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Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

Thursday February 17, 1994

Space Club Hopes to Launch Subterranean Biosphere Project. From his cabin that overlooks a knock-out view of Denali, where four African fish swim in a tank of murky water, and a grapevine grows in the living room, Ray Collins dreams of living in space. Collins, 35, is the founder of the International Space Exploration and Colonization Co. a Fairbanks-based non-profit club of sorts devoted to space-oriented research and development. The group is looking for more members, and will met tonight at 6:30 at Collins' home. "International Space Exploration and Colonization Company: Are you keen? Do you want to go? Call Ray {907} 457-2674," an advertisement for the meeting reads. Collins and the club plan to simulate space-living by building an underground biosphere in Fairbanks around the year 2000. Collins will live alone for a year in the three-story dome, which will be about 35 deep underground at its deepest depth and 40 feet at its widest point. The bachelor said he isn't worried about being lonely. He has gone two months in the past without any human contact. "I look forward to it actually, getting away from the rat race," he said. Going it alone runs in the Collins family. His younger sisters, Julie and Miki Collins, are the "Trapline Twins", who live an isolated life trapping in the Bush. Collins, a "Star Trek" fan, said he has dreamed of space travel since he was a boy. The biosphere will be the first step toward that dream. The dome, named "Nauvik"--an Eskimo word for "nurturing place"--will operate from electricity. The plants that Collins will live off will be grown under fluorescent and high-intensity halogen lights. The four African Tilapia fish that swim in Collins' fish tank now will move into the biosphere. They and their offspring will also be eaten by Collins. "They're very, very efficient at turning food to meat. Every one pound of food converts to six-tenths pound of meat. One pound of food for cows converts to one tenth of a pound of meat, or less" Collins said of his fish. The spot for the biosphere has been excavate in Chena Ridge. The property was donated through a lease until the year 2010. The biosphere carries about a $1 million price tag while the company has about a $5,000 balance in its savings account presently. But Collins isn't worried about the money. He said he has enough savings from local real estate ventures to fund the project if worse comes to worst. "I've got enough money to pay for it if I want to. I hope I don't have to, but I will," he said. Since Collins isn't worried about being lonely or raising enough money to live in the biosphere for a year, what does concern him? "Micro nutrients for the plants," he said. In a sealed off environment like a biosphere, keeping all of the nutrient balanced is a challenge, said Collins. Plants, animals and living objects will all contribute to the biosphere's chemical balance. If there is too much or too little of a necessary nutrient, Collins will have to find a way to compensate. To learn that, Collins and the space club are practicing with grapevines, kiwi plants, orange trees and other plants they plan to put in the biosphere. For now most of the plants are grown in Collins' basement. This summer the space company plans to build a greenhouse to conduct further experiments.

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