Scalable Interactive Model of an Off-World Community

We will in the coming decades establish ourselves in orbit around the Moon, on the surface of Mars, and in a more distant future on moons of Jupiter and Saturn. To get there we must learn how to sustain human life in hostile environments, with limited resupply. What balance of mechanical and biological systems will be required to sustain human life in a growing, off-world habitat?

Project Goals

SIMOC is a novel integration of an agent-based software model, data from real-world plant physiology studies at NASA, and closed ecosystem studies universities world-wide. It is a platform for research and citizen science, providing a robust Python server and web-based, educational interface. The objective is to find the minimum complexity required to sustain human life through a combination of physico-chemical (machine) and bioregenerative (plant) systems for long duration, off-world missions.

Sound simple? Science fiction has made it look far too easy with airlocks that never require decompression, food materializing out of thin air, and terraforming in a matter of hours, not thousands of years. In the real cosmos, living off-world is far more challenging. Finding a balance of machines, plants, and humans is a complex endeavor. The slightest incongruity in waste management, power production, or CO2 scrubbing can result in catastrophic failure and abandonment of the habitat, or worse.

What is the best balance of mechanical and living life support systems? What can we learn about the resources required to effectively scale a habitat tens of millions of kilometers from home? What systems will self-sustain while others break down?

Perhaps you will find the answers …

Key Accomplishments

With the close of May 2020, SIMOC will have enjoyed three full years and four phases of development. Phase IIIb saw SIMOC move out of a prototype and into a viable, scalable, reliable platform for world-wide citizen scientist engagement. The development rebuilt the server for automated deployment across the Google Cloud Platform for nearly limitless, simultaneous users. Following feedback from National Geographic’s Certified Educator review panel in October 2019, the Configuration Wizard was simplified and updated to include cross-references to the build-in, instructional Wiki with graphs to guide power generation and greenhouse configuration.

Users select astronauts, crew quarters, life support and food rations, greenhouse and plants, solar power generation and batteries and then set the model in motion. The Dashboard provides detailed monitoring of food, water, various components of air, power generation, storage, and consumption, hour by hour for the duration of the mission.

The agent based model itself is incredibly agile, with each human, plant, structure, or machine agent defined by a simple text file. While most users will configure a simulation using existing agents, advanced users can define their own agents, adding algae, yeast, plants engineered for extreme conditions, or new kinds of life support and power production systems.

At the SIMOC website, all phases of development are described in detail. On-line tutorials prepare users for a first use of SIMOC, simulation datasets are available for download, and the literature review and resources used to build SIMOC are available for those eager to learn more. A Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) aligned curriculum for grades 5-8 and 9-14 will soon be made available.

On June 1 SIMOC will go live at the National Geographic Education Resource Library.


Kai Staats 
Project Lead

Sheri Klug Boonstra 
Associate Lead

Iurii Milovanov 

Ezio Melotti

Don Boonstra 
Educational Lead

Bryan Versteeg 
Habitat Architect and 3D Artist

Christopher Murtagh 
Systems Administrator

Jake Fedie 
Website Guru