In the Arizona desert, there is a complex of interconnected domes and glass pyramids known as the Biosphere 2 Center. This structure was originally conceived and built as a sealed environment for the purpose of determining whether a closed ecological system could be maintained and could sustain human beings for long time periods. Eight people lived in the complex for two years, from 1991 to 1992. This was followed by a shorter experiment in 1993 and 1994. However, results from these experiments were not conclusive, partly due to excessive air transfer between the outside environment and the sealed habitat.
The Biosphere* was a practical realization of an idea that has intrigued writers and scientists for hundreds of years—a domed city that would be completely self-sustaining. Science fiction writers have found domed cities to be a fertile ground for imaginative fiction of all types. However, domed cities or variations of domed cities are also seen by some scientists as suitable habitats for humans living on the Moon, on Mars, or in other inhospitable environments.
Early science fiction stories often emphasized the use of domed cities as space colonies. Various writers placed domed cities on the Moon, Mars, and Venus. Other writers used domed or enclosed cities as metaphors exposing the ills of their own societies. In the short story "The Machine Stops" by E. M. Forster, humans live in a vast complex of rooms inside an enormous subterranean machine that provides everything they need, including vicarious experiences. These people never leave their chambers. However, the machine eventually breaks down, causing the inevitable death of the inhabitants. More recent writers began to see domed cities here on Earth as a retreat—Arthur C. Clarke's The City and the Stars (1956) portrayed the domed city as a modern version of Eden.
Moon and Mars Colonies
The surface of the Moon is uninhabitable. There is no air. However, there may be water locked in permafrost in some deep polar craters. Moreover, there are plenty of raw materials contained in the lunar rocks, including aluminum for structural materials and silicon dioxide for glass. This fact has led to proposals for the construction of permanent colonies on the Moon. Some designs have been suggested for glass-enclosed domed cities although the majority of proposals for lunar habitats feature extended underground bunkers to provide necessary shielding from solar radiation .
The Moon's surface is an ideal location for many different types of human endeavor. For instance, the Moon's low gravity might provide a suitable environment for hospitals that treat burn patients or patients with limited or painful mobility in Earth's gravity. Moreover, the farside of the Moon is shielded from all artificial radiation originating from Earth, so it would provide an ideal location for radio and optical astronomy.
There are several groups that argue Mars should be colonized. The atmosphere on Mars is so thin that a person walking on the surface of the Red Planet would need to wear a space suit similar to the ones worn by astronauts on the Moon. However, Mars, like the Moon, has ample resources to provide the raw materials for construction of artificial domes.
see also Biosphere (volume 3); Closed Ecosystems (volume 3); Dyson, Freeman John (volume 4); Dyson Spheres (volume 4); Living on Other Worlds (volume 4); Lunar Bases (volume 4); Mars Bases (volume 4); O'Neill Colonies (volume 4); O'Neill, Gerard K. (volume 4).
Bacon, Edmund N. Design of Cities. New York: Penguin Books, 1974.
Johnson, Richard D. and Charles Holbrow. Space Settlements—A Design Study. Washington, DC: Scientific and Technical Information Office, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1977.
McCurdy, Howard. Space and the American Imagination. Washington DC: The Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997.
O'Neill, Gerard K. The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space. Princeton, N.J.: Space Studies Institute Press, 1989.
Planet Mars Home Page. <http://www.marshome.com/>.
*An image of this enclosed system may be seen in the Volume 3 article "Biosphere."