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The Cosmic Pull

8. ISTIO-Dome Embroidered Patch

2020. A gift from Orestis Herodotou.

This is the mission patch for the ISTIO-Dome, the experimental research lab/habitation module that I built with friends in my backyard in Oakland, California and lived in for a month during Covid.

Buckminster Fuller, who popularised geodesic domes in the mid-20th century, took a look at the world and asked, how can we make life better for everyone? By being smart, using science, technology, design, reframing questions, to look at things differently, to create abundance where everybody could be taken care of. That vision has propelled a lot of my career and interest in aerospace, space exploration, and my work imaging the Earth using satellites to understand how to use resources wisely to solve problems.

I used to teach sailing to kids in the bay, and worked on science expeditions in the Atlantic and Pacific tackling plastic ocean pollution, so the dome is covered with old sails I got from local sail makers and sewed into panels. For 1.5-2 years, I ran film screenings and concerts for friends and co-workers, used the dome as a workshop space for myself, a place to be creative. I built a low-budget backyard planetarium, a DIY 3D projector, using just a spherical mirror with one projector.

Then Covid hit, and the world shut down. Talking to friends on Zoom about our experiences, I joked that I should do an analog mission in my dome, then I decided to really do it.

I called the mission Shelter in Dome, and set up a living space, mess hall, sleeping area, and an astronaut-style schedule of exercise and work that aimed to do more with less, like Buckminster Fuller. I wanted to share the experience with people who might be feeling the same, to adapt within the constraints and fears of the pandemic, of being stuck in lockdown, and use the mentality that we know from the analog community to bring out our strengths. I made a spacesuit from a flea market Porsche jacket, and took EVAs [extravehicular activities, spacewalks] to take 20-30 second showers. Inside the airlock, I put flags for the friends who helped me build it—Mexico, Haiti, etc, and for myself, Cyprus and Poland.
On the patch, ‘Istio’ means sail in ancient Greek. On the bottom it says ‘Hella Planitia’ because in Oakland we say ‘hella’ a lot, and on Mars there’s a place called Hellas Planitia. To capture the time, I put the constellation Gemini because I inaugurated the dome for my birthday, and my age in the number of stars. The tree is a symbol of Oakland. Inside the

Being in the dome simplified things, created routine and intentionality, redefined what life could look like with. I had time to think about things from the point of view of, hey, I’m on Mars. What do you think about when you’re on Mars? We talk a lot about the work and stuff, but—you’re on another planet. What things become important? Imagination lets us explore different realities and we don’t do enough of that. We’re like, reality is real. This is how everything is. I gotta work. I gotta do this, gotta do that. We’ve set up rules around what people can wear, how they talk, what jobs they have, everything from sexuality to politics. It’s hard to see the big picture of our society. Science fiction gives you the ability to dream a little differently in the world. That’s a big part of analog missions too, it’s not just hard science. We’re on a planet right now, with amazing places to explore, which makes you a kind of astronaut.

While I was in the dome, Sian [Proctor] had me on her show to talk about my mission, what to eat, so on. I created an app version of what I was doing called Shelter in Space for a NASA Space Apps Hackathon project. There was also the first crewed SpaceX launch, and the Black Lives Matter movement protests, which I could hear from downtown Oakland inside my dome at night. So there were some real moments in there.

The Cosmic Pull