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