Forecasts of the future from previous times often envision a far greater amount of airborne objects than what actually materializes in reality. Regrettably, the absence of flying automobiles is not the only letdown we have encountered. We have also been deprived of the realization of Buckminster Fuller’s concept of Cloud Nine, whereby the future population will reside inside colossal airborne spheres.
Fuller’s concept was based upon geodesic spheres, which consist of triangular segments incorporated into a lightweight shell construction resembling a colossal sphere. Constructing in this way has the benefit of evenly dispersing the structural stress over the whole building.
According to Outdoor Igloos, a maker of geodesic domes, the triangle is the only configuration of structural elements that remains stable without needing extra connections at the intersection locations to avoid distortion of the shape. “To clarify, when pressure is exerted on one edge of a triangle, it is uniformly distributed to the remaining two sides, which subsequently transfer the pressure to neighboring triangles.” The cascading distribution of pressure achieves the effective distribution of stress throughout the entire structure of geodesic domes.
Geodesic domes and spheres have an interesting characteristic: their strength increases in direct proportion to their size. Moreover, when the radius of a sphere expands, its volume increases at an accelerated pace.
Now, let’s temporarily halt the proceedings to provide a brief tutorial on buoyancy. Buoyancy refers to the upward force imparted on objects immersed in a fluid, which may be any moving material, including air. As you go deeper into the fluid, the differential pressure inside the fluid generates more force. The pressure exerted on the lower surface of an item immersed in a fluid is greater than that on its upper surface, resulting in an upward force.
An item will float in a fluid if the buoyant force exerted by the fluid is higher than the weight of the object. Due to its lower density compared to other elements in the atmosphere, helium ascends. The phenomenon is analogous to the process of heating air within a hot air balloon, resulting in a decrease in its density per unit volume compared to the surrounding air, so allowing it to ascend.
As a result, it would be possible to significantly reduce the total mass of the sphere by raising the temperature by 1°C (1.8°F), as Fuller suggested. This might possibly result in the creation of a future floating metropolis in the form of an orb, enabling aerial navigation.