NASA brings its hi-tech back down to Earth

The "Sustainability Base" research center will use state-of-the-art sensors for ambient cooling and geothermal wells for heat.


NASA 's Ames Research Center , Moffett Field, Calif., is ready to begin construction of what is planned as the greenest building ever built by the federal government, a structure that will use state-of-the-art sensors developed for space missions but also rely on the age-old strategy of opening the window to catch a cool breeze, according to a report by Mercury News .

Christened "Sustainability Base" by NASA in an homage to "Tranquility Base," the site of the first moon landing 40 years ago, the 50,000-sq-ft building will cost $20.6 million and is expected to open in 2011.

While the new building will use technology developed in space, Steven F. Zornetzer, associate director of Ames, said NASA also could use data gathered through operation of the new building for missions to the moon or Mars. Back on Earth, the building is designed to achieve a U.S. Green Building Council LEED platinum rating, and designers hope that with solar and geothermal energy capacity, the building will approach net-zero energy consumption.

Sustainability Base will generate its own energy through about 20,000 sq ft of photovoltaic panels on the roof, and use a network of deep geothermal wells that will dissipate heat in warm weather, and help extract heat from the ground in the winter.

The building is positioned so smart sensors can open windows to capture cool breezes from nearby San Francisco Bay. At night, the building will be able to close itself up and pump cool evening air over its foundation slab, creating a thermal reservoir that will help keep it comfortable during the day-much as historic California adobe homes did.

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