Book Review: Colonies in Space
Colonies in Space by T. A. Heppenheimer is, quite simply, the best book on space settlement written to date. It covers essentially the same ground as the much better known The High Frontier, by Gerard K. O'Neill, but it is much better written. Colonies is full of colorful narrative and satisfying, but clearly explained, technical detail.
Dr. O'Neill was a brilliant physicist and will forever be remembered for his vital role in developing the first more-or-less practical space settlement designs, but he wasn't a top-notch popular science writer. By contrast, Colonies is an easy, informative and exciting read and it is little wonder that Heppenheimer, a good scientist in his own right, went on to a successful career as a popular science writer.
The heart of Colonies is an excellent description of the essentials of the space settlement ideas largely developed by O'Neill. Heppenheimer describes, in eminently comprehensible terms, the construction shack to house those working on the first settlement, the lunar mine to gather materials, the mass driver catapult to send lunar materials into orbit, the catcher to gather the materials and control them, the major settlement designs of the times, and the solar power satellites to pay for it all. He extends O'Neill's work with an extensive discussion of high-intensity agriculture and discovers a better location for the first settlements, a high Earth orbit rather than L5. There are also unique details such as the low-g swimming pool.
One might ask, if Colonies is the better book, why is The High Frontier so much better known? The simplest answer is that Colonies was a commercial endeavor that went out of print when sales dropped off (though you can still find copies easily on Amazon from used book stores). By contrast, The High Frontier has been thankfully republished by the Space Studies Institute for outreach and educational purposes, granting it much greater staying power.
I'll leave you with a portion of Ray Bradbury's introduction:
© 2006 Al Globus