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NASA's Space Colony Designs From the '70s

Soulskill posted about a year ago | from the sign-me-up dept.


New submitter oag2 writes "Discover Magazine has a new slideshow of NASA's pie-in-the-sky (or, rather, toroid-in-the-sky) mock-ups of what space colonies would look like, complete with verdant mountains, flowing rivers, cocktail parties, and a guy on a floating bicycle. Though the designs are retro-futuristic, the artist who made them was prescient in other ways. From the accompanying article: "In the context of the 70s, when we had some sense of momentum from Apollo as far as expanding the human presence in space, it seemed like the kind of thing we could have just picked up and moved with," Davis says. "And it's still possible. It's just a matter of where we decide to spend our money." But Guidice remembers a more telling prophecy from O'Neill. "One of the most memorable things I ever heard him say was, 'If we don't do it right now,' meaning in the next 20 years, and that was 20 years ago, 'then we'll never do it, because we'll be overpopulated and the strain on the natural resources will be the number one priority. We will not have any sort of inclination to see this through."'" The O'Neill referenced above is Gerard K. O'Neill, physicist and founder of the Space Studies Institute. He wrote a book in 1976 called The High Frontier which featured these mock-up paintings, and explained in great detail how the space habitats would function. It's a fascinating book, and well worth reading if the pictures pique your curiosity.

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What about? (2)

tiberus (258517) | about a year ago | (#43049213)

A Dyson sphere and a Ring World?

Re:What about? (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | about a year ago | (#43049321)

L7 Now!

This was the core content in early issues of Future Life, a Starlog magazine spinoff by Kerry O'Quinn in the 78-80 years, or so.

This and the music of Kraftwerk and Tomita... Way before Wired.

Re:What about? (1)

Revek (133289) | about a year ago | (#43049341)

Did Dyson or Niven work for NASA?

Re:What about? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43049529)

Dyson did, sure.
Why do you ask?

Re:What about? (2)

cusco (717999) | about a year ago | (#43050451)

I think that Ben Bova worked for Lockheed on Apollo, Dyson worked for NASA and General Atomics, mostly on Project Orion (the real Orion nuclear spaceship, not the current abortion).

Overpopulated? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43049393)

'If we don't do it right now,' meaning in the next 20 years, and that was 20 years ago, 'then we'll never do it, because we'll be overpopulated and the strain on the natural resources will be the number one priority.

Sure, we'll never do it, but the reason is completely wrong! This is about the United States, which is not overpopulated.
Have you ever been to Wyoming? Shoot, not even Manhattan's overpopulated.
The reasons we won't do this space stuff are completely political.

The "Space Age" was a historical anomaly, a facet of the Cold War.

Re:Overpopulated? (3, Interesting)

aix tom (902140) | about a year ago | (#43050559)

I read a interesting comparison last week:

If the entire population of the earth stood shoulder to shoulder, they would about fit into Los Angeles. And If the entire population of Earth lived in a density like they live in New York, they would about fill up Wyoming.

But on the other hand the population level where "Overpopulation" kicks in is very dependent on technology. For example, when you have a few weeks of power outage and complete transportation breakdown in a sparsely populated country, people can still muddle through by eating stuff from the fields in the immediate vicinity, and drinking from streams. When you have a few weeks of power outage and complete transportation breakdown in Manhattan, that would probably kill most of the inhabitants that can't get out.

In that regard there might be a time "sometime in the distant future" where the level of technology needed to survive on earth is just a small step away from the level needed to build and live in those space colonies.

Re:Overpopulated? (2)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | about a year ago | (#43051231)

And if the entire population of the world lived in the density of suburban america, It would make a city of 4 person per family suburban homes that would fill Texas. Not that this information adds to the dialogue, I just find it interesting.

Re:What about? (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about a year ago | (#43050813)

Why not an Alderson Disk [] ?

Rendezvous with Rama (2)

Clueless Moron (548336) | about a year ago | (#43049271)

"Rendezvous with Rama" by Arthur C. Clarke in 1972 featured this heavily. Do a google image search for more eye candy. Oh yeah, and read the book too.

Re:Rendezvous with Rama (1)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#43050383)

You can also watch Babylon 5 while you're at it.

Re:Rendezvous with Rama (1)

lennier1 (264730) | about a year ago | (#43053217)

And let's add the Gundam colonies to complete the thread.

Re:Rendezvous with Rama (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43066685)

Here's a website with a 3D take on Rama - very impressive

I'm not gonna do it. (3, Interesting)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year ago | (#43049303)

Look at the TFA that is. Too depressing.

It's just a matter of where we decide to spend our money." But Guidice remembers a more telling prophecy from O'Neill. "One of the most memorable things I ever heard him say was, 'If we don't do it right now,' meaning in the next 20 years, and that was 20 years ago, 'then we'll never do it, because we'll be overpopulated and the strain on the natural resources will be the number one priority. We will not have any sort of inclination to see this through.

Very sad. Very true.

Re:I'm not gonna do it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43049539)

Except mining astroids solves the resource dilema. Once established, they won't require any further resources from earth and can even start sending resources TO earth.

Re:I'm not gonna do it. (4, Insightful)

Bodhammer (559311) | about a year ago | (#43049921)

There are no resource shortages, just resource allocation imbalances caused by market and government distortions

There are no water shortages, only water collection and distribution issues.

There are no energy shortages, only energy collection and distribution issues.

There is no doomsday like [] coming. People solve problems. The biggest problem humanity faces today is the increasing fascism of the 1st world governments by their theft of money through taxation and inflation. Governments create problems and they are larges mass murderers the world has ever known: []

We will get into space when is it "optimum" and the pieces all fall into place. I'm encouraged by SpaceX, Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industries. Maybe we will have "The Man Who Sold the Moon" in my lifetime. I hope I live long enough to see it. []

Re:I'm not gonna do it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43064891)

I think I understand what you are attempting to state and mostly agree. However, human behaviour has created governmental systems and allocated resources based on power structures. Generally speaking most people live in structures designed to allocate resources based on ability to pay - somehow. Although we talk about how there is lots of livable space, humans are great at problem solving, there are huge amounts of resources available, we can recycle, yadda yadda yadda, at the end of the day a human pays or does not. Yes, we currently produce enough food to feed everyone on the planet BUT we cannot or will not distribute that food using current economic structures. Same for resources, energy blah blah blah. So in this regard, albeit are emergent properties of moden governmental and economic structures, we do have a global population challenge. I do not know many people who would choose to live in a one room apartment on the 25 floor of a building in a city the size of Wyoming. With over a billion people being undernourished or malnourished we have a 'population' problem. IFF you accept having children die from lack of nourishment or sickness from water quality issues are unacceptable. You COULD take the position that these are self-correcting bumps in the road of modern humanity. I'd rather not view them as such.

Re:I'm not gonna do it. (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about a year ago | (#43049993)

Very telling. And to think, the only plausible way this gets off the ground now is the chance of the exploitation of asteroidean mineral reserves by corporations for profit. O8....that's the one area in which we truly excel. We'll be fine. Perhaps we are destined to be the Universe's observer.

Re:I'm not gonna do it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43052369)

Want to go back to the moon? Just have China launch a mission to the moon. The US could fund their project using the lose of the would be giving up the ultimate high ground and cost considerations disappear. The first mission to the moon was a cold war military operation and dick waving exercise not a science expedition.

Re:I'm not gonna do it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43050001)

Hahaha! Overpopulated! Pretty funny!

Oh, wait. You didn't actually buy into those religionists who claim the earth is getting overpopulated, did you? If so, you really need to back and look at the science. We are a long, Long, LONG way from ever becoming overpopulated. Look at birth rates, sustaining rates, and all that. Look at how many people there are on the globe, and just how much land it really takes to sustain them. Don't go buying that overpopulation malarky. Do some thinking of your own!

Re:I'm not gonna do it. (1)

myowntrueself (607117) | about a year ago | (#43052701)

The problem isn't overpopulation, its overconcentration. The human race is basically getting itself bottled up into 'concentration camps'.

Re:I'm not gonna do it. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43054033)

Look at global warming. A direct result of overpopulation. If we had a tenth the global population with our same tech levels, we wouldn't be in this mess.

Re:I'm not gonna do it. (1)

AttillaTheNun (618721) | about a year ago | (#43050251)

I fear history will regard the past 200-300 years as The Big Waste.

Up until then, humankind has lived in tune with real-time natural resources (solar power, and it's dependants: water, wind, plants and animals) as energy and food. In a relative blink of an eye of our time on this planet, we've have tapped into and almost exhausted a reserve of natural resources which represent an accumulation of solar energy spanning hundreds to billions of years (effectively non-renewable).

Most of this has been in a greedy and wasteful pursuit of consumerism rather than as a stepping stone to any sustainable improvement in civilization.

Time will tell if we blew our shot and are doomed to recede back into where we started as our only sustainable equilibrium.

Re:I'm not gonna do it. (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | about a year ago | (#43050785)

I fear history will regard the past 200-300 years as The Big Waste.

Up until then, humankind has lived in tune with real-time natural resources

Don't kid yourself. Wind back the clock on Africa and check out the human influence factor.

Space Habitats Are Still Possible (4, Interesting)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | about a year ago | (#43050327)

I had hoped to work on them while getting a PhD in the 1980s: []

Still trying to make them on-and-off: [] [] [] []

The human imagination is the ultimate resource (as economist Julian Simon said). What really killed the 1970s vision was Senator Proxmire's Golden Fleece Award. It's taken a long time to recover from that nastiness politically, coupled with other mistakes like the Shuttle (compared to cheap rockets with a return capsule). Plus computers have absorbed most of the creative energy that was going into the space program in the Apollo era.

The world itself has plenty of material resources and energy. We'll even probably have both hot and cold fusion soon which will make it easy to recycle everything. The real reason to go into space is about diversity, challenge, curiosity, exploration, community, and just room for more creativity -- to use space resources in space.

I took an undergrad course with Gerry O'Neill. He called me a "dreamer" for wanting to make self-replicating space habitats. :-) I was inspired by James P. Hogans's sci-fi novel "The Two Faces Of Tomorrow" which has a space habitats with an automated factory. []

I I later found out J.D. Bernal proposed them in the 1920s: []

Gerry O'Neill anticipated there would be a slow capitalistic expansion into space, and built his plans around that. Sadly, US capitalism was not kind to any of his business plans (Geostar, LAWN) which he had hoped would fund more space ventures.

Meanwhile, the non-profit world of cooperation in cyberspace seems to be what is taking off, and what ultimately may get us space habitats (self-replicating or not). I tried a couple times over the past two decades to try to get his legacy non-profit SSI interested in supporting a free and open source effort towards developing space habitats. But I found the core there was still enamored of Gerry's old business plan of creating solar space satellites and using that to fund a slow expansion into space. That plan may have made sense in the 1970s, but it ignore today's reality that such satellites could be used as weapons, and the cost of solar power on Earth is falling exponentially, and local power storage is rapidly improving via batteries and fuel cells, etc.. Once we are in space for other reasons, maybe beamed power might make sense for either facories or to aircraft or laser launch systems.

Anyway, I'm still trying to keep some of the dream alive. Mostly, in my spare time, for decades I've been focused (too much) on making a triple-based social semantic desktop to organize all the needed information (while the world passed me by on that too, like with RDF and URLs and so on): []

It's been interesting, even if not too much obvious direct results to show for it.

Re:Space Habitats Are Still Possible (1)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about a year ago | (#43050871)

While you're busy watching Star Trek reruns, some of us are trying to keep the current spaceship intact. You know, the one we need in order to launch ourselves off to other places. We don't have fusion yet, our current space tech is incredibly primitive. We need enormous resources to move that along and currently we seem have a real world shortage of same.

Keep dreaming, it's important. However, paying attention to the short course yields long term dividends. Like survival.

Space & Earth Habitats Are Complementary (3, Interesting)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | about a year ago | (#43051377)

Good points, but my wife and I put more than six person-years on our own dime into making a free garden simulator so people could grow their own food on "Spaceship Earth" -- and it is also a step towards living in space because people in space need to eat too. There is an edited version of one of Rick Guidice's pictures as a backdrop in the add-on pack: []

So a lot of the ideas are complimentary. You're using the internet now to make your point and some of that technology indirectly came out of the space program which pushed technology along, including satellite communications. The picture of Earth seen from space has (arguably) done probably more than any one single thing to unite our planet (especially the image with a small Earth in a sea of darkness) []

Thinking about things on a smaller scale like for a space habitat can focus the mind wonderfully on issues like recycling, meeting essential needs vs. expansive wants, being efficient in resource use, learning to get along with neighbors, sustaining human health without lots of expensive interventions, developing economic paradigms that are sustainable both socially and physically, and so on.

Anyway, one of the reasons for my not getting further directly on this is, beyond raising a next generation, actually investing significant my time on those topics you point to, for example education about health & nutrition and about transcending militarism & artificial scarcity: [] [] []

But as I say, making good places to live in space and on Earth is complementary from a certain perspective, so it is not like that was wasted time in that sense in progressing towards space habitats.

Anyway, there are very few material resources in short supply on Earth. Pretty much all such shortages are politically motivated or the product of competitive economic tragedies or unaccounted for externalities. At the current rates of falling prices for solar, the world will be running off of mostly solar energy in 20 years unless something even better (like hot or cold fusion) is cheaper. As it is, probably at least 95% of the work done on Earth in the industrialized world is either useless or harmful to the common good, so there is plenty of spare capacity; see: []

As I wrote in 2008, (perhaps a bit wishfully as far as OSCOMAK itself, true): []
OSCOMAK supports playful learning communities of individuals and groups chaordically building free and open source knowledge, tools, and simulations which lay the groundwork for humanity's sustainable development on Spaceship Earth and eventual joyful, compassionate, and diverse expansion into space (including Mars, the Moon, the Asteroids, or elsewhere in the Universe).

You can read an essay on how to to find the financing to create a "Star Trek" like society here. []

A flow into foundations of $55 trillion is expected over the next 25 years: "Is Open Source the Answer To Giving?" []

And TV watching is consuming 2,000 Wikipedias per year: "Mining the Cognitive Surplus" []

So no one should seriously suggest the absence of money or time for R&D and deployment is the problem for making either Spaceship Earth or Spaceship Mars (OpenVirgle) work for everyone, even at the same time. It comes down to issues like ideology and imagination, not "resources".

Re:Space & Earth Habitats Are Complementary (1)

lemur3 (997863) | about a year ago | (#43052755)

Are you a NASCAR driver ?

that sure is a lot of plugs.

Re:Space & Earth Habitats Are Complementary (1)

kermidge (2221646) | about a year ago | (#43054475)

Much thought-provoking stuff, Paul; just reading through a handful of the links given above, and then some from the various articles has nicely taken up several hours. Too bad that, "human nature" as it is will preclude the reading of even some of the material by the very people who, one may submit, need most to read it. For me, much of what's on hand resonates with things I've thought over the past forty years or so, thus, a semi-captive audience of one.
      For those who might have the curiousity or interest to read further, the general response may well be "don't have time." Or, again, "tl;dr" - especially should they pick up on a phrase that sets off an automatic response of "it'll never work" or "bullshit."
      I've had first-hand exposure in several of the areas and have also had prior or developed interest in some of them, variously agriculture, manufacture, education, and healthcare. The latter in particular operates under a huge disconnect - the economics are judged on through-put rather than outcome.
      Anyway, I'm not smart enough to discuss much less argue any of this, so I'll just thank you for the information and wish you well in your efforts.

Re:Space & Earth Habitats Are Complementary (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | about a year ago | (#43057199)

You're welcome. Thanks for the kind words. I appreciate the time you gave to reading what I wrote and responding about it.

BTW, I'm sure some part of it is indeed bullshit -- just not sure which parts or I would fix them. :-) See: []
"The main idea of the "argumentative theory of reasoning," put forward by Dan Sperber and myself is that the function of human reasoning -- why it evolved -- is to improve communication by allowing people to debate with each other: to produce and evaluate arguments during a discussion. This contrasts with the standard view of reasoning -- apparently shared by quite a few of the readers -- that reasoning evolved in order to further individual reasoning: to make better decisions, to plan ahead, to get better beliefs, etc. We have gathered a lot of evidence in support of our theory. The interested reader may enjoy a short summary, and the bravest may read the main academic article (use the "One-Click Download" link on the summary Web page). For those who don't have the time or the inclination, let me simply try to correct an important but common misconception.
    We do not claim that reasoning has nothing to do with the truth. We claim that reasoning did not evolve to allow the lone reasoner to find the truth. We think it evolved to argue. But arguing is not only about trying to convince other people; it's also about listening to their arguments. So reasoning is two-sided. On the one hand, it is used to produce arguments. Here its goal is to convince people. Accordingly, it displays a strong confirmation bias -- what people see as the "rhetoric" side of reasoning. On the other hand, reasoning is also used to evaluate arguments. Here its goal is to tease out good arguments from bad ones so as to accept warranted conclusions and, if things go well, get better beliefs and make better decisions in the end."

A diversity of ideas exchanged with each other can make us all smarter, even if one person had 90% of the ideas an someone else 10%, like Scott E. Page writes about here: []
"In this landmark book, Scott Page redefines the way we understand ourselves in relation to one another. The Difference is about how we think in groups--and how our collective wisdom exceeds the sum of its parts. Why can teams of people find better solutions than brilliant individuals working alone? And why are the best group decisions and predictions those that draw upon the very qualities that make each of us unique? The answers lie in diversity--not what we look like outside, but what we look like within, our distinct tools and abilities.
    The Difference reveals that progress and innovation may depend less on lone thinkers with enormous IQs than on diverse people working together and capitalizing on their individuality. Page shows how groups that display a range of perspectives outperform groups of like-minded experts. Diversity yields superior outcomes, and Page proves it using his own cutting-edge research. Moving beyond the politics that cloud standard debates about diversity, he explains why difference beats out homogeneity, whether you're talking about citizens in a democracy or scientists in the laboratory. He examines practical ways to apply diversity's logic to a host of problems, and along the way offers fascinating and surprising examples, from the redesign of the Chicago "El" to the truth about where we store our ketchup.
    Page changes the way we understand diversity--how to harness its untapped potential, how to understand and avoid its traps, and how we can leverage our differences for the benefit of all."

Regarding your point about the "tl;dr" crowd, they certainly exist, and I've gotten that sometimes. I think there are a few solutions to that which I can proceed on and some of which I have tried in a limited way. They include:
* embody ideas in some kind of fun game;
* embody ideas in some captivating stories of various lengths (from short story to novel series);
* make a compelling documentary movie (e.g. Bowling for Columbine or the Zeitgest movies as examples not saying I agree with everything in them or their emphasis);
* make short funny Youtube movies (like the Story of Stuff, and I tried with "The Richest Man in the World" but that is just toe dipping);
* create poems (tried a couple);
* create catchy songs (haven't tried that);
* probably lots of other things in that direction (plays, street theater, TV series, model kits, etc.);
* keep up a steady drumbeat of tweets (or slashdot posts :-);
* make a better website about these ideas (what I have is not really well organized);
* make better tools that would support progressive disclosure of ideas which is something I'm kind-of working towards (or a website that reflects that as in the previous point) where people can drill down into details as they want to;
* probably other things I have not thought of.

Thankfully there are a lot of people out there trying to do great stuff. The Maker movement is one good example, but there are many others from people making better solar panels, to local organic vegetable growers, to OpenLuna and the Mars Society, to people helping create great software like the Dojo Foundation or the Concord Consortium or the Wikimedia Foundation, and on and on. So, lots of people are doing various stuff in different directions. And one can look back in history, like the Beatles as just one example and see stuff others have done, and continuations or expansions of that towards elevating our global consciousness somehow: [] [] []

Part of the issue with some of the ideas I might talk about like the growth of the gift economy is that they relate to social momentum and changing worldviews. But it is hard to do better than James P. Hogan's 1982 novel "Voyage From Yesteryear" in outlining that issue. It would be great to see that as a British TV miniseries; sad that James is no longer with us (I was fortunate enough to meet him once in person, actually before reading that novel, and then to correspond with him a bit in later years).

The US cultural flowering in the 1960s and 1970s was not just one person. It was not just about space habitats; they were just one example of a kind of optimism. I can hope we might in the near future again see a cultural resurgence like we saw then, but maybe in a wiser and more effective direction in some regards -- like replacing the push for "free love" instead with a push for a "basic income"? :-) []

The High Frontier (5, Informative)

Animats (122034) | about a year ago | (#43049363)

Ah, yes, "The High Frontier". Back when NASA thought they could build a shuttle that didn't cost $600 million per flight. The plan was to set up a big moon colony first, mine the moon, build a big catapult, and launch materials from the moon to a Kevlar "catcher" in Earth orbit. (What could possibly go wrong?)

The 1952 Colliers/Von Braun space program [] , with its plans for a big wheel-type space station from which Moon and Mars missions would be launched, was more realistic. What killed it was the Apollo "Man/Moon/Decade" goal. That was achieved, but with technologies useful for little else.

NASA still thinks that way. Their Mars Direct [] program would have sent a manned mission to Mars as a one-shot mission.

Space travel with chemical rockets is just too inefficient for big projects in space. Fusion still doesn't work. Fission would work but is rather messy. None of the big fancy hypersonic space plane things really work. (Remember Reagan's hypersonic space plane scheme? Ben Rich, head of Lockheed's Skunk Works and designer of the SR-71's powerplant, refused to bid on that. "We used titanium (on the SR-71). You know of something stronger?")

Re:The High Frontier (1)

dadelbunts (1727498) | about a year ago | (#43049951)


Re:The High Frontier (1)

rmdingler (1955220) | about a year ago | (#43050039)

Well, maybe if we hadn't wasted all that adamantium on James Howlett...

Re:The High Frontier (1)

cusco (717999) | about a year ago | (#43050795)

NASA could almost certainly have built "a shuttle that didn't cost $600 million per flight", if engineers had been allowed to be the project designers. Instead the lawyers and lobbyists in Brainwashington and the Pentagram decided they knew more about designing rocket ships than the rocket scientists did and we ended up with the Space Shuttle. To this day the system still runs pretty much the same, to my eternal distress and disgust.

Re:The High Frontier (1)

cpt kangarooski (3773) | about a year ago | (#43052319)

Well... I think it had a lot more to do with NASA knowing that they'd never get the Nixon White House and OMB to sign off on it unless the Air Force was involved, giving the Shuttle a customer. But the Air Force wanted those stupid polar launches from VAFB to put up spy satellites on almost no notice, so that meant a big cargo bay, greater cross range, and the other various compromises that led to the crappy Shuttle we got.

If you haven't read it, Jenkins' Space Shuttle book is the definitive resource. (Sadly the most recent edition ends slightly before the Columbia accident; I assume a final edition is in the works) Also there are some hella good classroom lecture videos from an MIT course on the Shuttle, which featured guest speakers from NASA such as Chris Kraft. You can see them here: []

Re:The High Frontier (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about a year ago | (#43050841)

Unobtainium. []

Re:The High Frontier (1)

SourceFrog (627014) | about a year ago | (#43050907)

Just to put $600 million into perspective, it's only 1/7000th of the cost of the Iraq War alone. Please don't tell me that the problem is cost. You could fund NASA for literally 200 years just from the money blown on the Iraq War. And now we have companies like SpaceX who are bringing down costs much further still. Mars One estimate they can put people on Mars for just $6 billion. That's 1/700th the cost of the Iraq War. Hell, $6 billion is much smaller than the Star Wars (movie) franchise value. It's less than humans spend on booze in one year. Enough with this bullshit that it's somehow just super-duper expensive.

Re:The High Frontier (1)

SourceFrog (627014) | about a year ago | (#43050945)

There are other potential areas of savings too. The estimated cost of the War on Drugs is $76 billion a year. That's more than 4 times NASA's annual budget. . But no, space is "too expensive". We've spent over $60 billion on the TSA, which has caught zero terrorists. But no, space is "too expensive". Something is deeply wrong with human priorities.

Re:The High Frontier (1)

Dereck1701 (1922824) | about a year ago | (#43054093)

" could build a shuttle that didn't cost $600 million per flight. "

To be fair the shuttle program was intended to be deployed on a much larger scale (dozen(s) of them with over 60 flights per year), which would have brought down the cost per flight significantly. Also the "shuttle program" was not limited to launches & shuttle refurb like it should have been, everything was thrown in with it, grounds maintenance, R&D, security, training, etc. I've heard that the costs to actually take a flown shuttle and put it back on the pad, in fuel, refurb, ET, SRBs & labor only ran around $138 Million. The other $1.36 Billion per flight (yes, including all that it did put the total program cost at $1.5 BILLION per flight), was all "associated costs" that at best were far more expensive than they should have been, an at worst were completely unnecessary pork.

O'Neill cylinders (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43049371)

Still one of the most influential concepts of space habitats since ever.

I remember having Science textbooks.... (2)

madhatter256 (443326) | about a year ago | (#43049449)

...with these images for their cover when I was in middle school.

I went to middle school in the late 90s, the textbooks were circa 1980s. Goes to show how outdated Florida textbooks were at that time and probably still are somewhat outdated.

I loved glazing over the cover as it made my imagination wonder how they would go about building those mega colonies.

Re:I remember having Science textbooks.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43049755)

Me too. Though not in a school textbook but in a book for children on space, space-faring and the solar system. That was in the early 90s. I loved those pictures and to this I'm waiting for it to finally happen.

Re:I remember having Science textbooks.... (1)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | about a year ago | (#43051301)

remember 'You will go to the moon!' [] ? I made my mom read me that book so many times, she eventually recorded it to a cassette tape so i could just listen to it and turn the pages in the book.

Re:I remember having Science textbooks.... (1)

scottrocket (1065416) | about a year ago | (#43053259)

remember 'You will go to the moon!' [] ? I made my mom read me that book so many times, she eventually recorded it to a cassette tape so i could just listen to it and turn the pages in the book.

Do you see that red dot? That's Mars, and someday, you will go there too! I read that book so many times when I was a kid, I think I wore it out. "The High Frontier" likewise well worn, but that was a library book and luckily, my mom was the librarian. Replacements on demand.

Re:I remember having Science textbooks.... (1)

cusco (717999) | about a year ago | (#43051169)

I went to school in the 1960s and '70s, and literally no one that I knew could have imagined that in the year 2013 not only would we **NOT** have space colonies, but that the Untied States couldn't even put a man in orbit without leasing space on a Russian or Chinese rocket to get there. We watched '2001, A Space Odyssey' when it was first on TV (Mom let me stay up late), and I was temporarily in love with the stewardess on the Pan Am space shuttle. That future could have been ours if it were not for the short-sighted venial bastards in Congress and the Pentagon. Did you know that 1984 was scheduled to open the first permanent Lunar base?

Re:I remember having Science textbooks.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43052543)

15 year old textbooks?! Cry me a river. At the local continuation school a friend of mine went to in the 1980's, their history books didn't cover WWII, only the Great War.

Now get off my lawn!!

It is the year 0079 of the Universal Century... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43049515)

A half-century has passed since Earth began moving its burgeoning population into gigantic orbiting space colonies. A new home for mankind, where people are born and raised...and die."

Re:It is the year 0079 of the Universal Century... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43050601)

My sides are in orbit.

Would have been a futile effort. (1)

wcrowe (94389) | about a year ago | (#43049587)

I think the only way such massively huge structures could be built is by having armies of autonomous, or semi-autonomous, robotic machines that could mine asteroids for raw supplies, and be factories to turning those raw materials into finished construction supplies, and then assemble the components. That technology didn't exist in the 1970's and any attempt at stuff like this back then would have been futile. It reminds me of someone who told me about a project that started in the late 50's to create an automated, mechanical card file system. By the time the system was finished in the 60's it was obsolete, having been replaced by computers, which could do the job cheaper, more reliably and many times faster.

Re:Would have been a futile effort. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43049691)

The plan was for the resources to come from the Moon, launched to L5 by mass driver. It wasn't beyond the technological capabilities of the time, but way beyond the financial capabilities; it would have required huge amounts of money even if the shuttle had met its optimistic forecasts, and vast amounts of money when the shuttle turned out to be a huge white elephant.

Re:Would have been a futile effort. (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about a year ago | (#43050869)

One technique I've seen in science fiction is to get an asteroid of the appropriate size and composition, use large mirrors heat it to a molten state with solar energy, blow a large air bubble in the middle of the molten blob then let it cool. That gives you a nice robust outer shell to base your habitat on.

Re:Would have been a futile effort. (1)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | about a year ago | (#43051329)

i'd never head that idea before, but it actually makes a lot of sense. minimal effort creating maximal usable space, with little lost material.

Re:Would have been a futile effort. (2)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about a year ago | (#43051363)

Not quite. You core the centre, fill it will water-ice, and re-seal it. When the heat from the molten rock reaches the centre, the ice turns into steam, and that is what blows the bubble. Then you introduce air (it already has water), spin for gravity, and build your settlement/colony.

Re:Would have been a futile effort. (1)

riverat1 (1048260) | about a year ago | (#43051447)

You may be right. It's been a while since I read the story.

Re:Would have been a futile effort. (1)

aix tom (902140) | about a year ago | (#43050925)

Ah, but those computers that made the automated card file system obsolete where basically created by other "create an automated system" projects that were going on in parallel. When all of them had said "Na, it's to complicated, we just wait for a better solution to come along" that better solution most likely would never have shown up.

Most "big leaps in progress" were made when hundreds of people (or teams) try do do something, and ONE of them creates a new an ingenious solution while the other 99 basically fail.

Re:Would have been a futile effort. (1)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | about a year ago | (#43051347)

Leading to my statement "The sum total of human knowledge is less a list of 'how to do things' but is more a much larger list of 'The many ways to do things that do not work.' "
Don't believe me? Just try teaching someone how to do some technical task; inevitably, they will eventually ask 'why don't you just do X?' and there is usually an answer to the effect of "because it makes Y happen, and Y tends to remove your eyebrows' or some such. We know a thousand ways that are ineffective at sending a person to orbit. we know of half a dozen or so that tend to work pretty well ever time.

Re:Would have been a futile effort. (1)

pepsikid (2226416) | about a year ago | (#43052517)

There's no way nor reason to launch most of the building material from Earth. In a boot-strappy way, we'll be mining the moon to build orbital solar power stations. The power stations and mining efforts will need larger and better living quarters for the workers, so we'll build habitats in the Earth-Moon area. The first big habitats will be built mostly out of crud launched from the Moon. Pulverized rock will be sintered into great tubes using focused sunlight, like a gigantic 3D printer. Unlimited material, unlimited energy. The colonies will become self-sufficient, and their people comfortably well-off providing power to Earth, perhaps exchanging rare materials, exporting the biological elements of Earth's many environments. But even if we build space elevators, the vast majority of Earth's inhabitants will never leave; space will not be an outlet for overpopulation.

Colonies will probably pop up around moon-sized Mercury next, then Mars' asteroid moons, and eventually the dark, distant asteroid belt. There is ample room and materials for millions of habitats, each essentially self-sufficient, once built. Robotics would mostly automate agriculture. Mining and habitat construction might be largely automated, too. There will be far more humans living in space than on crowded Earth. It will be too expensive and time consuming to bother colonizing the other planets. There is room and resources to continue growing unchecked for thousands of years, if not millions. Our race really never needs to leave the solar system.

Correct. Too late. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43049615)

Even the Chinese won't have the money eventually. L5 colonies are likely to be far, far in the future.

Of course, had we started them in the 70s, they would have lasted until we flatlanders couldn't resupply them with machinery and critical raw materials. Perhaps it's best.

Wishful thinking (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43049617)

I love the concept of these space colonies. They could be a great benefit for science in low gravity conditions. Imagine what kinds of materials we could make in the absence of gravity. Imagine harnessing solar energy directly from the source and send it to earth instead of suffering several transitions steps, where each of them incurs losses.

Sadly, the amount of material required to build a single self sustainable colony like this would be enormous. I wonder how much fuel it would take to lift that much mass conventionally. It would have to be a global effort with serious funding from every nation and a very long term project.

The only way I can see it happening with the current socioeconomic system is by using a mass lifting system like a space elevator or a mass driver or whatever is currently considered the most feasible option. Even then the economic cost of the materials alone might be too much. Towing an asteroid somewhere into Medium Earth Orbit and refining it's metals in space might be required.

Re:Wishful thinking (1)

cusco (717999) | about a year ago | (#43050845)

The plan was never to drag the stuff out of Earth's gravity well, rather to launch it off asteroids and the Moon. Putting an asteroid in orbit around Earth is more trouble than it's worth, much better to mine and process it in situ, and just fire the end product towards a catcher in Earth orbit. My own thought is that once you start to mine an asteroid you now have a big hole that can be closed off and made into a habitat all on its own. No need for an artificial '2001'-style torus.

Re:Wishful thinking (1)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | about a year ago | (#43051407)

You need to read "Leviathan Wakes' by James S.A. Corey. I preemptively apologize, because its the first in a series of 3 books, and the third one does not come out until mid-summer, but therein, several of the various potato-shaped moons in the solar system have been converted into habitats by mining out the resources inside, then spinning them up over many many years to create centrifugal gravity for the tunnels inside. It even mentions that the 'cheep' living quarters, up near the axis of rotation make some people sick because of the Coriolis effect. Any ways, I love the series because of its rather bleak and realistic look at space travel. It only assumes a *few* marvelous upgrades in technology (mainly pertaining to nuclear powered thrust) but the brass tacks of going anywhere involves being miserable for long periods of time.

Re:Wishful thinking (1)

cusco (717999) | about a year ago | (#43052389)

the brass tacks of going anywhere involves being miserable for long periods of time.

Sounds like travel for pretty much all of human history. That's the reason why prior to the beginning of the 20th century most people never traveled further than 20 miles (a day's walk) from their homes unless forced to by warfare or famine.

Earth's population appears about to peak (1, Insightful)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | about a year ago | (#43049621)

All evidence of human population dynamics suggests that human population on earth is about to peak and begin to decline. Not only that it does not appear that this will happen as a result of resource exhaustion, but rather as a result of some natural population dynamic. Just about every (if not every) demographic group on the planet is showing decreased levels of birth per person (actually the statistics are actually number of births per woman).

Re:Earth's population appears about to peak (1)

Tom (822) | about a year ago | (#43049743)

Just about every (if not every) demographic group on the planet is showing decreased levels of birth per person

In which reality? []

Every other source I've checked also agrees that the world population is still growing rapidly. Even optimistic estimates expect it to peak at 10 billion. That's almost 50% more than we have today.

Re:Earth's population appears about to peak (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43049883)

Even that site shows population growth peaking and then declining. You really suck at this.

From the site

1999 6 bil
12 years later
2011 7bil
14 years later
2025 8bil
20 years later
2045 9bil

Considering that the population is larger each time the massive increase in time between each billion is even more meaningful.

Re:Earth's population appears about to peak (1)

lightknight (213164) | about a year ago | (#43049931)

The myopic person views their microcosm as indicative of the greater whole. They typically could not be more wrong.

The declining birth-rates are in populations where such population controls / methods / pamphletting has been put into action. Elsewhere, far away from these influences, other populations continue to explode. The first group wishes to convince the second group to cut down on reproduction, the second group realizes that it has no reason to negotiate with a dwindling power that bet it all on what may turn out to be faulty data. In either case, the second group maintains a distinct advantage over the first group, which will realize its mistakes too late to amend them.

It will be interesting to be a white person who is a minority in a country where they were formerly a majority.

Re:Earth's population appears about to peak (1)

Attila Dimedici (1036002) | about a year ago | (#43050909)

Just because world population is still growing, does not mean that it is growing as fast as in the past. Even the most pessimistic estimations say that world population will stabilize (and perhaps begin to fall) somewhere between 9 and 11 billion people. There are several demographics which have shown sharp declines in birth rates over the last several years. These are demographics that up until that point had been expected to be among the last to show birth rate declines (for example, Muslims).

Now THIS is the year 2000 vision I was promised! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43049693)

As a child I could not wait for the year 2000 to come....

When it came I was dissapointed.

Still am.

Re:Now THIS is the year 2000 vision I was promised (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43050217)

As a child I could not wait for the year 2000 to come....

When it came I was dissapointed.

Still am.

/AC cradles AC in his or her arms and gently rocks you back to sleep.

Re:Now THIS is the year 2000 vision I was promised (1)

volmtech (769154) | about a year ago | (#43051621)

I waited almost 20 years for 1984, I wish I could have been disappointed.

Am I the only one.. (1)

dpidcoe (2606549) | about a year ago | (#43049705)

...who looked at that illustration and instantly thought of what would happen if it got punctured by a micrometeor or similar fast moving small object.

lack of compartmentalization and emergency airtight shelters would probably ruin that cocktail party for sure

Re:Am I the only one.. (1)

0123456 (636235) | about a year ago | (#43049841)

...who looked at that illustration and instantly thought of what would happen if it got punctured by a micrometeor or similar fast moving small object.

Uh, no. O'Neill covered that in his book.

If I remember correctly, losing a single window panel would leave several hours to fix it before pressure dropped to dangerous levels. These things have to be built with huge amounts of shielding against radiation, so they would have little to fear from a passing small object; I think the shielding would have been around 90% of the mass of the habitat.

Re:Am I the only one.. (1)

Paul Fernhout (109597) | about a year ago | (#43049849)

They are so big, with so much air inside, that it would take weeks for the air to all go out, leaving plenty of time for repairs (according to one of O'Neill's books IIRC).

Re:Am I the only one.. (1)

Jarik C-Bol (894741) | about a year ago | (#43051525)

Thats the thing people don't get about space stations. In a space station, the difference in pressure between the inside and the outside is 1 atmosphere. It is *NOT* like a balloon, its more like a bucket. You add air until it is full, and then you stop. Because the station is a rigid body (mostly) the air just sits inside it. The ISS leaks about a pound of air a day incidentally, and when they had a 'bad' leak they could not find, it was leaking 5 Lbs. of air a day. At that rate of air loss, it was described in an article as the equivalent of moving from sea level to a location at 2500 feet over the course of a day. []
the point is, a hole in a space station, while not a good thing, is not the catastrophic world ending 'sucked out into space' moment the way the movies describe it.

Re:Am I the only one.. (1)

FatLittleMonkey (1341387) | about a year ago | (#43051183)

That's not an issue, as others have said. The real issue is the stupidity of replicating the lowest density suburban housing in purely artificial structure. It makes no sense. Open suburbs develop when you have lots of low-cost flat land. In a space settlement you have to manufacture every square metre of land, and every cubic metre of sky. A real settlement would be much more like a high-rise Tokyo apartment block than a '70s LA outer suburb.

Even if they had the wealth to build so much volume-per-person, why the hell would they want to live in a structure where half the view from your crappy little back-yard is roofs of other people's crappy little houses. You'd built the housing into the side-walls, looking out over the open parkland which takes up the bulk of the open space. Businesses/factories/etc would be built into the floor underneath the park. Rapid transport would similarly be enclosed in the walls/floor, hidden from view.

In a lower wealth colony, things would be even more tightly packed in the walls and floor of the structure, with the main volume used for intensive farming and hydroculture.

[We can blame the illustrators, rather than O'Neill and co. Why would you choose to illustrate futuristic concepts if you had such little imagination?]

Can I get.. (1)

Gripp (1969738) | about a year ago | (#43049733)

Can I get "things we've been capable of doing for decades but haven't" for $1000 please.

On a serious note, we do recognize that things like "the skywheel" (e.g. halo?) will be plausible once space mining finally gets going, right?

Re:Can I get.. (1)

Capt.DrumkenBum (1173011) | about a year ago | (#43049797)

They can start building these space colonies as soon as they start mass producing flying cars. :)

Overpopulation (1, Offtopic)

FridayBob (619244) | about a year ago | (#43049777)

'If we don't do it right now, ... then we'll never do it, because we'll be overpopulated and the strain on the natural resources will be the number one priority.

O'Neill was right. The world population recently passed 7 billion people and its growth does not seem to be slowing down. As I see it, if we don't come to grips with this and learn to regulate our own numbers, mother nature will eventually do it for us, but then through war, famine and disease, in which case space colonies will be a lot less likely.

And it's not like space colonies can ever be an answer to overpopulation. Think about it: if we could manage to build an orbital habitat large enough to house a million people, a thousand of these would be needed for a billion people... after which there would still be billions of people left on the planet. In my view this strategy would only be feasible if 1.) we had hordes of robots and nanobots that could quickly build the colonies for us using only asteroids as raw material, and 2.) we had multiple space elevators to transport all those people up into orbit. None of that technology is available yet, while overpopulation is already a problem.

Finally, even if we did manage to build one or more successful, self-sustaining colonies in orbit, on the Moon or on Mars, overpopulation would probably still be an issue for them, so we might as well learn to deal with it now, here on Earth, before we start working on grandiose schemes to populate the rest of solar system.

Re:Overpopulation (1)

lightknight (213164) | about a year ago | (#43049955)

Nonsense. Consider where these populations are growing: undeveloped countries. They have a lot of developing to go, including of their food / resources, before they hit any kind of wall. Today they harvest by hand, tomorrow by machine.

Famine, as always, will be an act of politics and mismanagement.

Re:Overpopulation (1)

cusco (717999) | about a year ago | (#43050873)

No other large (>20 kilos) animal has ever had the population size we do now. The worldwide population of the "immense" herds of wildebeest and reindeer is smaller than the population of Shanghai.

Money (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43049829)

In these times this just looks like another escape from reality. Cut spendings on hopeless military missions, focus on internal issues like poverty and illieracy. Building a new economy based on space exploration sounds intriguing, but it won't make a real difference to emplyment rates.

This is the Holy Bible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43049957)

of the Space Nutter religion. They really fervently believe that the Earth is a deadly rock but that space is somehow filled with fresh air and mountaintops.

Re:This is the Holy Bible (0)

0123456 (636235) | about a year ago | (#43050019)

Hey, it's the Anti-Space Nutter nutter.

Haven't seen you here for a while. Been on vacation?

Re:This is the Holy Bible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43050181)

No, the world's just been busy focusing on reality. Things like corruption in city hall, war and murders, energy getting expensive, you know, things like that. You space yahoos were quiet for a while, but I see another tin can made it to 0.1 Earth radii altitude, still ensnared by this rocky mud ball's gravity. It isn't quite Star Trek yet, hey??

So, you planning 501 days in a tin can to swing around the Holy Planet of Mars?

Re:This is the Holy Bible (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43054597)

No, but I suspect you are planning on spending the next 501 days 'focusing' on corruption in city hall, war and murders, energy getting expensive, and things like that. Not doing anything about them, but focusing on them.

So you seem to find it necessary to belittle anyone, and their ideas, who want their view of the world to include things that are not yet in it.

Actually this was done (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#43050207)

I've seen it on TV! I think the name of the place is Babylon 5.

nomenclature (1)

k6mfw (1182893) | about a year ago | (#43050617)

If it is a govt publication, use "Space Settlements" (NASA SP-413). If it is a non-govt publication, OK to title "Space Colonies" (Stewart Brand). Colonies is a bad word for many third world countries, and in 1970s NASA didn't want to stir the pot on this.

Artwork (big Mb files, great for posters) at [] (including vintage 1970s rogallo hang-glider. Oops, that C word appears)

NASA SP-413 at []

Space Colonies (A Coevolution Book) at []

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