Enter the dome

[Version française sur le site de La Recherche]

How does it look like inside the dome? I was asked this question many times. The answer in this blog post.

The habitat. In front, the Sea Can; behind, the dome. To the left, the solar panels.
The habitat. In front, the Sea Can; behind, the dome. To the left, the solar panels.
MHH-Model-Bldg-3D-All_montage
Scheme of the habitat, from above.

When you cross the habitat’s door – usually with a space suit – you arrive in the airlock, a room just large enough for you and your crewmates. You first step on a “Welcome to Mars” door mat, courtesy of SpaceX. You have five minutes to spend in this room, to simulate a recompression cycle (outside, the atmosphere is supposed to be about 100 times thinner). There is not much to do, and all you can hear is the ventilation system of your suit and sometimes comments over the radio, so you have time to look around. Suits, radios and battery packs are hanging on the walls or resting on a shelf. In front of you, a heavy door leads to a large, brick-shaped container: the Sea Can. Its left wall is covered with shelves where our food is stored, and the right on with tools, a workshop, battery stacks, breakers and the like.

The Sea Can, from inside.
The Sea Can, from inside.

The voice of a crewmate resonates in your helmet: the 5 minutes are over. To your right, the “wall” – which is made of the white thick fabric covering the dome – unzips. You can enter the dome.

Entering the dome.
Entering the dome.

You remove your suit. Damn, it feels good, like taking off your ski shoes in the end of a day in the Alps. Without the helmet, you can see much clearer. You are in the main room, where we work and exercise. This room spreads over about half the surface of the dome. There is no clear distinction between outside walls and the ceiling: only this thick white fabric, curved from the ground to six meters above your head. Have you already been to a geodesic dome-shaped theatre to watch an OMNIMAX movie? If so, you can imagine quite easily how the dome looks like from inside. Against the right wall, drawing a circular arc, are our desks. Those are usually covered with papers, coffee cups, computers, tablets and other electronic devices.

The main room. Photo by Dr. Christiane Heinicke.
The main room. Photo by Dr. Christiane Heinicke.

To your left are two bikes: a regular stationary bike and a mountain bike modified to generate electricity. Behind them, a little wooden shelf filled with games, books, a drone and my ukulele.

Our electricity-generating bike.
Our electricity-generating bike.

To the end of the room, just under one both portholes, is a treadmill. We put it there so that we can watch outside while running. I am usually hitting ths treadmill in the early afternoon, before lunch, when I already feel restless but there is still sunlight to power it.

The view from the treadmill.
The view from the treadmill, on a foggy morning. Well… in the morning.

Lunch happens just behind it: the main room turns into the kitchen without real separation, and the table where we eat is right behind the treadmill. Behind the table is the area where we prepare food, delineated by linoleum-like floor. A door at the other side of the kitchen leads to a small telemetry room.

The kitchen before, we arrived. Credits: HI-SEAS/Sian.
The kitchen, before we arrived (picture taken from the telemetry room’s door). Credits: HI-SEAS/Sian.
A more accurate depictin of the kitchen. To the right, Carmel wondering why I'm taking a picture of her microwaving leftovers .and wondering
A more accurate depiction of the kitchen. To the right, Carmel wondering why I’m taking a picture of her microwaving leftovers. In the telemetry room, Sheyna enjoys the high levels of light we have there around mid-day.

If you turn left right when entering the dome, you pass in front of the bathroom and under a pullup bar, and enter the small biology lab. The atmosphere in this room is peculiar: red and blue lights dominate, coming from the plant culture systems to the left. This consists of shelf covered with many plants of different kinds, growing in different kinds of soils – or even without soil, they roots spreading in water containing the nutrients they need. But there is white light as well, coming from the cyanobacteria’s incubator to the right. In front of you, the bench where I work. Equipment and experiments are stored everywhere: the walls are covered with shelves, and most of the ground and bench is covered with boxes. You can find cultures of plants and microbes at unexpected places, simply because light and temperature happened to be good there.

The downstairs bathroom.
The downstairs bathroom.
The door to the biology lab (and Christiane doing pullups).
The door to the biology lab (and Christiane doing pullups).
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The biology lab.
Our main plant culture setup.
Our main plant culture setup.
Scheme of the first floor.
Scheme of the first floor.
4-2nd-Floor-Plan-_-Layout_montage
Scheme of the second floor.

Close to the entrance of the main room is a structure, somewhere between a staircase and a ladder, which leads to a mezzanine. This mezzanine features 7 doors. One is the bathroom and the other 6 are our individual compartments, which are basically dignified closets: 4 m2, a one-person bed and a little desk under an inclined roof. But there are quite cozy, and they are the only place where you can isolate yourself (OK, technically you have the bathrooms too – but you’ll quickly hear annoyed knocks at the door if you settle there). At least, if you use earplugs: the sound insulation is far from perfect.

One day, I found this sticker stuck to the upstairs' bathroom's door.
One day, I found this sticker stuck to the upstairs bathroom’s door.
The individual compartments, before we arrived.
The rooms, before we arrived. Credits: HI-SEAS/Sian.
Christiane draw Lucky Luck and taped it to my door, because according to her we loook alike.
Christiane taped a Lucky Luke drawing to my door because, according to her, we loook alike.
My individual compartment (and myself, miserably trying to look natural).
My individual compartment (and myself, trying to look natural but failing miserably).

The dome is usually cold and dark, as energy is precious, but the sunlight filtering through the fabric around midday, our LED lights and electric candles in the evening, the carpet, the wood structure, the cozy-looking fabric walls and our laughter make it feel warm. In the end of the year, the dome will be the place I have inhabited for the longest period of time since I started college. It is home to us.

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7 thoughts on “Enter the dome

  1. zokou says:

    Bonjour CYPRIEN, Je te suis depuis avant même ton entrée dans le dôme, dès que j’ai vu le reportage au JT. Quel courage et quel optimisme! C’est merveilleux de se lancer ainsi dans une telle recherche. Je te trouve très audacieux et en même temps j’admire que ta passion pour l’espace soit aussi forte qu’elle t’entraîne dans cette expérience extrême. Je suis ANNE MARIE ZOKOU SAMBUGARO, la soeur de ROLAND, ton oncle. J’ai eu le lien par ta tante PATRICIA. Je te fais tous mes voeux de trovailles et de réussites futures. Affectueusement. ANNE MARIE

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    1. Pasckqal says:

      Bonjour Cyprien ! Je suis Pascal, le frère de Patricia, la belle-soeur d’Anne-Marie qui elle-même est la sœur de ton oncle Roland. C’est vrai que Lucky Luke a un air de famille, surtout concernant la forme des membres inférieurs. Sinon j’ai une question : est-ce que vous vous servez vraiment du vélo électrique pour générer de l’électricité ? Par exemple en appoint la nuit pour lire ? Est-ce que vous organisez des tours de pédalage, comme pour les autres corvées ?

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      1. anne marie Zokou says:

        Bonjour Cyprien, et merci pour ta réponse. En lisant attentivement le descriptif du dôme sur le site, j’ai lu que vous étiez sept, et qu’il y a trois femmes. J’aimerais connaitre les prénoms, les âges et les spécialités de chacun de vous sept. Cette semaine est sorti le film de R SCOTT:” Seul sur MARS” avec M DAMON. Ou comment un chercheur, abandonné sur MARS après une tempête de poussière, se démerde pour survivre. C’est genre Robinson CRUSOE sur la planète rouge. J’irai le voir la semaine prochaine en pensant à toi. Je ne vois guère ROLAND car il vit près de MONTPELLIER, et travaille à SAINT AFFRIQUE. Mais j’ai vu il y a peu MARLENE, et je suis COSETTE à NANTES sur FACEBOOK: faut vivre avec son temps. Bises à toi et ton équipe, et dans ta prochaine réponse, explique moi un peu mieux tes objectifs scientifiques dans cette expérience. Affectueusement. ANNE MARIE

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      2. Cyprien Verseux says:

        Hello Pasckqal !

        J’ai pas mal entendu parler de cette branche de la famille. Cela fait donc de toi le père d’Arthur, qui est le cousin de Robin, le fils de l’ex-mari de la belle-sœur de ma mère ?

        On stocke l’énergie générée par le vélo sur une batterie de voiture, qu’on utilise ensuite pour l’illumination des plantes, la recharge d’appareils électroniques et autres.

        Pas besoin d’organiser des tours de pédalage : c’est un plaisir de se défouler un peu.

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    2. Pasckqal says:

      Bonjour Anne-Marie, c’est Pascal. Tu te souviens ?
      Je ne prétends pas répondre à la place de Cyprien, mais je te recommande la lecture en français des articles précédents de Cyprien, auxquels tu peux accéder par la rubrique suivante : https://walking-on-red-dust.com/vous-parlez-francais/
      En particulier, si je reprends tes questions, je te recommande :
      – sur ses coéquipiers : voir l’article “premier mois sur mars”
      – sur les objectifs scientifiques de Cyprien : voir l’article “J-10 avant le confinement”. Il y a aussi l’article sur les algues vertes, mais curieusement le lien ne marche pas, “La Recherche” ne l’a peut-être pas traduit en français.
      Et enfin, si tu vas voir le film “seul sur Mars”, tu seras peut-être intéressée par l’article “Interview d’Andy Weir, auteur de Seul sur Mars”.
      Je n’ai pas de nouvelles de Roland, je sais juste que Patricia et lui viennent de vendre la maison.
      Bises !
      Pascal

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  2. zokou says:

    Bonjour Pascal,
    Oui je me souviens bien de toi évidemment. Merci pour toutes les pistes de réponses que tu m’as adressées. Je vais pouvoir en apprendre un peu plus sur cette année expérimentale. Je n’ai pas encore pu voir “Seul sur Mars”, car j’ai un tas de démarches en cours: je refais mon isolation de maison par l’extérieur et j’installe une véranda. Donc j’ai peu de temps pour le loisir actuellement. Mais je ne suis pas à plaindre car je profite à fond de ma retraite depuis 2001…Bonne nouvelle pour PATRICIA et ROLAND, car cela fait cinq ans que leur maison est en vente. Ils vont pouvoir penser à autre chose. Une page se tourne.
    A bientôt sur le site de notre chercheur sous un dôme!
    Cordialement.
    ANNE MARIE

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