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The APRN Interviews Our President

In late March (1992) Ray Collins received a phone call from John McWorter about an hour before Ray was to leave to drive to Anchorage. John was interested in doing a report for APRN on ISECCo and our biosphere project, and wanted to interview Ray. Ray postponed his departure for a couple of hours, and was very glad to have invested the time for John did an excellent job with the interview. What follows is a transcript of the report aired twice; once April 1 and again April 2.

John McWorter: Although his dream is much older, ISECCo President Ray Collins has been working on his biosphere for the last four years. The goal is to pioneer ways of building life support systems that could work in space. Looking over some drawings in his kitchen recently he explains that his project is much more modest than the 3 acre Biosphere II in Arizona.

Ray Collins: Well we have an 11 meter diameter which is about 36 foot dome that is going to be buried completely underground. At its simplest it can be seen as a garden inside a house. We plan on raising all our food and in the process producing all the air required and we'll be recycling all the water and nutrients. Hopefully we'll end up with a structure that can remain sealed for years at a time without any biological input.

John McWorter: The dome is to be built of concrete, and will have phone links to the outside, as well as a closed circuit video camera linked to the control shack above ground. Since it's underground the dome should be able to withstand decompression, which in space is needed to ease transition from earth's atmosphere to low pressure space suits. It can also avoid the wide temperature swings in Fairbanks' air temperature, but to grow food in its multilevel circular gardens it is dependent on banks of electric lights.

Ray Collins: We anticipate a lot of power. We're guessing something over $3,000 a month to run it. So we're going to have to come up with quite a bit of money just to keep the thing operating.

John McWorter: In a recent newsletter Collins characterized the venture as labor rich but cash poor. He and his team of volunteers are hoping to get $8,000 to begin pouring the foundation this summer. Right now they just have a big hole in the ground.

Ray Collins: We don't have a very firm timeline except that our lease on the land will expire in the year 2010. So we've got quite a bit of time available to us. We are hoping to get the structure actually constructed over the next 23 years. Then we'll gradually begin building up the ecosystem inside. It takes years to really get an ecosystem properly functioning.

John McWorter: Materials costs for the shell are estimated at $90,000, some of which Collins hopes to get from the Alaska Science and Technology Foundation. But while the structure is still waiting Collins has done a lot of work thinking about what will go into the gardens. This winter he has been experimenting with peanuts and other plants to see which ones yield the most calories per square foot of space. Summer squash, he says, works well as does rice. For animal protein he has been growing Tilapia, the same fish, according to spokesperson Chris Helms, that the Arizona Biospherians are using.

Chris Helms: It is a selfperpetuating system essentially; the Tilapia fish with their waste fertilize the rice patty which means the rice grows and the algae which is created in the waterin fact the Tilapia fish eat. And then the biospherians of course eat the Tilapia fish.

John McWorter: Helms offered to consult with Collins on his project. Collins says he has already talked with the architect of Biosphere II and has gotten some ideas. Now he says, all they need is money.