it could be made primarily from materials available in space, like on the moon, in asteroids, or on Mars?


honbeee t1_j8eraip wrote

If the materials were gathered in space, they would need to go back down to earth in order to be made into the parts of an arcology that would then be assembled in space.

The cost of moving that much material from Earth into space would be immense. If I were to guess, it'd probably be more likely that we'd need to build factories (or whatever means of production is necessary) in space. Factories on the moon


peregrinkm OP t1_j8g041f wrote

Yes, factories on the moon would make it less energy consuming to assemble it in space. But they should put them on the side of the moon that faces away from earth, so they don't make it ugly.


Scoobywagon t1_j8frqq0 wrote

we do not have the ability, for the moment, to gather and process materials in space, either from an asteroid, or the moon, or Mars. There have been several thought experiments centered on how to do that sort of thing and what we should expect in terms of the materials produced. But we have not built anything that I know of to try and prove or disprove any of that.


mhornberger t1_j8ehu1i wrote

You have to clarify what quality of life you're comfortable with. If you only require mere survival for your residents, it's probably possible. You can make some nutritional goo from algae or some other scalable process that won't require tons of farmland.

But if you want plants, that's going to take space. Even with vertical farming or whatnot, you're going to need space. Space ships on Star Trek etc were not even remotely realistic, or they assumed tech that was basically a magical plot device, such as replicators that can just produce a cup of "tea, Earl Grey, hot" molecule by molecule, on demand. IRL, you'd probably either be growing the plants, or drinking something produced by precision fermentation or cellular agriculture that would approximate the beverage. Such as they're doing with coffee now, with cellular agriculture.


KYWizard t1_j8e071c wrote

I think it is perfectly achievable....until it isn't. That is to say as soon as one tiny little thing throws off the delicate balance of a closed system, there is collapse.


SandAndAlum t1_j8fkt80 wrote

I would have thought redundancy would be the way to go. Four or five different ecosystems which are isolated and produce enough of a surplus to export food and air for a year or two. Refugees can move into a quarantine zone while restoring their ecosystem.


genericrich t1_j8dl3v2 wrote

Nobody has done it yet. Probably a good idea to learn to succeed at this before, say, going to Mars or something.


peregrinkm OP t1_j8dloe1 wrote

But Mars has so much iron and water that once we figure out how to do it, we could totally build a city capable of modular expansion. Like, standardize the way certain pods fit together so more can always be added on without having to retrofit incompatible designs


genericrich t1_j8dm43q wrote

Sure. But I suspect it is harder than it sounds and since nobody has succeeded in it yet, that's probably the place to start.

Won't do anybody any good to send folks to Mars so they can starve to death or otherwise die there when we could be spending time now to understand how to build a self-sufficient enclosed ecology.

(If going to Mars is even worth doing, that is. I favor space habitats myself, vs investing in expensive gravity wells.)


jackalope8112 t1_j8dvmz6 wrote

Well Earth is...

The primary issue is how self contained or self sufficient you mean. Most of the issues in the experiments have the problem that it is functionally impossible to keep an entirely closed ecosystem in design balance in perpetuity. That's because the more self contained and self sufficient the system is the more things can go wrong to throw the balance out of cycle. That's typically an either mechanical failure or a biological one. When you get into mechanical level of "well we will have machines that can make the parts for the other machines" then you've most likely outstripped the ability for any specific location to be able to harvest resources.

Keep in mind that the level of balance we've achieved globally evolved over hundreds of millennia and that evolution is predicated on the notion that things will and do change. Not sure you can tame things to never change and not sure such a system would be socially stable if you did.


buddypalamigo25 t1_j8dvp99 wrote

With the technology we have today? I doubt it.

If the money and political will for it existed, we could definitely pull off some kind of quasi-self-sufficient city here on Earth, however. There would have to be an enforced population cap, which most Americans would go apeshit over, so it probably wouldn't work in America as it exists today. It would still have to rely on the outside world for some raw materials, and making its own air would be laughably unrealistic, but the basics could be handled locally.

Renewable power generation, aquaponic food production, heavy investment in waste recycling, completely optimized pedestrian/bike paths and an internal mass transit system so no one needs a car, hell even some local manufacturing of certain widely used and easy to make goods.


ah-tzib-of-alaska t1_j8edh8h wrote

Biosphere was a good run. Lots of problems but what a great field test.


peregrinkm OP t1_j8edo60 wrote

Imagine building that in space. Like on mars or something.


ah-tzib-of-alaska t1_j8ef6g8 wrote

yeah well could be a lot easier in some ways and harder than others. You’d want some insitu access. Oxygen refills; and you could scrub n empty some C02. New water hopefully.


minusmode t1_j8eqoyy wrote

With enough money and resources anything is possible, but creating closed systems that mimic what we get from the earth for free is extremely energy intensive.

For example, our atmosphere has a massive volume, which means it’s an excellent sink for indoor pollutants. To reduce indoor pollution (dust, harmful gases, viruses etc.) in our buildings today, the air is not purified as much as it is diluted with outdoor air.

Directly purifying air (ie. forcing it through a filter) is of course possible, but filtering large volumes of air with no external sink to an increasing level of purity basically creates an exponential energy use curve. The system will also become more complex and redundant, because without an environment to fall back on, the risk of failure becomes unacceptable.

So the degree to which an arcology’s systems are separated from the earths natural systems and sinks dictate their complexity and energy use. A space station arcology would use exponentially more energy and have exponentially more complex systems than an arcology located in even the most uninhabitable regions on earth.

The closest thing today that we have to an arcology is a nuclear submarine, probably. Its clean, energy dense reactor can desalinate seawater and generate oxygen from hydrolysis. If you didn’t need to feed the crew, it can theoretically maintain a habitable environment as long as the reactor is fueled.

Fusion power would go a long way towards making arcologies viable by allowing us to design viable systems further along the exponential energy consumption curve.


Think-Syco-2021 t1_j8f9zh1 wrote

With enough money and resources ~and time~... Anything is possible 👍 I was also going to say we would need a reactor, for at least the start up and fall back from switching out or failing systems.


Moosetappropriate t1_j8equfs wrote

I’m pretty sure that the giant building proposed for Tokyo is intended to be an arcology.


haladura t1_j8er72g wrote

There's many a slip between the cup and the lip. This was attempted in the Biophere 2 project ( The chief problem they encountered was not accounting for the CO2 emitted from the curing of the concrete they used in construction.


Think-Syco-2021 t1_j8fbbo0 wrote

Also possible that, A human error like impatient people/investors saying they need a return or just get it done already before they pull the funding or ruin careers... I'm lost when a bunch of scientists "forget" that concrete has to cure and the emissions of such processes. So design, build, pour and go, was the motto? Maybe we are a bit away from this realization...?


IndianaNetworkAdmin t1_j8f0vrb wrote

Unless you ensured every single material used was one with 100% lossless recycling methods, it would not be possible to do this without some type of supply run at some point. Maybe you could store enough material for 50-100 years of operation, barring major emergencies.

But - Even if you never suffered a major issue - you would eventually need _something_, because even items that are not moving parts or are rarely used can and will degrade over time.

For atmosphere, food/water production, and waste processing, it's possible. But not for everything else.


zhandragon t1_j8f6j1k wrote

This is what those shrimp and algae sealed glass biospheres are.

Chaos remains a large problem, and no system can truly self-sustain without massive input (even the earth uses the sun as power).


Tuurke64 t1_j8h4ekl wrote

I think it's unlikely to work. We're more dependent on micro organisms than we realize. The human body needs some essential vitamins (like B12) that only certain bacteria can make. We normally ingest it through meat. And we probably haven't even discovered all essential vitamins yet.


AryaNunya t1_j8dnn9n wrote

If humans can create a self-contained terrarium ecosystem in a huge glass jar, sealed and thriving for over 50 years, they can most certainly create and manage a larger one.


Renaissance_Slacker t1_j8eh0ti wrote

One of the defining characteristics of an arcology is compactness, which makes the inhabitants more vulnerable to disasters and terrorism.


boomstk t1_j8enxo8 wrote

I still say No or it would have been done already.

No larger scale experiments have been worked so far.

We need to try a 1k of men & women before start crowing about how great this is.


JaxJaxon t1_j8ewdh9 wrote

Sure it can be done but the big problem is getting the materials up to the moon. Here on earth we call them Bio Domes. And to do one on the moon it would need to be huge. like a 1 mile cubic area.


garry4321 t1_j8exa12 wrote

I think it would need its own fuel source as sunlight would be resources coming into the system.


Hot-Category2986 t1_j8f1gc7 wrote

Yes? The bigger the ecosystem, the better the odds of success. Having all the right pieces is formulaic. The difficult part is surviving disease without the population size/diversity for nature to help.


nickkangistheman t1_j8f3t4b wrote

I just suggested this on Twitter a couple days ago.

I think we should tunnel into the moon and build a respiratory network for hydroponic vertical farming systems so that we can establish an atmosphere.

And ya the moon is made out of rocket fuel so energy won't be a problem.


peregrinkm OP t1_j8g1brx wrote

Uh, let's not harvest chunks of the moon just because we can. Also, I think the moon wouldn't have enough gravity to hold onto an atmosphere so it would need to be a totally sealed structure. It would be a completely controlled environment, so they could set it to ideal growing conditions.


nickkangistheman t1_j8gbhbz wrote

So like a mall of America sized bunker under the ground with a glass ceiling


WildGrem7 t1_j8fk3xl wrote

They made a movie about this, its called Biodome with Pauley Shore and Billy Baldwin. Long story short: No, it cannot be done with current technology.


Mash_man710 t1_j8fo0un wrote

Technically yes. Psychologically and sustainably no.


hawkwings t1_j8g1ogl wrote

I would say yes. We would need an iterative approach where we try something, detect flaws, and fix those flaws. It would take many years to fix all the flaws that can't be fixed without Earth's help. Radiation shielding is easier on the moon and mines can provide resources for repairs and expansion. The goal would be to get to the point where they can repair things without Earth's help. I'm not sure about a space station orbiting Earth. A space station near an asteroid would have a source of resources.


MarkNutt25 t1_j8g2xkn wrote

The ISS is already basically self-sufficient when it comes to air and water. And we've grown food in space several times, so that part is certainly technologically possible.

Such a structure will still rely on parts shipped in from Earth to maintain many of their systems, though. There's just no way to produce absolutely everything you'd need without basically replicating Earth's entire economy from the ground up.

So its unlikely that such a structure will ever be a completely self-sufficient ecosystem. At least, not until we invent a Star Trek-style replicator!


TheMowerOfMowers t1_j8g5q0v wrote

i’m not sure about self sufficient but most definitely being able to incorporate it into modern society (personally i’m thinking using the brezhnevka panel building)


Unaccountable_moon t1_j8gmd4s wrote

Yes, an arcology is conceivably possible with modern technology. It is possible to create a self-contained, self-sufficient ecosystem using various sustainable technologies such as solar power, hydroponics, and waste recycling systems. However, it would require significant technological advancements and engineering expertise to create a functional and sustainable arcology. As for a space colony on the moon or orbiting the earth, there are ongoing efforts to develop and implement such technologies, but it may take many years to achieve a fully functional and sustainable arcology.


jet_heller t1_j8gocog wrote

I've never thought of an arcology as a fully self-sufficient system in a biosphere vein. Rather, as a single building that has everything its occupants need to live (eg, shops and restaurants and grocery stores) available inside. They source the things they need from outside so external farms and manufacturing are still quite necessary.


Individual_Ad_3036 t1_j8gx6ub wrote

a lot of work remains to be done. we need to better understand the ways these systems fail. total closed loop, i don't think so. with periodic supply runs, probably say 95 or 99% closed loop. lunar regolith could be processed to produce some resources, same with martian terrain. you would still want most of your technology (and it's very long supply chains) shipped from earth, and whatever other resources you happened to need.

quality of life is a concern. modern electronics would take a very substantial population, probably in the millions to produce in situ and that's assuming they build off already researched technology from earth.


Johnmik5400 t1_j8gyiv4 wrote

Well, conceivably it is possible. The theory concerning ecosystem science , however, is something scientist THINK that they know. Our science is arrogant, self serving, and is belief and agenda driven. The constant lies of climate change is one of the worst ever conceived. If the climate is so terrible; why do the elite like Obama, Gates, et. al, buy grand estates right on the coast? All that flooding! Also, the inaccurate temperature data from roof top equipment, on tarmacs of airports, etc. Now, the self cobtained biosystem would work if the scientists will be honest when a problem arises. There are elements that we haven't even begun to undetstand. Particles from outer space come into our atmosphere. We have no idea what , or if there is an effect on our biosphere. Yes, I am very doubtful about most of our science because of the constant deception.


bripi t1_j8hr222 wrote

No system exists that is without flaw or degredation. No system is 100% efficient. Recycling involves loss of some kind, loss that cannot be recovered. In any machine there is friction, and friction is always lost efficiency. No matter what you do, in the end you always lose eventually.


johnbburg t1_j8doqm2 wrote

Yes, but the world is too full of dictators and corrupt oligarchs who just build dumb vanity projects, so we will never see a real, functional one.


peregrinkm OP t1_j8dox5y wrote

And even if we do, it would just end up being the lifeboat/escape plan for said oligarchs when the world becomes uninhabitable…


siderhater4 t1_j8drjpb wrote

They seeing a play station this is what they used for entertainment and take it to the museum


pinkfootthegoose t1_j8geq4a wrote

why would you want a planned city? they have always been a disaster. Cities need to grow and change organically according to the direct needs of it's citizen instead of instruction coming down from on high..