Postcards from Mars

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From Mars to Biosphere 2

Exciting new developments for SIMOC are underway. Research has started on implementing the agent based model to simulate Biosphere 2 itself, to replicate the original (1991-93) and second (1994) Biosphere 2 missions within SIMOC. A thorough literature review is being conducted by project lead Grant Hawkins with interviews being conducted with original Biosphere 2 crew members. Graphics are being designed in anticipation of the revised user interface.

Also, development is underway for a specially tailored SIMOC interface for use at exhibit kiosks. This streamlined version will have supplemental information, and automatically reset after periods of inactivity to make it more friendly for use at an exhibit where a person might interact with it briefly and then walk away without exiting the simulation.

By |2023-04-12T07:33:57+00:00September 4th, 2022|Categories: Research & Development|0 Comments

Life on Mars: Arizona startup simulates off-world habitats

Life on Mars: Arizona startup simulates off-world habitats by Jeff Kronenfeld

SIMOC dashboard 2022

Starting early next year, SAM will host a range of experiments on the technological and biological systems needed to sustain human life on other worlds. Teams of up to four crewmembers will live inside the facility for a few days to several weeks. They will use SIMOC to monitor their life support systems and possibly much more.

To read the full article, visit

By |2022-11-08T03:39:25+00:00August 12th, 2022|Categories: In the news|0 Comments

Automated Sensors

Some new developments have been made for SIMOC Live. For example, a new configuration file facilitates major improvements in sensor behavior. Now sensors are automatically recognized when they are attached, and if disconnected the data capture will resume automatically when the connection is restored. There are also new options for exporting sensor data via the educational web dashboard.

SIMOC developers have also taken additional steps to improve performance. Data transmission from back-end to front-end has again been made more efficient. The frameworks and libraries used in the codebase have also been updated. For instance, ChartJS, SocketIO, and Vue have all been changed to the latest versions, and the developers have begun to migrate from Vuex to Pinia which should yield a performance increase.

By |2023-04-12T07:44:16+00:00July 31st, 2022|Categories: Research & Development|0 Comments


The SIMOC development team has been hard at work improving the performance of SIMOC. Bugs that occurred when saving the game have been fixed in the latest code update, with a great many changes in the works to improve overall performance. In particular, performance due to many simultaneous instances of SIMOC are being addressed, for both cloud and local computing.

Core SIMOC developer Grant experimented with new ways to send batches of data and was able to achieve a 10x performance increase in performance. Lead SIMOC developer Ezio also found a way to cut load times in half. Ian has developed a test suite to stress test local and cloud servers, with an eye toward a return to locally managed servers for higher quality services. The development team also updated the Docker images on the backend to the latest version, and data logging has been improved.

Over the last few months, SIMOC developers have created features and interface improvements, with thorough tests in process. The SIMOC developer team is also working on the automation of startup scripts, and improving the appearance of charts as well as the variety of data that can be displayed on them.

By |2023-04-12T07:41:43+00:00June 19th, 2022|Categories: Research & Development|0 Comments

Mars Colony Project in Brunswick, Maine – COUNTDOWN

Mars habitat design project in the classroom of Karin Paquin, Brunswick, Maine

The Classrooms of Karin Paquin, Suzi Ring and Stephanie Millette
St. John’s Catholic School and Brunswick Jr. High, Brunswick, Maine
a STREAM Project

Take your yearlong learning and apply it in developing a Mars Colony that would sustain a minimum of 4 humans. You will utilize skills from science and math to help you design your habitat, determine what crops to grow, calculate food needed to survive until crop harvest, and maintain a suitable atmosphere inside the habitat for 4 humans. You will then apply what you have learned in religion, history, and ELA to bring this experience full circle. This project will compile all the knowledge you have learned throughout the year and allow you to test ideas in the SIMOC (Scalable, Interactive Model of an Off-world Community) simulation software. Finally, you will share this at Curriculum Night on May 24 with students, parents, and the greater school community.

As described in an April post, Karin, Suzi, and Stephanie have built an entire year of multi-disciplinary learning around the design, modeling, and testing of a Mars habitat for her middle school students. And now, just 18 hours from the final presentation, the students are preparing to share with their classmates all they have learned.

Visit the project websites Karin and Suzi and Stephanie for this incredible, dynamic program built around SIMOC and Karin’s innovative learning experience. Here is the breakdown of what her students have accomplished:

  1. Pre-Mission Task: Patch Design
  2. Task One: Habitat Design
  3. Disciples ONLY Task Two: Getting Materials to Mars
  4. Task Three: Calculating daily caloric intake and determining what crops to grow based on human caloric needs and cellular respiration
  5. Task Four: Maintaining a suitable atmosphere for humans
  6. Task 5: Religion: How humans will respond to being in space for so long (at St. Johns school, but not Brunswick Jr. High)
  7. Task 6: Humanity: How history has played a role in the advancements in technology needed to colonize Mars
  8. Task 7: 3D build colony
  9. Task 8: Reflections
  10. Task 9: Train Like an Astronaut
  11. Task 10: Make a Playlist

Good luck! And we hope your astronauts survive!

Mars habitat design project in the classroom of Karin Paquin, Brunswick, Maine

By |2022-05-24T13:05:22+00:00May 24th, 2022|Categories: Education|0 Comments

Gretchen’s 10th graders go to Mars!

Gretchen Hollingsworth, English Teacher, Digital Coach, and SGT Chair at Barrow Arts & Sciences Academy, Winder, Georgia writes, “Today I officially introduced SIMOC to my 10th Honors Lit class. I’ve already been talking about it for a while, but we did our first official assignment within SIMOC today. I had them learn about the “setting” of Mars and then run some simulations. Tomorrow I’m going to have my students who are in our STEM pathway help me set things up on the tech side. The rest of the students will be doing some creative writing to show how setting affects events in a story (ex. the challenges characters may face while falling in love on Mars as opposed to on Earth, etc.).

This is still part of our “engage” phase. My plan is to then transition to some more technical writing as we conduct experiments, gather data, write up lab reports, etc. We can even revisit our creative writing after learning more through our experiments or take the knowledge they’ve gained about CO2 levels in the classroom to help them advocate for recess! 😄

I’ll take lots of pics and jot notes on the process. My process is always flexible, so I usually start with a plan but fully expect it to go in a million directions, which I’m always fine with. I’ll keep you posted!”

Gretchen has been incorporating SIMOC into her classroom experiences for over a year. Learn about her initial work and more about Gretchen at her website.

By |2022-04-27T06:21:44+00:00April 27th, 2022|Categories: Education|0 Comments

Major SIMOC update now live!

With more than six months development effort by the core SIMOC development team Ezio, Grant, and Kai, working in parallel to the Arizona State University Computer Science Capstone team (Meridith, Greg, Ryan, David, and Ian) who are nearly complete with their effort to introduce live sensors feeds into a new SIMOC back-end (server) and modified front-end (web) interface for use at SAM and in classrooms worldwide!

The Phase V development of SIMOC (July 2021 – May 2022) introduces staggered crop rotation of food cultivars, a foundation for tracking food nutrition, advanced life cycle plant growth functions, the addition of random variation and total system entropy, and improved server-side management of agent definitions and data to provide a more dynamic, rich experience with even greater potential for non-linear outcomes and simulation of the real world.

With construction of the SAM Mars habitat analog at the iconic Biosphere 2, SIMOC now includes SAM Presets, a configuration of the SIMOC simulation that closely approximates the real-world SAM habitat. And with the newly introduced 3D objects during Configuration and on the Dashboard, the user can now visualize the habitat before and during the simulation, including SAM.

  • Learn about all the improvements and updates at Phase V.
  • First Time Users: Enjoy a quick introduction before you dive.
  • Advanced Users: Learn how the SIMOC ABM functions, and how to analyze your data.
  • If you are a returning user eager to try the new version, launch SIMOC now!
By |2022-04-19T06:01:48+00:00April 19th, 2022|Categories: Research & Development|0 Comments

Mars Colony Project in Brunswick, Maine

The Classrooms of Karin Paquin, Suzi Ring and Stephanie Millette
St. John’s Catholic School and Brunswick Jr. High, Brunswick, Maine
a STREAM Project

The large integration project is a culmination of the student’s middle school year, showing students how each subject can be intertwined in the real world. The project begins about 4 weeks before the mission launch wherein I place students in groups, to learn to work together, to be group members. I provide roles they can play … and [give] weekly tasks to practice. One of the pre-tasks includes creating a group mission patch. These pre-tasks allow students to work out the hiccups of different personalities before beginning the Mars Colony project.

The project launches 7 weeks before the curriculum fair night where they will present their findings, 3D colony, infographics, and more to peers, other students in the school, teachers, parents, and the greater school community. The project includes broken-down tasks which include a pre-planned calendar and countdown timer to help keep them on track. They must work out disagreements and come together to agree on how they are going to accomplish all the tasks on time.

The first deliverable is their mission patch. Students [then] design a rough draft layout of their colony. They work through the brainstorming sheets provided on the SIMOC site specifically pages 16-22. This is their second deliverable for the project.

The next tasks depend on the grade. For the 7/8 graders they must complete Task 2 which is more physics focused and includes creating force diagrams for launching a payload, calculating an estimate of mission costs based on research they do about what it currently takes to ship materials to space.

The 5/6 grade group moves from Task 1 directly to Tasks 3 & 4 using the sheets provide on the SIMOC, site specifically pages 23-31. I give them the choices and have them choose four separate trials of data that they will then evaluate and adjust in the simulation. They know that they must have them pre-approved and that they are running the four simulations as they would any other lab by being sure to not change too many variables all at once.

After each simulation run, they must make slight adjustments to their variables to try to improve the outcome. The ability for students to work with the Engineering Design process through The SIMOC Mars habitat simulation brings a whole new level of learning into the classroom. It forces students to think critically and think creatively. It pushes their understanding of life on Earth to a new level while they must consider all things they would need on Mars they [may] not think about [here] on Earth.

From here students complete Tasks 5 and 6 which focus on Religion and History including questions about what makes up a civilization and how could you maintain your faith far from home. This includes deliverables 3 and 4 for the project.

Task 7 combines architectural design (ART class) with the fundamentals of the engineering design process to create a 3D model of the student’s colony design.

Task 8 has students apply what they are learning in the ELA classroom to create infographics and news articles of specific areas of their colony and a reflection of the project to date.

Task 9 takes students into the PE Classroom to train as an astronaut. Including strength, agility, cardio, and endurance.

Finally, Task 10 asks students to create the ultimate musical playlist to bring with them to their colony on Mars!

Student comments have included the following:

“It is amazing how every class is incorporated into our project.”

“It’s also fun how each person has a job that helps the team.”

“I can see it now how if our living area is too big and our greenhouse, we consume a lot of energy which can cause problems, I think less is more on Mars.”

“The mars colony STEM project is amazing. Though some tasks are hard, it is so much fun to figure out how to do them and learn more about space and colonizing Mars.”

This project summary was prepared by Karin Paquin, St. John’s Catholic School for grades 5-8 Science / Social Studies.

By |2022-05-24T12:57:55+00:00April 13th, 2022|Categories: Education|0 Comments

Modeling elevated CO2 versus plant growth

Grant Hawkins, SIMOC developer offers this insight to his research into the effect of elevated CO2 levels on plant growth, and how he is modifying SIMOC to capture these response systems.

Modeling plant responses to elevated CO2
One of the research papers being submitted to ICES this year looks at the impact of elevated CO2 on plant growth and bioregeneration. Scientists have been experimenting with eCO2 since the 1970s, so there is ample literature on what the impact is and how to model. Our goal is to use SIMOC to show the system-level dynamics of these effects in an enclosed habitat like SAM.

Grant dug into the literature and augmented our SIMOC plant agents to vary their currency exchanges based on the co2 levels in the greenhouse. Below are some charts from his initial testing and implementation. The next steps are to investigate the system-level impacts, and then compile the results into a paper for ICES. Stay tuned!

CO2 response parameters in SIMOC Wheat response to CO2 in SIMOC Radish growth under eCO2 in SIMOC

Plant Nutrition
Nutrition is a critical aspect of bioregenerative system design, and one we’ve long meant to incorporate into SIMOC. And now, as part of the research for our ICES paper on plant responses to CO2, it’s finally been

Plant descriptions in SIMOC include several currency exchanges (inputs and outputs), a lifetime, and an edible/inedible ratio. We also have currency descriptions, which specify currency classes (‘atmosphere’, ‘food’), labels, etc. For food currencies, these now include nutrition fields: kcal, water, protein, carbohydrates and fat (per 1kg).

Over a plant’s lifetime, it accumulates biomass based on its natural growth cycle (sigmoidal), augmented by resource availability and ambient co2. When it’s ready to harvest, the total accumulated biomass is converted to waste biomass and food, based on the edible/inedible ratio. The food then goes to ‘food storage’, which the human agents consume immediately, grateful to be eating something besides rations.

Nutrition will be incorporated into our Plant CO2 Response paper for ICES as one of two primary ‘plant utility metrics’. Stay tuned for more!

Wheat currency description in SIMOC Plant utility metrics at eCO2 in SIMOC Plant utility calories per day in SIMOC

By |2022-04-19T05:30:59+00:00February 18th, 2022|Categories: Research & Development|0 Comments

A Mars habitat analog in the classroom?!

Gretchen Hollingsworth receives her sensor array for SIMOC

The core SIMOC developers Ezio and Grant have been working with the Arizona State University Computer Science Capstone team to integrate a live data feed from SAM into SIMOC such that both the in-habitat residents (visiting research teams) and visitors to the SIMOC website hosted by National Geographic can in real-time monitor the vital characteristics of the internal SAM atmosphere.

In the process of this effort, each of the ASU team members have received a suite of Adafruit sensors which when connected to a laptop or Raspberry Pi computer are able to capture the CO2, relative humidity, temperature, barometric pressure, and VOC levels.

This effort part of an expansive upgrade to the SIMOC back-end, introducing a new API for live sensor feeds. As such, the SIMOC team reached out to Gretchen Hollingsworth of the Barrow Arts & Sciences Academy, Winder, Georgia who has worked extensively with SIMOC in her classroom. She was jumped at the opportunity to build a microcosm of a Mars habitat analog using a pre-installed, local SIMOC server and identical sensor array to that being tested by the ASU students.

Gretchen has just today received her sensors and posted this Instagram!

“The supplies are in! I am so excited to be in partnership with SAM, the Mars habitat analog at the University of Arizona, and SIMOC! My lit students will be able to employ “writing in the sciences” as they become citizen scientists conducting experiments in monitoring C02, relative humidity, temperature, and pressure levels while monitoring overall air quality to learn about the challenges of human space exploration while confined to small spaces. We will be installing SIMOC and sensor “drivers” on a Raspberry Pi to help us conduct experiments and communicate our results! We’ll even throw in some creative writing!”

By |2022-02-03T07:19:43+00:00February 2nd, 2022|Categories: Education, SAM|0 Comments