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Is there quality of life on Mars?

Interview with the space designer Daniele Bedini

Published: 25 Sep 2019
“Space design is an incredible mental exercise,” says Daniele Bedini. And he should know, as he has been studying it since 1983, when he became the first person in Europe to graduate in space architecture with a thesis that included NASA consultants as co- rapporteurs. Since then he has worked as a project manager for the Italian, European and American space agencies as well as taking part in experiments that have pushed back the limits of what is possible for astronauts. Bedini has also taught Interior Design at the Chelsea Art College, the Royal College of Art, and Kingston University School of Design, where he currently teaches a course in space design.

“Space allows you to create spherical 360° designs”, explains Bedini, “because high and low don’t exist. You have to have a code of orientation, especially for emergency situations when you need to know immediately which direction to go in, but you can put the bed on the ceiling if you want. Also, working in a team with experts from other fields, means you acquire a background that is much wider than when you work on terrestrial design”.
Is there quality of life on Mars?

International Space Station Habitation Module Interiors (rendering by the Bedini & Partners studio)

Even so, “we are still in the infancy of space design. Space station interiors – both Russian, American and international ones – have all been very rudimentary up until now.” Designed by engineers rather than designers, they have tended to focus on safety requirements and functionality rather than liveability. Bedini cites lighting systems as an example: “Just think that for a long time the only lighting installed in space stations were simple fluorescent strips (now replaced with LEDs), even if the only place we use fluorescent strips on earth is in storage rooms!”

In 2003, when the Italian space agency and NASA gave Bedini the job of designing the Habitation Module for the International Space Station (ISS), lighting was one of the main issues he focused on because astronauts’ circadian rhythms risk being disrupted when they are on board. “On the ISS,” explains Bedini, “every 24 hours there are 16 dawns and 16 sunsets. At a biomedical level we therefore needed to recreate the day and night cycle of our planet. That is why, together with iGuzzini we have developed a specific lighting system called SIVRA.”
Lighting was one of the main issues he focused on because astronauts’ circadian rhythms risk being disrupted when they are on board.
Is there quality of life on Mars?

Structure of the compartments in the ISS Habitation Module (rendering by the Bedini &Partners studio)

Diet is another aspect that can play an important role in reducing the psychophysical stress of a mission in orbit. Allowing astronauts to follow a correct, nutritious and even enjoyable diet seems a luxury, but if it is technically possible, it should be their right. In 2004, once again for the ISS, Bedini helped prepare the MeDiet (Mediterranean Diet) Experiment: “I designed a tray of Italian food to be sent into orbit with the Soyuz spaceship,” he explains. “From a scientific point of view, the challenge was how to preserve fresh food for six months without a fridge.” The menu included dried Pachino tomatoes, Tuscan pecorino cheese, piadina from Romagna, peaches and gianduiotti chocolates from Piedmont.

Video documentary on the EDEN ISS project, which involved setting up a greenhouse in
Antarctica to develop new agricultural techniques in a controlled environment for use in

The evolution of space food, however, offers numerous other surprises too, like the availability of zero miles fruit and vegetable on the moon. “Last year,” recounts Bedini, “I was chief designer on the Green Moss project, which involved creating a greenhouse that would allow plants to be grown and air to be recycled on the moon. Commissioned from Thales- Alenia Space in Turin by the European Space Agency, or ESA, this was another fantastic project. We invented a series of pneumatic structures that allowed plants, like lettuces and tomatoes, to grow thanks to an LED lighting system. The whole thing was ultralight and could be folded down to less than 10 centimetres thick. In aeroponic greenhouses like ours, the roots of the plants absorb nutrients from the water vapour they are immersed in and this technology enables intensive growth with several cycles a year.”
Is there quality of life on Mars?

One of Virgin Galactic’s “space planes” (source: Wikimedia)

Improving the quality of life for professional astronauts is also an opportunity to open the doors of space to tourists. “The next challenge for space design is space hotels,” says Bedini. “I have been teaching in London for several years and together with my students we have developed numerous space hotel concepts. In a few years’ time, this idea will become mainstream and there will be a race to construct the most beautiful (and the most expensive) space hotel.” In mid-August 2019, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic presented its spaceport in the desert in New Mexico. “Soon, the first space flight will allow six tourists to fly 100 kilometres away from the surface of the earth”, says Bedini, “and enjoy - unfortunately for only a few minutes - a view of the earth from space. A ticket for the trip will cost 200,000 dollars. Naturally, only a few people will be able to afford that, but in time it will become more common and prices will drop, like they did for airline flights.” The cabin design is similar to that of an airline plane, as passengers must not be allowed to interfere with the pilots in the cockpit, explains Bedini. At the beginning of the trip, the six passengers must wear seatbelts, but then they will have three minutes to float around the interior of the spaceship and look at the earth below through the windows. Bedini would take a trip like this immediately, if he could. “I’ve been mad about space ever since I was a child. Without doubt the first moon landing played a part in that. I can remember spending hours in front of the television waiting for it to happen. It meant a lot to my generation. In that period, everything was exciting - not just the space race. There were revolutions in every sphere, including fashion and design. Everyone was so optimistic about the future. Unfortunately, that drive doesn’t exist anymore. But I think space can be a way of restoring trust and optimism to all humanity, especially at a time, like today, that’s a bit sad otherwise.”