Alien Landscapes: The Theme Park

SpaceFarers Corporation envisions a theme park centered around a facility like Arizona’s Biosphere 2, remotely located on terrain of Mars-like appearance.

Obviously, success will require working with commercial and development interests to create a unifying theme. For a host of reasons, we will be retaining the original space exploration idea. Space colonies, after all, must be sustainable in the ecological sense. Air, water, and nutrients need to be recycled, just as they were during the original Biosphere experiments. The theme must influence not only the central campus, but the surrounding community that we plan to build. We have given much of the necessary thought to whom the new development will attract, and what sort of businesses those people might bring with them. We have also considered transportation infrastructure, which does not currently exist.

The Sonoran Desert is an extreme environment. In the summer, especially at sunset, the Santa Catalina Mountains have a distinctly Mars-like aspect. The planned development will use that. It will employ available technologies as we invent or test them to compensate for the heat, dryness, and isolation of the area, using those features to advantage for demonstration purposes. With care, the Casa del Oro region, including Oracle, can become a sort of desert experimental prototype community of tomorrow. The existing Biosphere 2 campus can serve as a centerpiece and landmark for the overall project.

Reducing operations at Biosphere 2 to a tax burden, as may happen under the current University of Arizona leadership, is not part of the plan.

What we envision is a community of exceptional architecture, built from and into the native rock of the Santa Catalina Mountains. Our plan is to build infrastructure to make the community as nearly self-sustaining as possible: Its own water system, highly efficient and fully recycling, with a waste treatment plant that can return a fraction of the effluent to potable condition, the remainder to be recycled for sanitation and irrigation. The community would have its own waste treatment and distributed power generation systems. Some of the dwellings could be capable of full closure for weeks at a time. The people who live in these houses will think about Mars, or, at any rate, some off-world adventure, every day. It will happen because of their neighbor.

At the center of the community will stand a galactic-themed retail and performance venue inside a ring wall with at least the appearance of native rock. “Sails” of flexible solar cells, visible even above the ring wall, would provide a portion of the electrical power requirements of the park, while microturbines running on methane from the septic decomposition of organic waste in fast bioreactors would supply the rest. Nothing unusual, or rare, or priceless in its culinary and artistic qualities would be in short supply inside. Even the technologies that run the place would be for sale. The streets would be populated with performers, some strangely dressed, some entirely alien in appearance, there to catalyze the fun. No few guests will join in the masquerade, exactly as they do at Renaissance fairs. Here, however, they look forward and outward rather than backward. Biosphere 2 makes the perfect centerpiece and icon for the evolving prototype community in the terran desert. It would be closed for research, with the exception that tours could be routed through it, perhaps within transparent tubes. Uniformed crews who pay $10,000 a week to be there, as if at the Biltmore Hotel, and then have to qualify intellectually and physically on top of that, would monitor the environment, evaluate technologies for use in space habitats, and maintain the one-of-a kind apparatus for the entertainment and illumination of visitors in person and online.

Local guests could simply walk in, or park their two-wheeled conveyances, like Segways, underground, or, from very remote parking lots, ride in on swift transporters that sing like turbines rather than grumbling like diesels. The global community would access Oracle by a 300-mph monorail connecting airports at Phoenix and Tucson via a scenic route that would run through Catalina State Park. Never stopping en route (magnetically levitated cars would detach from a core vehicle, glide soundlessly to a stop at stations along the line, then accelerate to join the next train) the “Sonoran Bullet” would reduce a two-hour ordeal by car to a 20-minute cappuccino event.

Who pays for this?

Industry does, but you have to bootstrap it. The kind of people who will be drawn to the community described belong to the creative class. They will not have to be invited to live there, although we may solicit their interest. They will know beforehand that the technology of water and energy self-sufficiency is a precondition of life off-world. They will demand to live in an environment that echoes that need, and includes them in an alien landscape. Anyone who could bring that technology -- and the NewSpace industry -- to Arizona will be sensitive to the fact that we who ignore reality could draw down the water table until the native vegetation dies. We may yet turn the Sonoran landscape into a dune sea. Nor will they fail to understand that promises of abundant water from the Central Arizona Project are a fiction. That water comes from the Colorado River, and there is darned little of it left, all of it politically contested. Even what there is would have to be desalted like sea water for direct use. May as well tap the Gulf of California, yes? But that’s not necessary.

People who created hotel chains and personal computer software yesterday, people who could invest in anything, are betting their fortunes on the private space industry, calling it “Space Tourism”, or “NewSpace”, as opposed to the government-financed “space race” of the ‘60s.

With imagination, the region can draw to it the people who are creating NewSpace today, with its space tourism industry and its high-tech manufacturing, its green technology of self-sufficiency, and its jobs. These are not retirees, but masters of their own destiny, and that of their neighbors.

Actually, the region has already drawn such people. Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum married after their two-year sojourn in Biosphere 2 and built a little place atop a ridge overlooking their former glass cage. One of the items they incorporated into their new home was something they had gotten used to “inside”. Toilet paper was not compatible with the waste management system of the Biosphere, and the biospherians couldn’t manufacture it anyway. So Jane and Taber installed bidets on the toilets of their new house. It’s a point of future-toilets mentioned in Poynter's recent book, The Human Experiment: Two Years and Twenty Minutes Inside Biosphere 2. Besides building the house, they formulated plans for what is now Tucson’s Paragon Space Development Corporation, of whom each is a cofounder.

There could be no firmer testimonial to the potential of the commercial Biosphere idea than that given by the captain of the Disney imagineers himself. On visiting Biosphere 2 during its grand “closing” ceremony in 1991, Disney’s then-CEO Michael Eisner said of the place that there was only one thing wrong with it, “You didn’t build it in Orlando.”

Not a problem, Mike.

Join the conversation here.