MONTREAL – Bryan Versteeg hasn’t stopped drawing ever since he got his first crayons and left marks all over the walls as a child – all the while dreaming of someday living in space.
He still remembers that sketch books and drawing pencils were the predominant gifts on his fifth and sixth birthdays.
So began the career of the 38-year-old Calgary space artist who’s becoming known for his futuristic out-of-this-world illustrations.
“I’ve always been seeking out the future of engineering,” Versteeg said in an interview with The Canadian Press.
Over the years, he has been inspired by magazines like Popular Science, which he collected during the 1980s and 90s. The monthly magazine has been well known for its concept drawings of flying cars and interplanetary spaceships.
“It’s a great way to look into the future,” he added.
Warp forward to Versteeg’s recent illustrations of what a human habitat on Mars would eventually look like. His Mars One conceptual designs have appeared in thousands of articles on the Internet.
Versteeg started working on the Martian space habitat after he was approached by the founders of the Mars One Foundation, which is planning a one-way mission to the red planet.
In December, the non-profit organization selected 75 Canadians to enter the second round of the mission’s selection process. The 43 Canadian women and 32 men were among 1,058 candidates selected.
Versteeg said he agreed with the Mars One approach, which involved sending up to six landers to the Martian surface before shipping up any humans.
They would include two living units, two life-support systems and two supply units.
“If you’re going to be putting a permanent base there, you want to make sure everything is working before people get there,” Versteeg said.
“I really believe in Mars settlement and colonization as a foothold for human beings on another planet.”
Versteeg has worked in the graphics industry for more than 20 years, as a conceptual artist in the architectural and engineering fields.
In 2011, he founded Spacehabs.com in order to focus on the conceptual visualization for space exploration.
Versteeg is also a member of the International Association of Astronomical Artists.
One of the other projects he has been working on for about two years is his “Kalpana One” Space Station.
It’s named after Kalpana Chawla, one of seven astronauts killed when U.S. Space Shuttle Columbia broke apart while returning to Earth in February 2003.
“Kalpana One” is Versteeg’s idea of what living in outer space could actually look like.
“The interior of the space station is basically a space for about 10,000 people,” he said.
“I designed the golf courses and the football fields, the farms, the recreation spaces and ponds and landscaping _ it was probably 50 projects within one project.”
Versteeg’s illustrations can aptly be compared to the artwork for the iconic rotating space station in the movie “2001: A Space Odyssey.”
“They did a lot of research and they made something that was as close to realistic as possible,” he noted.
Versteeg referred to his greenery-filled “Kalpana One” space station as “2101” – 100 years after the setting of Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction masterpiece.
“I know I’ve always wanted to live in space and so it doesn’t need to be all that incredible for me to want to live there,” Versteeg said.
“I try to create places that my wife could see herself live in.”
The futurist artist, who has been married for 10 years, began studying art and design in school at the age of 14.
He originally considered a career in architecture and learned interior design along the way.
Versteeg said a lot of research goes into his artwork and he’s always reading up on the latest cutting-edge technology.
“You try to limit yourself within the laws of physics and within existing concepts that we already understand because I really want to make sure it’s realistic,” Versteeg said.
“If a person looks at it and says: ‘That’s impossible’ right off the bat, then we’ve kind of already lost a bit of the audience.”
Catherine Hazin, director of arts and culture for the Canadian Space Society, has called Versteeg “an incredibly important Canadian artist.”
“He is really making the idea of living and inhabiting space accessible to the public,” she said in an interview. “It’s an incredibly important job that nobody has been able to do as effectively as he has until now.”
Versteeg is also one of the founders of Deep Space Industries (DSI), a company that plans to mine and utilize space resources like asteroids.
NASA is currently studying a plan to send astronauts to study an asteroid and Versteeg said DSI has been co-operating with the U.S. space agency.
“Some of the DSI guys have been consulted for NASA’s designs, but exactly how NASA is planning on doing it is up in the air,” he said.
“We have our own ideas of how we can go out and prospect and analyze and target asteroids and then return them, process them and use the resources for manufacturing.”
Versteeg has even created stunning concept illustrations of what mining in space would look like.
“I have wonderful discussions with the guys I work with at Deep Space Industries who offer incredible insight,” he said. “They kind of vet my designs and tell me what could or could not happen.”
His illustrations of space mining may not be that far from reality. DSI is facing competition from another company, Planetary Resources Inc., which also has plans to mine asteroids.
Versteeg predicted that, like Ford when the company started mass producing cars, space utilization will take off “in leaps and bounds.”