From Diana J. Choyce
Feb 14 - 20, 2000
Many times, some of the best ideas and visions come from the common
man outside of established foundations
Man has dreamed of setting up colonies on the Moon for ages. The
reasons range from escaping this planet we are using up, to satisfying man's insatiable
curiosity and adventurous spirit. And we will probably meet this goal in the coming years.
In the meantime, a small town in California has decided they have waited long enough. The
city council of Hesperia, located in the Mojave desert about 50 miles northeast of Los
Angeles, has voted to begin construction on a full scale moon-like colony. Their goal is
to promote future space development, produce practical applications for Earth, and of
course to promote attention for their town.
At the centre of this project is Iranian born architect, Nader Khalili.
Mr. Khalili is the founder and director of the Cal-Earth Institute in Hesperia, which
promotes ideas for building safe, comfortable, affordable housing of earth and other
readily available materials. He used to design conventional skyscrapers, but has since
turned his attention to housing the poor and homeless. His simplified housing ideas were
born about 20 years ago when he found a way to make the traditional domed or vaulted
mud-brick houses of his native Iran more resistant to earthquakes and weather. The
process, which he calls "geltaftan" after the Persian word "fire
structure", calls for setting oil-fueled burners in the buildings and baking them for
two or three days until the clay-brick walls and roof turn red hot, making the structure
into a ceramic house. The ceramic quality made the house impervious to rain, snow, and all
but the most powerful earthquakes. And the building materials were very inexpensive.
The building method Mr. Khalili is using in his Hesperia project is
called "superadobe". It is basically rows of bags filled with sand dug from the
house site and piled up to form walls. Barbed wire is then laid between the rows to
reinforce and help hold the bags together. Hesperia is located within an earthquake zone,
but these houses have passed seismic tests and were approved by the city's building
inspectors. Khalili was invited to a NASA sponsored symposium in 1984 on lunar bases,
where he explained how geltaftan and superadobe could be adapted for lunar use. He
conducted an experiment at the McDonnell Douglas Space Systems laboratories to show that
the heat of the sun could be harnessed to melt and fuse the soil on the lunar surface,
turning it into blocks, fibers or other shapes in an outer space version of
Khalili, whose Web site is www.calearth.org, said in an interview the
planned lunar colony in Hesperia would demonstrate these possibilities and boost the image
of earth as a modern building material of the future. "It's extremely exciting to be
able to work on this,'' he said. "If we can get some funding going, we can show that
"mud houses" can solve housing problems across the world. ... Unfortunately,
most third world people sneer at them, they have lost respect for their traditional
houses.'' Mike Duke, a staff scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston,
contracted by NASA to perform support services, praised the Hesperia plan. "I like
the idea because it illustrates what is a useful theme for future space development, and
at the same time it shows that there are some potential practical applications on Earth
for things that people will eventually develop for space,'' Duke said. "It's
certainly true that if we want to build habitats on the moon for significant numbers of
people for significant periods of time, we'll probably make them out of material on the
moon, not bring them from the Earth.'' Duke said he knew of no other project like the one
planned in Hesperia. "There are a few ideas that have been reported in the literature
but I don't think anybody has taken it even to laboratory experiment stage, so Mr.Khalili
has jumped a couple of steps actually.''
As for the town of Hesperia, the project has no funding as of yet.
Mayor Jim Lindley says the city does not have the $100,000 needed to start the colony but
will assist in raising the funds needed. "We're going to help where we can, we can
help with community support, community organization. With the backing of the city council
we can help him get the grants necessary to finish his project," he said. "We
are very interested in education in our area and there's been some interest from NASA and
other universities to pursue his concepts. ... We'd like to have that kind of activity in
our city of course, anybody would. He's quite a visionary. He's before his time,'' said
This may indeed seem a frivolous project to some. But many times, some
of the best ideas and visions come from the common man outside of established foundations.
And it's good to see a whole community get behind one of its own in support and
encouragement. So many creative people get lost in the shuffle by not having the right
contacts. One would hope this trend will continue. Because it will take all of us to
pursue a fruitful future for our planet.