Student designs space colony

He’s only 17, but Eric Yam already has his sights set on life in the future — way into the future.

Eric Yam

He’s only 17, but Eric Yam already has his sights set on life in the future — way into the future.

And it certainly doesn’t hurt to have NASA rubber-stamp his out-of-this-world vision of a space colony to serve as home to 10,000 inhabitants.

The Toronto teen is the designer of Asten, the grand prize-winning submission in the Space Settlement Contest, co-sponsored by NASA Ames Research Center and the National Space Society.

Yam is the first Canadian in the 16-year history of the contest to take home the award, beating out more than 300 submissions from around the world. He tied with a team from India.

“It’s not like you get recognized by NASA every day for the efforts that you try to design your own community or a whole city,” said Yam in an interview Thursday following his talk at ideaCity, a conference featuring presentations by innovators in the worlds of health, technology and the arts.

Yam said learning he’d won last month was “really joyful.” He said he was also surprised by the large number of submissions this year compared to previous contests.

The name Asten is derived from an alternate name for the Egyptian god Thoth, who maintained the balance between good and evil.

Yam’s design comprises a series of stacked rings resembling a cylinder with living pods attached. To visualize it, Yam said to imagine a cylinder made up of a bunch of balloons.

“If you want to use an analogy, it’s like a giant apartment building with an office in the middle,” he said.

“Each of those balloons is an apartment, so within those balloons, it’s organized as standard apartments.”

They’re then connected to each other with vestibules — hallways which are like community centres and form the basis or foundation for the structure, Yam said.

Among the many services the vestibules are designed to provide are: oxygen production, water recycling and storage, connection networks and agriculture — growing and processing food.

“They have everything you need: they have education facilities, government facilities — it really is a hub for the community, like schools are for today, and also a hub for life support systems,” he said.

At the centre of Asten is a 1,700-metre central industry hub divided into five areas: a zero-gravity hotel, research facilities, spacecraft construction facilities, a station control and primary energy storage centre and a docking network.

Yam goes into great detail about the full operation of the settlement from environmental controls to emergency procedures and governing systems.

But when it comes to taxes and social systems like health care, Yam modelled them after Canada’s systems.

“The fact that I lived in Canadian society all my life, I was born here, I was raised here… you really see the benefits of what Canada has to offer in the social system.”

Yam recently attended the International Space Development Conference in Orlando, Fla., where he had a chance to meet legendary U.S. astronaut Buzz Aldrin.

“It was really exciting as well, to be with one of the people who’s actually been out in space and has landed on the moon,” he said. “He told me about his experiences as an army pilot and what it’s like to land on the moon, and it really sort of reinvigorated my spirit.”


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