The limits of human existence within extreme environments

In this essay for our free exhibition LIFE AT THE EDGES, Melodie Yashar, designer, co-founder and member of SEArch+ (Space Exploration Architecture) talks about humanity's obsession with pioneering and developing new extremes.

LIFE AT THE EDGES probes the imagination to consider the limits of human existence within extreme environments — life that is enabled and mediated by technologies and designs, forging new relationships with surrounding ecologies.

I believe the impulse towards exploration and pioneering into new, ‘extreme’ territories is a distinguishing feature of what it means to be human — even to the point where it could be a constituent part of our DNA. Today, just a few years after Elon Musk’s 2014 declaration that we are to become an interplanetary species, and with NASA’s planned exploration missions (EM-1, 2, etc) marking an important step in the journey to Mars, the reality that we are on our way to becoming a space-faring civilization is more palpable than ever. What better time than now to reflect on who we will be, and how we will live, once we arrive on the red planet? Which of our earthly habits and tendencies will we cling to and preserve? And which of those habits will need to change, for the sake of adapting to and evolving within our newfound home? And how will life come to change, days, months and years into the future?

As co-founder of SEArch+ (Space Exploration Architecture), we envision and prototype human-supporting design concepts for space exploration. Our work consists of concepts for human habitats on planetary surfaces and in-transit vehicles, as well as the technologies that enable their deployment. Within these environments, we not only consider appropriate concepts for long-term habitation, research and working modules in space, but also the human interfaces with hardware and technology components that keep the astronauts alive. In collaboration with NASA and aerospace industry leaders, our continued ambition is to develop design concepts that ensure our future astronauts not only survive but thrive on planetary bodies away from Earth.

In my work, the question of how humans are to sustain life physiologically, psychologically, and emotionally over extended periods of time in foreign and hostile environments is of paramount importance. Given harsh and unforgiving environmental constraints, what are the most critical values informing the fundamental and essential needs of living? The paradox of why we, as explorers, are so driven to venture to planets, environments, and landscapes fundamentally hostile to human presence is a question boldly addressed by the diversity and breadth of work in LIFE AT THE EDGES. The spirit for adventure and exploration lies dormant within us all — and the visions of art, science and technology presented within LIFE AT THE EDGES help us to project our present and future selves to environments that both challenge and affirm what it means to be human.

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