This material is provided as a public service to support the student Space Settlement Contest. The views expressed herein are not necessarily those of NASA or any other government body.

David Shetzline * Partial atmospheric pressure
John Holt * Technical debate *
Investment space * Space war * Gurney Norman * Gary Snyder * Sufficient error
Brazil's space colony
Gerard O'Neill
Stewart Brand


Novelist, author of De Ford and Heckletooth 3.

No technical suggestions as yet, but may I (for the many who will choose to be left behind) offer some constructive - I trust - objections before feathering onto natural optimisms? (Or in these times, what remains of one's nat. ops.) First a confession:

My maternal grandfather was a second generation German-American whose eldest son signed up to be gassed in the First World War and whose youngest volunteered to be wounded in the Second. Grandfather saw virtually all modern devices Researched/Developed; and he believed, bought and personally used near every one. My father worked four decades as research engineer in the Bell Labs. Encouraged by such patriarchal models, I studied sciences at my first university. So this amateur is confident O'Neill's proposal will go. NASA seeks larger federal draw, detente is our metaphor, the Economy needs a bellwether other than arms, the Pentagon has been superbudgeted etc. The time is over-ripe. One would have to be a rabbit, imagining Choice lies in the widening blackness between the oncoming headlights, to do anything but follow along behind the road proposed by the Space Colony energies. And in a sense this is exactly what I lament. An immediate future has been introduced which will fascinate and occupy at least one generation of Engineers, lock several generations of Laborers into steady toil, generate ongoing Capital Profits, maintain American Leadership, and open still another Damn Frontier.

Some fiction writers (O'Neill's scientist/novelist predecessor Tsiolkowsky) dream outward utopias while others (the prisoner/novelist Solzhenitsyn) reshuffle soap-operatic routines, seeking contemporary reforms. Certainly all are fascinated by any Grand Plan designed to keep us from further sliding down the socio-economic razorblade of life. Otherwise we are no closer to establishing the kingdom of god here on earth than two hundred years ago when some of our upperclass white male forefathers wrote in their diaries that they had. (Actually it was true for men of their persuasiom) We all need practical visions; the generalist in everyone is warmed by knowing at last Fulleresque System Structures will be given - literally - space to develop. I'm not sure what this promises the inner man, but no doubt divorce/bankruptcy/suicide will be amiably affected by the construction of human-made worlds proceeding from vestigial international cooperation. However, to begin anew, it may be necessary to confront our past and literally live it down within ourselves. Now and here this is terribly frightening for everyone, as it suggests the grimmest possible course, politically, personally.

My own experience counsels that Engineer/Scientists are eminently practical folks who get things done. So it must seem extremely unkind (if not perverse) to insinuate a further Mechanical/Technological/Brave New will suck off a lot of energies, beckoning another generation outward toward quality equality and peace of mind. Nevertheless O'Neill's vision is quite elitist. Although he declaims the elitism of the Apollo Project and offers "the possibility of direct participation by large numbers of ordinary people," no matter who his workers are, the concept is elitist, no doubt has to be. If that is its only handicap, then in the profoundest sense, amen.

The Good Engineer, I suspect, from those who gave us the Great Pyramids, through da Vinci to Fermi, tended to shy from political considerations (although Fermi was very unsettled when the First Superbomb's fireball seemed to overreach). O'Neill could be whistling when he suggests further development of such colonies would relieve the earth of exploitation by the industrial revolution and consequently open new frontiers to challenge the best and highest aspirations of the human race. His closing testimony reports: "Many correspondents refer to space colonization by analogy to the discovery of the new world or to the settlement a century ago of the American frontier." I feel much the yokel in underscoring that the discovery of the new world led to the virtual extermination of every one of its indigenous races, several of its species and the massively unequal distribution of most of its natural resources. South America is largely under fascist or military dictatorship. North America gave us the model for the first modern war - our Civil Meatgrinder - and has - since the closing of its American frontier - continued to expand that frontier anywhere ClA/Marines etc., ad nauseam.

Obviously Gerard O'Neill and all the good people he has drawn to his practical vision know that finding a new route around these old habits is the game. And somewhere in that game the past must be confirmed, its lesson understood. Then the present can be taken, seized. Before we go on to the future. Or at least at the same time. Big money always seems to ignore the lesson of the past and skip the present by insisting the future is our present.

Forgive me for offering what might seem to be merely some rustic lament yawped from some province of the mind. Of course space is antiseptic. There are no indigenous cowboys, Indians, Vietnamese, out there to be exploited. But when Project Independence goes so expensively/expansively into that virgin sweet light it will be its own indigenous race. And it will leave a hell of a lot of us behind, alone with existing mischiefs, quite powerless, unfunded, and perhaps in a poor position to help. Naturally, that is our challenge. And O'Neill has already done us great service: whether one will choose to be on the Colony or not, we are already out there or down here in our minds.

You invited a thousand words, I'm afraid I've run over without offering a single technological contribution. But try this: May Project Independence be sure to include at least one dozen each: excellent historians, crack economists, keen sociologists, to assist all aboard in matters of fine print whenever contracts are made with those folks the Project has had to align and bankroll itself. And may it never forget to write home.

Partial atmospheric pressure

. . . Cooking at 3 p.s.i. is going to be a slow affair. Some PV = nRT work to be exact, but water's going to boil at maybe 140o F.??...

Jonathan Feiman
Riverside, Illinois

Use pressure cookers.


John Holt

Technical debate

Investment space

. . . there must be a proven private sector market for use of space. EARTH/SPACE is therefore dedicated to developing low-cost methods of using space, which are of value to individuals and commerical industry. It's not enough to say - we can get you there cheap. You also have to have a reason for wanting to get there in the first palce. We're giving space a reason.

Space can be used to increase the control of authority over the individual; or it can be used to free the individual from the strictures of earth. EARTH/SPACE is, quite simply, making space a place to free the individual by expanding his horizons. The real use and colonization of space will take place - not from the well-ordered designs of a few government planners, but from the random designs of tens of thousands of pioneer individuals.

Paul L. Siegler, President
2319 Sierra
Palo Alto, California 94303

Space war

I just heard on the ABC network news that the Russians have been "blinding" our spy satellites with high powered laser beams. I took note of this development because of a book I've read recently called Soviet Conquest From Space by Peter N. James who is an intelligence expert with our government.

In his book is a highly documented comparison between our military/space programs and the Russians'. The book concludes that the Russians are pulling ahead of us in rocket development, space shuttle and space station deployment as well as militaristic use of laser beams. Mr. James said to watch for Soviet space developments over the next few years and we will see a better space shuttle system than ours which will enable them to embark on an extensive space station network. These could very easily be used to store and deploy nuclear weapons.

I've only touched on the most major points in the book and I mention it not only for its own significance but what it could mean to the future development of O'Neill's space colonies' one-upmanship being what it is between governments.

Douglas Nommisto
Wood Dale, Illinois


Author of Divine Right's Trip (in The Whole Earth Catalog.)

. . . I see the main use of Space colonies as religious. They should be built, not as industrial enterprise, but in the spirit ot the old Cathedrals, like Canterbury. We should take it all very slow and build in all the meaningful earth-stories and myths. Clearly space colonies have more to do with myth than science or industry. I want the connection between the Indian Coyote tales and the Space Colonies to be very direct and clean. I want the building of the colonies to encourage folk life and country music and old time religion, not discourage it. I want the colonies to have a lot of winos and neer do wells hanging around the old computer consoles. singing and praying and spitting and telling lies. I want there to be places for Neal Cassady and Nimrod Workman, and Merle Haggard and Jeff Kizer and Ed McClanahan and me and Chloe. There's the real test. "Do I want to go, or not'?" In my head I'm against all this space stuff. But in my heart, if they're goin' to build 'em, I want to be on one. I want to get to heaven, by hook or crook. I'd feel a whole lot better about it all, though, if that guy hadn't hit that golf ball on the moon. I sure do dread being locked up in outer space with ten thousand golfers.


Poet, author of Turtle Island (Pulitzer Prize, 1975 ): "Four Changes"; Riprap, etc. Hero of Kerouac's The Dharma Bums

Thanks for the invitation to comment on O'Neill's space colony. I'm sure you already suspect that I consider such projects frivolous, in the all-purpose light of Occam's Razor my big question about such notions is "why bother?" when there are so many things that can and should be done right here on earth. Like Confucius said, "Don't ask me about life after death, . I don't understand enough about life yet." Anyway. I'm hopelessly backwards, I'm stuck in the Pleistocene. That is, seriously. I'm trying to figure out what happened to man at the end of the last ice age, which seems to me to have been a major shaping transition, and so I'm still mucking around in the paleo-ethno botany, which is a kind of zazen.

Sufficient error

. . Space Colonies becomes a good idea only when error correction becomes impossible here. Are we there yet?
I don't know.
That's error enough....

M. Phillips
Kokomo, Indiana

Brazil's space colony

The space colony idea is about as brilliant as making Brazilia the capitol of Brazil. When we figure out what to do with the allegedly rich interior of Brazil without massive disaster, there will be time enough to think about colonizing outer space. It seems to me that it is violating the principles of the title of your publication. We (and all other living things) have adapted (coevolved if you will) to the Earth's environment. Success would undoubtedly depend on recreating the conditions of the surface of the earth as closely as possible, which is easier at home than in space....

Albert Himae
Houston, Texas


High energy physicist: deviser of Space Colonies: inventor of particle storage rings.

The following is derived (with his help) from Dr. O'Neill's remarks before the Senate Subcommittee on Aerospace Technology and National Needs on Jan 19, 1975, and his keynote address at the annual national convention of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in. Washington D.C. on Jan 30, 1976. For complete texts write to Dr. O'Neill at Princeton University.

In the long run it may be well that the people working at the orbital manufacturing facilities may build very comfortable and earthlike habitats. Much of the public interest in this concept may be due to that possibility. In the early days, though, it seems almost certain for economic reasons that the orbital facilities will house a selected, high-qualified, highly motivated population nearly all of whom will be working and working hard. They will not be in a utopian paradise or a laboratory for sociological experiments. The orbital facility will be much more like a Texas-tower oil rig, or a construction camp on the Alaska pipeline, or like Virginia City, Nevada, in about the year 1875.

It is natural for most people, and particularly for reporters and art directors, to become preoccupied with two features of orbital manufacturing both of which are non-essential. One is "Where is it going to go?" and the other is "What is it going to look like?" I think the proper answer to the first question is "in an orbit high enough so that it almost never gets eclipsed," and to the second, ''It will be a rotating pressure vessel, containing an atmosphere with sunshine brought inside with mirrors. " Beyond that, any further detail is almost certain to be wrong. For that reason, among others, I think it's unwise to get personally identified with particular designs. I'm for whatever works best, and it's too soon yet to be sure what that will be.

As to resupply, first there's the question of atmosphere. In some of the space habitat designs we're dealing with, the skin thicknesses are 2 to 7 inches of solid aluminum, and we ought to be able to make that gas tight. The problems could come at windows and airlocks. There would be plenty of power available for root's blowers and compressors, so there would not have to be loss of air each time a lock is opened. Outside window areas it might be best to have a thin secondary membrane with recuperation of any leakage. As a guide, in high-energy physics for the past five years there has been a single-stage ultrahigh vaccumn system working with several kilometers of length and thousands of joints, but with total leakage rate of less than one cubic centimeter per day.

Again, it will be necessary to be careful only if we have to use a nitrogen-rich atmosphere. Oxygen will probably be a waste-product at L5, because the chemical processing plant needed for construction will be separating several hundred tons per day of oxygen.

On the question of food supply, we presently think in terms of fairly conventional but highly intensive agriculture. I doubt that we need to provide cosmic-ray shielding for the growing crops, because the 10 roentgen/year of radiation in free space in a thin pressure vessel would be far below the level where any effects on plants have been detected. It could be that the seed-crops should be grown in shielded areas.

Water for agriculture would be totally recycled, as it is on earth, with the initial stock consisting of 11% hydrogen from the earth, and 89% oxygen from the processing plant.

What if closed-cycle ecology turns out to be impossible, or takes a very long time to perfect? The fallback position is to bring dehydrated food from the earth and to add water at L5. A full diet for heavy construction work is about a pound per day, dehydrated, so the budget would be less that a quarter-ton per year per person. On the basis of experience in the heavy construction industry on earth, the productivity of manufactured goods should be from 10 to 30 tons per year per person, so even with the fall-back position the economic leverage of having a man or woman working at L5 would be a factor of 50 to 150.

If satellite plower is to have real impact on our energy problems here, it will be necessary to emplace about 15 or 20 stations of 5000-megawatt size in geosynchronous orbit every year. Therefore the lift requirement over a six-year period for establishing a space manufacturing facility would be about 1% as large as for ground-launched satellite power over the same period. Any adverse effects on the atmosphere due to rocket flights would be correspondingly reduced, in the space manufacturing approach, by the same factor of 100.


I suggest the following as essential components of a balanced program leading toward satellite power:

  1. The vigorous continuation and successful operation of the space-shuttle
  2. Continued development ot microwave power transmission, leading toward pilot-model demonstrations here at ground level of phased-array power transmitters as well as planar receivers.
  3. Detailed study of the electromagnetic mass-driver not only as a launching device but for the easier role of high-thrust, high-velocity reaction engines for use outside the atmosphere.
  4. Research on earth into long-term physiological effects of oxygen atmospheres and of rotation. Success in these studies could reduce substantially the cost of construction of a habitat for the workforce at an orbital manufacturing facility.
  5. Study of continuous-flow chemical processing methods for minerals similar to those found on the moon.
  6. Conceptual study of a human-rated version of the LDEF (Long-Duration Exposure Facility): a test laboratory capable of being put into orbit by the shuttle, in which the long-term effects of partial or zero gravity and of various rotation rates could be studied.
  7. Studies on earth of high-yield agriculture, under conditions of controlled atmosphere and abundant solar energy, with human intervention (as is customary in agriculture on earth), as necessary, to maintain stability.
  8. A balanced set of design studies of earth-to-low-orbit vehicle systems, emphasizing:
  9. A continued moratorium on the development of nuclear rockets. If our calculations are correct, the availability of liquid oxygen for refueling in high orbit, as a result of the processing of lunar materials, would give to ordinary chemical rockets a higher performance than could be achieved by nuclear stages, and without any risk of serious accidents affecting the environment.
  10. Study of space-stations larger than a human-rated LDEF: facilities whose components could be launched by the shuttle or by a shuttle-derived freight rocket, and which when assembled would be suitable as construction and maintenance shops for larger objects. In my opinion the emphasis in these space-station studies should be on productive work, not on physiology, because I see no reason why the purely physiological questions could not be answered earlier and at touch lower cost by a human-rated LDEF.
  11. Design studies of large power satellites, emphasizing reliability, simplicity, ease of manufacture and conservative technology, with less emphasis on the achievement of minimum weight
  12. Study of an unmanned asteroidal probe emphasizing the confirmation of carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen resources in the asteroids

Of these recommendations, it should be noted that (1) and (2) constitute endorsement of programs already under way. (9), though negative in tone, reinforces a decision already made (8), (10), (11) and (12) are recommendations for taking broader, less restricted viewpoints in conceptual designs already under way Of the remaining five recommendations, four relate to research of a modest scale which could be carried out wholly at the surface of the earth, at a cost much lower than for operations in space Only one, (6), is a recommendation for a study leading to a new operation in space. Even that is relatively inexpensive, because it would be entirely within the launch vehicle capacity of the space shuttle.

These are technical and economic considerations. But where if anywhere does this fit into a conceivable space program? The simplistic approach is shown as "direct goal logic"

This is the approach characteristic of wartime or a powerful sense of urgency. Robert Oppenheimer in the 1940's with the first atomic bomb project, Hyman Rickover in the 1950's with the Polaris submarines, James Webb and Tom Paine in the 1960's with Apollo, worked on that logic and they got results on time-scales like 4 to 8 years. My best guess is that the corresponding figure for high-orbital manufacturing is about 15 years.

We are certainly not ready as a nation to make that kind of commitment to a goal at this time. We have a deeply troubled economy, and national wounds are only slowly healing after years of serious division.

In present circumstances we have to accomplish as much as possible without any charter to embark on a sizeable new commitment. In that climate agencies tend to be forced into the "queue logic"

What can be accomplished under those circumstances? Still a fair amount, by working within the ground rules as they now exist, while preserving at all times an updated plan that would permit shifting to a fast, goal-oriented program if and when that becomes possible. In other words, "combined logic"

There are a number of areas of technical development which fit within the ground rules of the queue logic, and which also make good sense in terms of combined logic They include a physiological test facility within shuttle launch capability, large-structure assembly in space, new methods for automated metal-forming, a low-orbital space station, study of the mass-driver as a medium-thrust, high-specific-impulse propulsion motor for deep space, development and testing of microwave power transmission, and studies of advanced lift vehicles which could be of value to a number of programs.

There have been two unusual features in the development of the orbital-manufacturing concept: one is public response. It has been strong and mainly positive so far. I think there are four reasons:

  1. Immediacy: the possibility of realization not a hundred years from now but within the next decades.
  2. Personal participation: The prospect of taking part directly in the opening of an exciting new frontier.
  3. The possibility that in space manufacturing there may be a real opportunity to solve the energy problems of the earth within the technology that we already have, and to do so in a non-polluting fashion.
  4. The eventual earthlike character of the new territory being opened: that is, the possibility that the new options may involve not a machine-dominated robot-like future, but green grass and trees and flowers.

The second component is the people who have been drawn into this work from outside the traditional industry boundaries They constitute a resource which is much like the citizen army that is at the nation's service in any threatening war. By the same token, they can be lost by mismanagement or by inaction. Here the time scale is critical.

Discount economics gives us the same message: once it's clear exactly how best to proceed, act fast, because a stretchout in time eats up the profits.

Clearly our task is very big, and specialists in every area can contribute to it. Those of us already working welcome all the help we can get.


Editor, The CoEvolution Quarterly

If built, the fact of Space Colonies will be as momentous as the atomic bomb. Each make statements that are equally fundamental. The one says, "We can destroy the Earth." The other says we can leave it, leave home. With that our perspective is suddenly cosmic, our Earth tiny and precious, and our motives properly suspect.

On the other hand, suppose that the Space Colonies don't work, that we do find some fatal flaw. It would be no less of an event. "We cannot leave the Earth" is a thought so foreign to the 20th Century that nothing would be unchanged by it.

Either way it goes the experiment should be made, because not knowing whether we can leave the planet begs all of our important questions. Either knowledge - knowing we can leave or knowing we can't - could make for more responsible habits. Either knowledge is a kind of growing up.

The same applies to the biology. If we can learn to successfully manage large complex ecosystems in the Space Colonies, that sophistication could help reverse our destructive practices on Earth. And if we fail, if our efforts to impersonate evolution in space repeatedly run amok, then we will have learned something as basic as Darwin about our biosphere - that we cannot manage it, that it manages us, that we are in the care of wisdom beyond our knowing (true anyway).

Is balance really possible where even the gravity is manufactured? It would be nice to know.

The commonest complaint about Space Colonies is that they are merely more of the same - the same old technological whiz-bang and dreary imperialism. I'm arguing that the success of Space Colonies would bring needed whole-system sophistication, their failure would bring needed whole system humility, and only not trying them at all would bring more of the same.

Besides, Space Colonies are distinguished from other high tech mischief such as nuclear energy, the SST, and the Arms Race by a major difference. They take place outside the Earth's atmosphere. They are separate whole systems. The experiment of Space Colonies endangers only the experimenters. When high tech goes wrong on Earth it is the innocent who get the consequences, down wind, downstream, and down the years.

What Space Colonists use from space - energy, materials, and location - is taken from no one else. They are out of the Earthly "zero sum game" where one group's gain is another's loss.

"North America all over again," is everyone's first response. "Now we'll pillage Space." Could be. But most of that thinking has scant comprehension of the nature of the Space environment. There's somewhat more than a lot of it. There is in fact no perceptible or theoretical end to it. Space is not like a continent, or the Pacific ocean, or anything else we've experienced except possibly death and rebirth. It's more like a Buddhist chant: "No-air-no-gravity-no-night-no-day-no-up-no -down-no-motion-past-no-standing-still-no-life-also-no-death-nothing-only-waves-of-star-star-star-star-star."

Space may teach us much about the Void. Still it is not the same. It has both emptiness and form, both measurable.

Its emptiness makes it highly predictable. Things go where they're pushed and keep going. Pioneer 6 was designed for a six-month life in Space when it was launched into solar orbit in 1965. Ten years and twelve times around the Sun later it's still going strong collecting and relaying solar data, with no reason not to expect another ten years out of it.

In de-emphasizing the exotic qualities of life in Space O'Neill is making a mistake I think. People want to go not because it may be nicer than what they have on Earth but because it will be harder. The harshness of Space will oblige a life-and-death reliance on each other which is the sort of thing that people romanticize and think about endlessly but seldom get to do.

This is where I look for new cultural ideas to emerge. There's nothing like an impossible task to pare things down to essentials - from which comes originality. You can only start over from basics, and, once there, never quite in the same direction as before.

So much for all the wonderful benefits of Space Colonies. Is there any likelihood we can politically get from here to there?

The most political argument against is the trade-off one - couldn't we spend $100 billion elsewhere more beneficially? I'm not so sure. The Apollo Program cost $25 billion, and as Government projects go it probably did more good, did less harm, and made more friends for America than anything else we've done since the Marshall Plan.

In 1977 the U.S. is spending $3.7 billion on Space, $10.4 billion on energy (mostly nuclear), and $101.1 billion for the Department of Defense. At present the trend is for increased Detense spending and decreasing money for Space.

Now, I'm claiming that the prospect of Space Colonies gives us the best leverage on the Arms Race that we're ever likely to get this side of war. It employs the same nations, the same engineers, manufacturers, contractors, etc., and it's a more interesting story. The Arms Race is a big bore. Nothing ever happens.

Perhaps the leading U.S. and Russian Space planners should participate in the next round of SALT talks and turn them into Strategic Arms Conversion Talks. "We'll scrap the cruise missile and build a Model I Space Colony instead, if you'll do the equivalent." Conversion may be a great deal easier to monitor than limitation - is the alternative project coming along or not? Look and see. It might even be that collaboration would have reason to replace competition - if only to check on each other's de-weaponization. Maybe Apollo-Soyuz was about something. America has better expertise in Space so far, but Russia has more imaginative long-range fantasies. And their astronauts sing better than ours.

I guess I expect there will be much more public participation in Space Colonies than there has been in the Space Program so far. Debate such as in this book. Public demand perhaps that new Space expenditures come out of the Pentagon's hide. Further international projects like Spacelab. And so forth. The difference being, after all, that each voter can consider using the program personally, can consider emigrating.

At least each young voter can, and that's where mass support seems to be building, among college age and younger. Most science fiction readers - there are estimated to be two million avid ones in the U.S. - are between the ages of 12 and 26. The first printing for a set of Star Trek blueprints and space cadet manual was 450,000. A Star Trek convention in Chicago drew 15,000 people, and a second one a few weeks later in New York drew 30,000. They invited NASA officials and jammed their lectures.

Now is the time for NASA to encourage people besides engineers to get into the act. The program needs administrators who are not afraid of excellent artists. novelists, poets, film-makers, historians, anthropologists, and such who can speak to the full vision of what's going on. And their voice needs to be a design voice, not just advisory. America (and Russia) were in Space for ten years before they bothered to get a photograph of the Earth. That's pretty arid thinking. There's no reason it has to continue.

To be sure, if the soft sciences and arts are let into the Space Program there will be constant argument and much silliness. Good. One of the best points that O'Neill makes for Space Colonies is that they lead to divergence - many visions travelling in many directions. That could become their best real function.

Ten thousand or one million or many millions of people in space is somewhat about engineering, but it's mostly about people.

Returning to the question of Artificial vs. Natural, my friend Dick Baker has his doubts. Some years before he became a Zen abbot he worked in the merchant marine and observed that too long on board in a totally man-made environment tended to make the seamen a bit crazy. The same, he's noticed, goes for cities.

It's true, we make ourselves dishonest in worlds we have had too much of the making of. Still, "natural" has a way of getting in through whatever barriers. As Baker said in another context, "From the Buddhist point of view everything is artificial."

Next page


Curator: Al Globus
If you find any errors on this page contact Al Globus.
Space Settlement hompage

This site was hosted by the NASA Ames Research Center from 1994-2018 and is now hosted by:

National Space Society