Features

Space-Inspired Trailers Encourage Exploration on Earth

Space Station living quarters inspire custom RVs.

Garrett Finney moved the office coffeemaker into the full-size, cardboard mockup of the new trailer he was designing. The need for caffeine — and the threat of hot coffee accidentally dumped on a coworker — provided motivation and means for assessing the feasibility of a confined living space. Finney has what he calls a “nonstandard expertise in people in small spaces.” He developed it while part of a NASA team designing living quarters for the International Space Station (ISS).

altThough its crew of six has space larger than a five-bedroom house to live and work in, the ISS is also packed with electronics, life-support systems, racks of experiments, and more. All of these components must be built to strict performance specifications for operation in a harsh space environment.

In order to help address the problems arising from long-term living in space, NASA’s Johnson Space Center established the Habitability Design Center. In 1999, Finney, a New York City-based architect, joined the center to collaborate with engineers on the design of a Habitation Module, planned as the main living quarters for the ISS crew.

Combining his NASA expertise with his love of the outdoors, Finney turned to an industry where space is also at a premium: recreational vehicles. In 2009, he launched Cricket, based in Houston, and set about designing the first Cricket trailer. The company soon arrived at a highly versatile, user friendly trailer that it believes can revolutionize the camping experience and how people interact with the natural environment.

The Cricket trailer hits a midway point between camping and home living. Suitable for a full hookup campsite or going completely off-grid, the trailer can accommodate two adults and two children for sleeping, and can be customized with a range of features including a shower, refrigerator, toilet, an array of storage options, and more. As in space where every surface can be functional, Finney designed the Cricket for maximum utility by virtually any user. The children’s berths, for example, are suspended from the ceiling and serve as storage when not in use.

In a NASA-like way, the company devised a shorter performance specification for the trailer. It designed the trailer to be light enough (1,300–1,400 pounds) to be towed by a 4-cylinder car, and crafted an aerodynamic shape that is easy to see around and fits into most garages. And as is required of ISS equipment, the Cricket’s components are readily accessible and fixable.

The Cricket trailer has attracted significant coverage from media outlets such as Dwell magazine and the Travel Channel. Finney hopes Cricket will prove the ideal tool for helping people connect with the natural world, and revitalize interest in and sustainable use of the nation’s parks system.

Visit http://spinoff.nasa.gov/Spinoff2012/cg_1.html for the full story.