Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Buckminster's Clouded Mind

Years before Star Trek envisioned the cloud city of Stratos, and before Star Wars gave us Lando Calrissian's cloud city, there was the mad genius Buckminster Fuller, who attempted to create such places for real, not science fiction.

One of Bucky's lost and languishing inventions was his "Cloud Nine Project", in which entire communities would live inside giant inflatable polyethylene geodesic spheres. These spheres would theoretically float up among the clouds, which sounds like a fun trick for a brief balloon ride, but doesn't sound desirable to me at all as a permanent home.

Wikipedia describes the scheme like this:

Geodesic spheres (structures of triangular components arranged to make a sphere) become stronger as they become bigger, due to how they distribute stress over their surfaces. As a sphere gets bigger, the volume it encloses grows much faster than the mass of the enclosing structure itself. Fuller suggested that the mass of a mile-wide geodesic sphere would be negligible compared to the mass of the air trapped within it. He suggested that if the air inside such a sphere were heated even by one degree higher than the ambient temperature of its surroundings, the sphere could become airborne. He calculated that such a balloon could lift a considerable mass, and hence that 'mini-cities' or airborne towns of thousands of people could be built in this way. The 'cloud nines' could be tethered, or free-floating, or maneuverable so that they could 'migrate' in response to climatic and environmental conditions, such as providing emergency shelters.

Well, I have trouble wrapping my head around this concept, but hey, he's Buckminster Fuller and I guess he knows what he's talking about. I haven't found any explanation of exactly how the people inside these giant wafer-thin Buckyballs keep from getting jostled around and buffeted by random high altitude winds.

Nor I am sure what happens if someone accidentally punctures the thin plastic membrane. I can guess though.

Perhaps there's a very good reason why some of ol' Buck's inventions are "lost" today. Still, the simplicity of the design and the grandiosity of the idea make this an ideal dream for the Steampunk generation to attempt to resurrect...

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