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STRAIGHT FROM THE MOVIES Space architecture program goes to extremes BY JEANNIE KEVER


he nation’s space shuttles


Space architecture is, by necessity,

green architecture. “Space flight requires engineering solutions for recycling just about everything, minimizing the need for resupply and using solar energy as much as possible,” says Bonnie J. Dunbar, former director of the program and head of its advisory board. “Sustainability is more than just a buzzword to people designing for space,” says Olga Bannova, associate director of SICSA. “You won’t survive without sustainability.” In designing habitats—for space travel, for lunar colonies or for eventual use on Mars or elsewhere—space architects have to consider something else, as well. Habitats aren’t just workspaces for extreme environments, Bannova says. They will also be homes. Humans aren’t troublesome complications, but the most crucial element to any space endeavor. “Humans make things happen,” Bannova says. “People care. Robots don’t.”


may be in museums, Constellation Program cancelled and the next generation rocket yet to be determined. The culture of space exploration, however, is alive and well in Houston’s Third Ward. Canaan Martin is wrestling with what it means to be human and how that translates to habitats for living and working in space. James Flores, a former space shuttle flight manager, is researching ways to re-use existing hardware in an effort to cut costs and speed development. And John Cook, who, like Flores, lost his job in the aerospace industry as projects were cut, is thinking about the best, least expensive way to establish a lunar outpost as a way station en route to Mars. Students in the University of Houston’s Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) are working on projects

with the potential to reshape how we think about space exploration. They are dreamers, with a can-do attitude. “All of this has to be thought through,” says Cook, waving a hand at the calculations and computerized designs that provide detail to his work. “You can’t design the surface elements without understanding the whole picture.” The “whole picture” underlies the University’s decision in 2015 to revamp its graduate space architecture program and SICSA, moving it from the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture to the Cullen College of Engineering. The Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board approved changing the degree to a master of science with a STEM—science, technology, engineering, and mathematics—designation. Space architecture involves principles of both architecture and engineering, along with physiology, physics and psychology, with a focus on extreme environments. That includes

not only space but also subsea, the Arctic and the desert, even disaster recovery zones. Space architects have to consider the temperature and pressure of space or other extreme environments, as well as “human engineering” factors—things like how people move in a low-gravity or no-gravity environment.

Profile for uhmagazine

University of Houston Magazine Spring 2016  

University of Houston Magazine Spring 2016