Designing souveniers for abnormal gravities

It’s always a great thing when epiphany strikes in the thesis journey. Realizing that someone you talked to, something you read, or something you discovered will affect everything after it is a beautiful thing. It feels similar to understanding how black holes work.

 \NASA/Goddard — illustration of a supermassive black hole, weighing as much as 21 million suns, located in the middle of the ultradense galaxy M60-UCD1.

\NASA/Goddard — illustration of a supermassive black hole, weighing as much as 21 million suns, located in the middle of the ultradense galaxy M60-UCD1.

Black holes, as we understand them, have two main parts:

  1. The Event Horizon — This is the edge of the black hole that we can perceive. Once you cross this edge, you have to be going faster than the speed of light to not be pulled in. Hence the name ‘black holes’.

  2. The Singularity — In comparison to the previous well-defined feature of black holes, the singularity amounts to a physical shrug from theoretical physicists. We can theorize what should happen, but we just don’t know.

In my thesis, I have just crossed the event horizon toward an exciting and unknown design singularity.

This has happened all thanks to two interviews: John Thackara (design expert and author) and Dr. Jessica Marquez (Human Factors NASA Ames Research Center). My thesis has gone from one lost in the scientific minutiae of design for space to one focused on the human experience of leaving Earth for a hostile new home.

John Thackara

He reframed my whole headspace on designing for Mars with the idea of souvenirs. “What kind of objects embody memories?” he questionedYou can’t design for people who are leaving Earth without first imagining how they will bring home with them to the lonely red planet. He then correctly stated, “The habitability is not just the kit.” People don’t just survive day-to-day, they fill their days with personal comforts and eccentricities.

Dr. Marquez

She further reframed my thesis by posing the question of “How do the rules of basketball change when played in microgravity?” She went on to speak around microgravity’s ability to partially take away needed human sensory input, adding that “We are all creatures of comfort. How best do we design habitats that provide those needed sensations?”

These interviews brought to mind the principle that good design embraces the benefits of a system while also minding the systemic constraints. We may not be able to fully change how non-earth environments dull our senses, but we can design for how fun and awe-inspiring less gravity and new worlds will be. Every system on Earth somehow goes back to two things: gravity and breathable air. Therefore, designers can treat gravity and air as non-given in their understanding of future space environments.

 Eames Molded Plywood Chair

Eames Molded Plywood Chair

Every single chair on Earth has used the same constraints of Earth’s gravity to design against. What changes in a chair for microgravity or Mars?