Colonies in Space:

Chapter 11 – What’s to Do on Saturday Night? Chapter 11 – What’s to Do on Saturday Night?

Colonies in Space

by T. A. Heppenheimer

Copyright 1977, 2007 by T. A. Heppenheimer, reproduced with permission

Chapter 11 – What’s to Do on Saturday Night?

Up to now we have looked at how the colony will be built, how the colonists will live, what kind of work they will do, and why it will be important. But the colonists will be no cadre of grimly self-sacrificing robots. They will be ordinary human beings. What will they do for recreation? When the work is done and it’s time to relax and take it easy, what will they do?

An obvious activity, enjoyed the world over and beyond, is sex. And, in particular, there will be sex in zero g.

Thus far the all-male crews of straight-arrow astronauts have had little opportunity to sample the delights of this. But Arthur Clarke, who has foreseen so much of importance in space developments, has been here too. “This much we can predict: Weightlessness will bring new forms of erotica. And about time, too.”

One way to enjoy such zero-g delight will be in a space Chevy van. This will be a popular recreational vehicle for sightseeing or cruising in nearby space. It will be a small self-contained spacecraft with a roomy interior, suitable for decorating with comfortable rugs or waterbed mattresses, and with large wraparound windows. It will be equipped with a small rocket motor, a reserve of propellant (alcohol, most likely), a radar, and a simple inertial guidance system. The latter will determine whether the van is on a collision course with some object in space such as a powersat, or whether the occupants are approaching the point where there will not be enough fuel to get back. If either is the case, the onboard computer will sound a warning buzzer—loudly, to be sure of getting the occupants’ attention.

These vans will also serve for family outings or excursions. People will want to go out a few miles and see the colony from a distance. Or they will want to go off farther and try the sensation of being lost in space, of being surrounded on all sides by that starry vastness. When there are other colonies nearby, these vans will serve for visits, for travel to and from them. A whole subculture may grow up around these vans. Hot-rodders will buzz in and out around the colony spokes, try to match speed with the colony in its rotation, or fly alongside the elevators on the outside of the spokes. Any incoming spaceship of note, or any major new structure being assembled at the colony, will find its retinue of celestial sidewalk superintendants standing off at an appropriate distance (perhaps at an inappropriate distance) in their vans.

When these vans return to dock at the central hub, the occupants will be close to another attraction—the low-gravity swimming pool. At one-twentieth or, more likely, one-fiftieth normal gravity, the water will certainly stay in place in its cylindrical pool. Also the human body has just about the same density as water. So when swimming under water people will find that, just as on Earth, the main forces on them are from their own swimming and from the drag of the water. But in few other respects will the colony’s swimming pools (which double as the local reservoir) resemble Earthside pools.

They will not be flat but will curve around in a circle. You can stand on the tile deck beside the pool and look around. Nearby everything will look pretty normal. But as you raise your gaze you will see the pool curving upward, then arching overhead. Directly above people will be shouting and splashing in the water, and it will be easy to spot the newly arrived Earthsiders by their amazed reactions to this.

What also will take getting used to will be the slow measured motion of the water and the people in it. Waves and ripples in an Earthside swimming pool usually are small and travel rapidly across the surface. When someone jumps in from the high diving board there is a splash, a spout of water, a wave, and then the usual smooth pool surface. But the low gravity in the colony pool means that waves will be much higher. They will be like waves at an ocean beach, yet will travel quite slowly. When someone jumps in, he will make a noticeable hole in the water which will take a second or so to fill up. You can sit on the water in an inner tube or rubber raft, and the waves lifting you will make you think of a slow-motion movie of a shipwrecked sailor in the middle of the ocean.

Water fights will be great fun, carried out at long distances. A double handful or pailful of water will more or less hold together under its surface tension, forming a glistening blob which squirms and wiggles in its flight. But there will be rules against too much splashing about; it would fill the air with drops of water which would take a while to settle and would disturb other people’s fun.

Diving boards will provide many an opportunity to show grace and skill. The common garden-variety dive will be a breathtaking slow-motion arc as the diver rises dozens of feet above the board then slowly turns and glides into the water. Like a bird in flight, he will be seen to make small motions with his arms or feet to adjust his orientation. But this is only the beginning. Some people will set themselves spinning when they leave the board and float into the air tumbling so rapidly that they will not know where they’re going. Several seconds later, their tumbling will end when they hit the water.

Because there will be the pool not only beneath the boards but also directly overhead, some people will try the vertical dive. This consists of bouncing up from the board with sufficient speed to carry through the center of the pool and on to the pool that lies overhead. There will be endless variations on this for the divers with the most skill. Thus the pool will probably have three or four sets of diving boards, and some people will try to leap from one to the other, gaining an extra spring at each bounce.

Swimming in the air will be almost as important as swimming in the water. By adjusting the jump from a board just right, you can enter the region near the pool’s center with very slow speed. Then, by appropriate kicking and waving, you can bring yourself to a halt and sit there, in zero g, while the pool and the colony rotate about you. Little flapping motions will take you hither and yon. Some inexperienced people will find it hard to get back down to the water, so the lifeguards will occasionally have to pull people down from the air. But people will quickly learn the secret of getting down: sit tight, let the rotating air within the periphery of the pool start you moving again with the colony, and centrifugal force will do the rest.

Some people may try to make their own private swimming pools. They will leap into the central zone of the pool, carrying pails full of water. These they will dump out into an accumulation of water at the center, floating in zero g. Instead of making sand castles on the beach, swimmers may try to make water spheres in the air. Then they will try to dive in by means of the vertical dive. Or they may make a big globule and push it so that it will leave the central area and drift back to the pool, resembling a meteoroid made of water. Perhaps someone will even try to put himself in the middle of such a globule with his arms and legs and, hopefully, head sticking out.

A popular sport will be the walk-on-water game, in which you slap the water with the soles of your feet to stay on top of it. But you will have to be careful not to trip over a wave. A good way to get on top of the water will be to swim upward like a dolphin, letting your momentum carry you clear of the water and possibly quite a ways up before you settle back.

Also there will be the flying fish game, in which you slap at the water with the palms of your hands and with flippers on your feet. This lets you skim across the surface at an altitude of a few inches. If you are traveling in the direction opposite to the colony rotation, and get up enough speed, you will soon find yourself weightless, your motion canceling out the motion of the colony which provides weight. You then can become a real flying fish and soar up into the air till you lose speed and the rotation of the air takes you back to the water again.

For those who prefer drier types of sport, it will be easy to arrange an area for human-powered flight. People engaging in this sport will strap on wings, attaching them to their arms and legs, then run forward to get enough speed to take off—that is, to counteract the artificial gravity from the colony rotation. Dipping, gliding, soaring, the human butterflies will cavort amid the inside of the main hub, then swoop gently to a landing. And no doubt someone will advertise waterproof wings, the better with which to play the flying-fish game.

All these will be sports for the colony hub or for weightless space. In the normal gravity of the colony, some people will carry on an Earthside sport, hang gliding.

There are beautifully long tapered kites with wings like seagulls, the SST’s or Super SwallowTails. They will soar or hang in the air with even a moderate breeze. These will be the kites most highly prized in the colony, for they will give the best performance. People will start from the tops of the spokes, just below where these pierce the ceiling of glass on the inner periphery of the torus. They then will fly to a landing in a park, fold their kites, and take the elevator to the launching ramp again. Like graceful gulls, they will fill the air with the color of their wings and the ease of their motion, so that people below will look up with astonishment.

Some flyers will use a kingpost motor. This is a small, lightweight engine driving a propeller and mounted on the main vertical strut (the kingpost) of a hang glider. In the colony, such motors will let people skim along just below the glass ceiling or fly completely around the colony interior. With their small buzzing engines, fueled perhaps by alcohol, they will be the colony’s dragonflies.

Alcohol, of course, will serve for far more than fuel for the vans and the kingpost motors. With freight rates from Earth at something like $100 for a fifth, there will be little importing of alcoholic beverages from Earth. But there is no need to enforce prohibition. It will merely be true that in this area, as in so many others, the colonists will be on their own. Some enterprising chaps no doubt will acquire control of a supply of grain or other fermentable crops, then proceed to brew whiskey, wine, and beer. Hopefully, not all the hops in the colony will be those of the rabbits. As an alternative to the expense of imports from Earth, this home-grown approach to providing the cup that cheers will be most welcome. Other resourceful entrepreneurs will no doubt find ways to grow tobacco in the colony.

While booze may be scarce in the colony, the same will not be true for first-run movies. Each of the three towns in the colony can have a couple of movie theaters, with the attractions changed every time a new ferry rocket comes up from Earth. These theaters, of course, will be run in keeping with the colony tradition that everything serves several purposes.

The theaters will actually be the community centers. They will be large rooms, with foldup chairs, probably located underneath the main deck of the colony interior. They will serve for holding town meetings or church services. They will be used in their turn by little theater groups, for basketball games or indoor tennis, for dances, weddings, or big parties.

No community is complete without its restaurants. Except for being buffet style, they will be quite like some of the more informal restaurants on Earth and no doubt will feature a big salad bar along with baskets of fruit. They can be located atop the spokes, just below the glass ceiling of the colony, to give patrons not only a panoramic view of their towns but also of the hang gliders flying from that level. The food will not be pretentious unless some fans of haute cuisine get together and decide to make it so. But with piped-in music and soft lights, the restaurants can have a pleasant atmosphere, so that prospective colonists back Earthside will hear about them and appreciate that the colony is not without amenities.

And for home entertainment, of course, people will have their stereos, their tape decks and TV’s. There will quite likely be a brisk trade in copying tapes of current hits, since new records would prove difficult either to import (the freight rates again) or to manufacture within the colony. The colony will have its own radio and TV stations, which will originate some of their own programing, but which will mainly serve to rebroadcast transmissions from Earth. A single laser beam from Earth can easily carry the programing of all 83 TV channels, both UHF and VHF. One wonders how the colonists will react to “Star Trek” or “Space: 1999.”

The communications systems will work in the other direction, too. It will be easy for people to make phone calls to friends back home, and everyone can have the use of the colony’s WATS line (Wide Area Telephone Service) for free long-distance calls. This will be more than a casual entertainment. It will be one of the principal means of ensuring close ties between the colonists and the people of Earth. To achieve this is well worth the cost of subsidizing the phone system.

So, what will there be to do on a Saturday night? Quite a bit, pretty much whatever people want. As is true with so much else what there is to do will reflect the conditions at the colony and will be part of the development of a way of life which is distinctively that of the colony.

Those who return to Earth, for whatever reason, will carry the memories of good times with them. Anyone who has lived in those small closely knit communities will cherish memories of warm friendships, and more. Such a returnee may go swimming at a pool on Earth and look around. It won’t be the same.