When Maria Nyström studied kitchens and cocking in developing countries she saw a strong connection to the living conditions for astronauts. The need to maximize the use of limited resources was what the two seemingly diverse fields had in common. Nyström, who is an architect and Professor of Sustainable Development at Chalmers University of Technology, realized that the same principles and recycling techniques that are developed for astronauts could be used here on earth. As we know by now, the resources are limited down here as well.
Even though she thought the idea had potential she didn’t believe NASA would even reply when she contacted them in 1997. But they did. Today she is responsible for Star Design (Space and Terrestrial Architectural Design) – a project where architects and designers develop equipment with focus on function and usability. The aim is to find simple solutions that can be used in space but also to improve life in developing countries. In order to understand environment issues and find the parallels between tough conditions in space and tough conditions on earth they need to work in extreme and unknown places. Therefore Nyström sends her students to Africa. It forces them to see reality and to be open-minded.
Systems for sustainable living are needed in a time with growing population and growing cities. It all comes down to smart use of resources and Nyström means that smart often means simple rather that high-tech. One of their projects is focused on using NASA technology for water cleaning and energy supply on food markets in Nigeria. Using these existing solutions may mean fewer diseases, cleaner environment and better food for many people. It is simple in a way, but it took someone like Nyström to see the intersection of space technology and poor living conditions to have that vision.