Oracle, Arizona – August 2022 – Biosphere 2

In the early 1990s people needed to find a new adventure. In the foothills of the Catalina Mountains north of Tucson was one of those adventures.

Biosphere 2 was conceived, designed and built to provide a closed ecological system; in other words, a self contained biosphere where people would live for extended periods in a (mostly) self sustained world, mimicking what would be required to live in outer space.

In 1991 8 people moved into the massive complex with it’s 90,000 square feet of rainforest, ocean, wetlands, grasslands, desert and agricultural areas. The attempt had numerous issues with food and oxygen shortages, plants and animals dying and tension among the residents who lived there for the 2 years.

About a year later in 1994 a shorter residence span was started, completing in a few months.

During, and after the residence attempts there were numerous financial challenges, resulting in a number of owners until finally in 2011 the University of Arizona fully took the facility over.

Today it continues to serve as a research center as well as a tourist destination. On the day we were the number of visitors was so low we felt as though we had the place to ourselves, in some creepy 1970s sci-fi movie about being abandoned. This did however provide great photo opportunities.

The tower in the center was the library. It was rarely used because of the lengthy spiral staircase to reach the top.

It’s setting in a natural bowl was to enhance the recovery of rainwater.

The living quarters included 10 small apartments and a community kitchen.

Inside the atriums you really get a sense of the size.

Unlike the residents in the 1990s, we were able to wander in and out of the buildings.

The energy center. Despite the fact they are in nearly perpetually sunny Arizona, they used natural gas for fuel as the cost of solar panels in the 1990s was cost prohibitive and they ran out of money to install them.

With this massive structure sealed from the outside air, the fluctuations in temperatures also caused changes in air pressure. This was managed by 3 huge ‘lungs’, which would relieve the pressure for the facility. When doing research on the tours it was disappointing to learn that the tour no longer includes going into a lung.

Fortunately we ran into one of the docents, Claudio, who has been giving tours there for 30 years. He informed us that for an additional $10 we could get a behind the scenes tour, including the interior of the lung. Where do we pay!

Once that was taken care of Claudio took us off to the basement where we passed the massive chillers for the air conditioning, as well as other mechanicals underneath the facility.

And into the lung!

The large black ceiling is a rubber membrane that will go up and down to regulate the air pressure. If the pressure was too great the entire lung would collapse, saving the rest of the facility. This fortunately has never happened, but Claudio did demonstrate how the pressure would make the ceiling go up and down.

After our behind the scenes tour completed, we continued on our own through the desert, rain forest, and ocean sections.

When in Tucson go to Biosphere 2 – and ask for Claudio!

Huntsville, Alabama – May 2019 – Marshall Space Flight Center

The George C Marshall Space Flight Center is NASA’s largest complex, where rocketry and propulsion are researched and developed.

Tours are available with proper ID as it is located on Redstone Arsenal. The tour departs from the U.S. Space and Rocket Center Museum via a NASA bus.

The administration building is where Werner Von Braun and others made space travel possible.

Most manufacturing companies have displays of their products at their corporate headquarters and NASA is no different, only theirs are far more interesting than others.

A display of 3 of the engines greet visitors to the building.

While most people think ‘Houston’ when it comes to NASA Mission Control in reality there are three – Houston, Kennedy Space Center in Florida for ‘Launch Control’, and Huntsville for ‘Payload Control’.

Within this building are the staff that manages the day to day workings on the International Space Station.

The lobby of the building have models of the ISS and an astronaut at work.

A commonly used expression throughout NASA are ‘racks’. Each rack of equipment has specific roles, and teams of engineers are responsible for their rack.

The Payload Operations Center was amazingly small given the critical nature of their work. Just a handful of people are monitoring and managing the effort.

The structures that support the testing of rockets during development are known as ‘stands’. This is likely the most famous stand in the history of rocket development – The Redstone Interim Test Stand.

It was built in 1953 for just $25,000 out of materials scavenged from around the arsenal. They had to do it this way because the government wouldn’t give them any more money than that.

A total of 362 static rocket tests were completed here. Their budget was so low they took railroad tank cars that had been used to transport chemicals – cleaned them and buried them 300′ away from the test stand for their bunker to monitor the tests from.

Nearby you could see some of the much larger, much more expensive newer test stands.

One of the biggest challenges in long duration space flight is water. Because humans need water to survive, they had to come up with a way to conserve water in many ways one would not expect.

They have developed systems to recycle urine and washing water onboard that result in potable water.

The system is held in these three racks. The rotating distillation unit separate liquid from gases, then is sent to another unit for solid removals before the liquid go through a number of filtration’s that remove micro organisms.

They continue to research and develop even more efficient units, and the men’s room has a special urinal that they collect samples from for further testing – so I contributed to science.

As we rode around the complex we passed a number of interesting structures including this small, but very long wind tunnel.

Our final stop was the rocket park where they have examples of the various rockets used in space travel over the years.

While the museum portion was interesting, the additional tour of the Marshall Space Flight Center was by far the best part of the day.

Columbus – November 2018 – Science Center Revisit

In checking the events calendars for something to do I noticed COSI had a model train exhibit, so we headed down for a Sunday morning.

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We headed straight to the upper floor exhibit area where the model trains were set up. Disappointingly we found they are the same ones we see set up elsewhere (such as the fair, etc).

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While nice, we were hoping for more.

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One unique one though was this group who have built their entire train display from Legos. The tracks, the trains, the cars, are all built out of Legos!

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Outside along the hallways are a number of art pieces made out of scrap material. Among other things this one has piano keys, roofing metal, paint brushes, a garden hose and other ‘stuff’.

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All sorts of pieces/parts including license plates.

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A giant frame skeleton hovers over all.

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This display shows the miles and miles of veins and arteries in the body.

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I wish I could remember what this was, but I can’t. No worries – he looks cool.

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One exhibit that they have had since the 1960s is the exhibit ‘Process’. This shows an American street at two different times, one in 1898 then the same street in 1962 (which is when the center was opened at it’s original location).

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It was amusing to see teenagers all running for the various corded telephones, as most under 15 have never used one.

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We happened to be next to one of the presentation areas when they were starting an exhibit on chemistry where the presenter entertained us with liquid nitrogen and others like potassium and their reactions to hot and cold.

On this display she had someone give her a $20 bill, dipped it in hydrogen and set it on fire. In the end the person got his $20 back unscathed, except for being wet where she ‘rinsed’ it.

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She also demonstrated how different gases make different colored flames when exploding (yes they were very loud booms)

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Honda is a big sponsor, with a display on automotive components such as how pistons drive engines, how shocks work, etc.

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The American Museum of Natural History has a very large display that is being presented for a year or so. There were a number of fossils on display.

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There were many on exhibit.

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The display was very large, and very well done.

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Some were models to show the full size of the dinosaur.

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But the actual fossils were best.

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