The last time I talked about the McMurdo-Lunar colony in any great detail, it was in regards to layout. Today, I want to talk about it as an environment.
Living in space or on another world (especially one without a good atmosphere) is probably going to be really uncomfortable for a very long time. The lack of gravity, the hostility of the environment, the need for radiation shielding and perpetual exercise to keep our bodies from rotting away, even food and drink and going to the bathroom…It’s a tremendous resource drain on a set of man-made systems that can only do so much when removed from the larger, connective fabric of Earth’s natural systems.
Consider: Most astronaut food is a terrible, freeze-dried horror. Going without gravity causes an inner-ear imbalance that can make you throw up constantly, and that same lack of gravity makes your vomit hang in front of your face in a reeking, terrible blob that looks like something out of a Lovecraft story. Nobody actually likes Tang. If you don’t go to sleep in a well ventilated enough area, you can actually kill yourself by surrounding your head in a cloud of CO2 that just sits there in a still environment where the density of gas no longer matters. The Apollo crews had to poop into plastic bags and store them wherever there was room.
Space is totally horrible…Which is also part of what makes it totally awesome. Mostly, though: Horrible. It also means that this big expensive moon colony that the UN built in my novel is pretty much a lousy place to live.
It’ll be claustrophobic. The air will be stale. It’ll be cold. There will be all artificial lighting pretty much all of the time. Equipment and hazards will be everywhere. Ducts and cables and hoses full of toxic gasses are stapled to the walls. The outside world is barren and dead, and the days and nights last for roughly fourteen days. Dust gets in everything, no matter how hard you try to stop it. And you can only go outside by strapping yourself into a bulky, restrictive suit that is effectively a smaller version of all of those things you might be trying to escape.
Despite all of that, though, I want there to be good things about McMurdo. Spaces that reflect the atmosphere I described in this post about the general population. Things about it that make it a place worth the hardship and discomfort, and that make it seem like more than an awful, super-expensive asylum for antisocial scientists. And I’ve tried very hard to keep that in mind as I determine the way that the colony is arranged and what the space is like.
So, McMurdo is, as I said in the title, a series of tubes. A big mess of primary and secondary corridors leading between the habitation sections and the facilities hubs. They’re pre-fabricated, these tubes; built in lunar orbit and dropped in lengthy sections into pre-dug trenches. And when the trenches are filled in, and the tunnels covered—providing much needed radiation shielding—the only things visible are a series of small divots where the skylights have been placed. Hell, from the rim of the crater, the whole facility would look like little more than a series of isolated domes and power plants connected by strangely patterned ridges of local earth.
There are tiers to McMurdo, in virtually all respects, and they don’t always make sense. The secondary access corridors that allow access to people’s quarters are one of the primary social spaces of the colony and are one of the only spaces that people are allowed to customize and paint and decorate, but they’re low and cramped and somewhat poorly lit. The primary corridors, in comparison. are wonderfully wide, with high enough ceilings and good enough lighting to allow for a certain sense of freedom. They’re reserved exclusively for traffic, though, to be walked on or driven down by one of the cargo or emergency carts, and the white, rubberized plastic that makes up the floor and walls has to remain as clean as possible for inspections or photo-ops. The only real large, soaring space (other than the hydroponics barns) is the central social hub, which has kind of a mall feel to it and features several tightening floors of catwalks under a transparent dome.
The quarters, likewise, are cramped. Most people make do with a space five feet by ten that only has a port-hole in the ceiling a foot in diameter. Couples, administrators, and section heads are in better shape: they get twice as much space, with their own little kitchenettes and a bathroom with walls. Dow’s in better shape, still, getting assigned a suite that’s usually set aside for VIP guests. He’d rather have the five by ten cell, though. It’s easier to secure.
Because of the pre-fab nature of many of the colony’s components, there’s a lot of color uniformity. Most everything is (or starts out) white or crème, or some type of grey. There are a lot of hazard signs around, too, and not the kind that try to be clever. The place is very safe in its design, I think. Ceilings and walls are padded wherever possible (both for safety and insulation purposes), and almost all of the floors have a kind of grippy, skid-resistant feel to them. It’s all supposed to be safe and look like the people back home expect the future to look…Which probably doesn’t ultimately leave much room for aesthetics.
All in all, a kind of depressing place. I look forward to it making Dow miserable, just as everyone else has grown used to it.