Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Space Colonies Study Project meeting

On Saturday I attended the first of a series of meetings at the headquarters of the British Interplanetary Society in Vauxhall, London for the new study project on space colonization.  It was great to meet some of the others in the project especially after the skype discussions.  We talked about a lot of different aspects of the colonization of space (along with a whole lot of other things) and we made a great deal of progress.

The meeting was chaired by the leader of the project, space advocate Jerry Stone.  Jerry was particularly excited about the then forthcoming launch of MAVEN, the latest NASA mission to Mars.  As we know, the launch went well and so at last Jerry really can call himself an interplanetary poet as his haiku about Mars as a destination for human exploration is on its way!

We talked about companies and other organisations we could contact to see if they have any interest in supporting or being involved in the project and this is an early goal for the project to look into.

The differing use of plant life on board the colony was looked at and its differing roles in not only providing sustenance but also the psychological well being of the colonists.  A broad selection for biodiversity was considered but initially fast growing species such as pine and fir trees might be used to ensure an ecosystem could get hold.  We decided it would be useful to discuss these points with ecologists and the use of modelling ecosystems in the colony in simulations was discussed.

It was noted that it could be difficult to produce plastics in a space colony and the use of carbonaceous asteroids or plants as a source or substitute was considered.  It might be useful to look at Deep Space Industries or Planetary Resources and if they are doing any work in this field. 

One of the themes of the day to me was the goal of the colonization of space and its importance. The group concluded that the settlement of space by human civilization was an end in itself especially as it is virtually to be certain to be accompanied by an array of other life from Earth.  The aim was to develop the solar system as an area for human habitation. This was taken as a given and the utility of space colonization in achieving other, hopefully profit bearing, activities was looked at as a way of initiating such a project.

Early on, one such idea put forward was the use of a space colony as a venue for experimental synthetic biology.  Synthetic biology, it was suggested, is a growth industry for the twenty first century yet at the same time, there are many alarmed by the possible dangers it presents.  An area within a space colony could be an ideal experimental arena for this industry with the possibility of it being totally isolated. 

The author at BIS headquarters
The possible need to add nutrients to the lunar soil used in the colony’s construction as soil for growing was discussed and also the need for possible extraction of any toxins.  The lack of good experimental data on the coriolis effect and implications it might have for colonists was noted.

We also examined the general modes of construction of a space colony and the need for the worker’s habitats to be built first of all.  The potential use of foam concrete and foam metal was looked at in the construction of the of the colony.  The use of a mass driver to propel construction material from the moon to L5, the site of the colony, was also discussed and concerns were raised about how accurate one would be.  An alternative of moving an asteroid in to position first of all was suggested.

The Robonaut on the International Space Station was referred to in our discussion of the colony’s construction and also in the context of the building of Space Solar Power Satellites. The generation of solar power from space using satellites was another of the primary uses put forward for a space colony.  Here, satellites constructed by workers from the colony would beam solar power down to Earth for a price.  The group considered that whilst robotics and automation had greatly increased in sophistication since the original studies from the seventies, it was not yet at the stage of a general “construction droid” although there was nothing to suggest this might not be possible in the future.  Such droids might work in a group or swarm.

The generation of energy using solar power from space has always been the main practical aim given for the initial settlement of space and the group felt more should be done to communicate this idea to the public. 

We then discussed the possible government and administration of a space colony and ideas included a full, digitally based democracy.  I gave the group a short presentation on the legal aspects of space colonies and in particular the use of extraterrestrial resources such as lunar material.  A discussion of the Moon Treaty from 1979 in particular lead to concerns that whilst the treaty had not been given sufficient standing by the international community it might still be used to challenge attempts by governments or organisations seeking to exploit lunar or asteroid resources.

It was a great day with a real sense of achievement and I am looking forward to further meet ups as the project continues.  We were even treated to some tasty treats including a cake decorated with the project’s logo!

The study project's logo bearing cake, courtesy of Jerry

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

2081 - A review of the book by Dr Gerard O'Neill

by Adam Manning

I’ve long been an admirer of Dr O’Neill’s classic on space colonization, The High Frontier.  As a result I was excited to order a copy of a lesser known book of his entitled 2081 which, as the name suggests, is a description of a possible future set in that year.  Written in 1981, it’s interesting to note not only the future world he describes but also, given that we are now over thirty years on from his start date, to reflect on the changes since it was written and how his future projection fares as a consequence.

The first part of the book contains an overview of prior futurist writing including the works of H.G. Wells and Jules Verne so as to consider how accurate previous predictions have turned out.  These inform Dr O’Neill’s futurism as he takes note of the way previous writers were successful or not in projecting what might happen. 

We are then launched into a wide ranging exploration of the world of 2081.  In The High Frontier at various points Dr O’Neill adds colour to his writing by using the figure of a couple of new immigrants to the space colony to help flesh out his description.  He uses this technique to an even greater degree in what is a vivid account of life towards the end of the twenty-first century.

Surprisingly not much space is spent on describing the space colonies for which Dr O’Neill is often remembered now. The narrative concerns a visitor from a space colony travelling to Earth. Dr O’Neill focuses mostly on practical matters, such as detailing how the various transport systems function.  Sub-orbital travel to quickly move around the surface of Earth is common.  The people in the pleasant, domed American settlement the visitor initially spends a lot of time in generally use self-driving cars to get around town. 

One of the most striking concepts of the future from our time involves that of the Singularity, that is a rate of technological change so accelerated that it is impossible for us to really understand what might be on the other side.  Computer technology has undoubtedly permeated industrial society by even 2013 let alone 2081 to a much greater degree than even Dr O’Neill seems to have predicted.  He briefly sketches the use of laptop computers in 2081 and digital cameras able to store a whole one hundred photos.  Yet not even he could grasp how ubiquitous and constantly engaged computer technology and specifically the internet would become over the next thirty years, to say nothing of the seventy years beyond that.

I wondered whilst reading this book whether we had in a practical sense gone through a technological singularity already over the last thirty or forty years. Whilst not perhaps the total break with our current world set out by transhumanists, there can be no doubt that the current power of computers was not fully envisaged at the time 2081 was written.

In Dr O’Neill’s 2081, only an educated elite seem to need or be able to work. Much of the population that is unable to acquire the advanced technological skills needed to work cannot be employed and instead seem content to live in the background on public benefits.  Fortunately for the purposes of his narrative, the space colony’s visitor to Earth spends time with a successful middle class family and enjoys their high standard of living.  Only shopping as a cultural delight, the bulk of their consumables are purchased via online commerce. 

The one very futuristic element in the North American setting is that old science fiction stand by, the humanoid robot.  He is a butler, kitchen maid and all round helper with a face that reminds the visitor of a panda. 

Dr O’Neill doesn’t seem concerned with the politics, philosophy or religious beliefs of the people of Earth in 2081 and his primary mission is to describe the technology they use to lead their comfortable lives.  The space colonies provide much of Earth’s huge energy needs. Yet the expansion of humanity into space has seemingly not worked any major changes into the outlook or beliefs of Earth’s inhabitants – they simply lead easier and more enjoyable lives.

One of the chief concerns we have when we think of the future is global warming. In 1981 this was already considered a problem and we might be generous to Dr O’Neill and consider that given the knowledge at that time, he is remarkably astute to mention it as much as he does.  Fortunately one of the themes of technological changes to 2081 is ensuring it is more benign to the environment. The environment, Dr O’Neill notes, is going to be a major movement and locus of change in the future. Let us hope he is right.

After a cross country holiday, our visitor to Earth then goes on a world tour. Great Britain and Europe more broadly fare well in the world of 2081 although the Soviet Union is still limping on, albeit with much of its communism muted by de facto capitalism.  Africa fares worst in his future.  Whilst Dr O’Neill decides that all out World War 3, a possibility to be sure, doesn’t actually happen by 2081 the international scene is still acutely dangerous. In passing, we are told that some African capital cities have been destroyed through the use of strategic nuclear weapons by terrorists.  Alarmingly, the narrator only narrowly misses being destroyed in a nuclear bazooka attack on an airport terminal in Africa that kills 4,000.  Dr O’Neill’s concern is that nuclear terrorism may come to be a catastrophic danger.

He travels through Asia and spends time in Japan, the most advanced technological nation in the world where the humanoid robots so precious in America are a common place.  For all their advanced society and enormous wealth, the Japanese are desperately paranoid about the risk of nuclear terrorism.

What is striking about this vision is that the people of 2081 are not quite as exposed to the incessant digital information flow that we already are in 2013 yet their world has been transformed by a greater, more encompassing change in the use of technology. In Dr O’Neill’s world it has been used to enhance people’s lives to give them ease and comfort.  No longer the fossil fuel based polluting society of today, by 2081 the use of space solar power has altered things for the better.  It is a hopeful vision in which not only has life expanded out into the solar system but has somehow struggled to provide the possibility of a benign existence on our precious Earth.

Monday, 21 October 2013

Island One -Settlements in Space

A much better quality version of our introductory film about space colonisation.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Project Apollo and the lamentable Hoax Theory

Project Apollo is probably the single greatest achievement of human civilization, especially from a scientific or engineering perspective.  The astronauts who took part were enormously courageous in their endeavour in pushing back the boundaries of exploration. It showed a modern democratic and technological society at its best as an act of cooperation and coordination over many years and involving a large number of people.

The theory that the Apollo moon landings were faked is fatuous, absurd nonsense. It’s a boring, paranoid conspiracy theory that shows a lack of understanding of science, common sense or history.

I really didn’t want to write this article but am doing so for those times when someone raises this theory’s ugly and asinine head, so I can just point to this as my response.

Please watch the wonderful documentary, Stranger than Fiction : The Truth Behind the Moon Landings, for a good understanding of why the hoax theory is such palpable balderdash.  You can view this here:

For a detailed examination of the various points made about the Apollo Moon landings please have a look at the Bad Astronomy website by Phil Plait :

Mr Plait is an astronomer. That is, he is a scientist who actually deals in science for a living rather than simply watching things on youtube and then making stuff up.

My friend Jerry Stone from the British Interplanetary Society has a presentation that is all about the hoax theory and what hogwash it is.  For details of how to hire him for this please look at this :

Wikipedia has a great page which provides more detail : and there is also a very detailed examination of the points made by the hoax theorists here:

Professional astronomers and physicists are in a much stronger position than I am to comment in detail about the finer points put forward within the hoax theory.  The following is a more personal view about the topic as a whole.

The Moon Race

The Apollo space programme started during one of the most dangerous periods of the Cold War – the sixties.  The USA and the Soviet Union were enemies poised to unleash nuclear doomsday at the touch of a button. The space race and in particular the Moon Race can be seen historically as symptomatic of that enmity. The Soviet launch of Sputnik and their success in sending the first human into space were deeply threatening to the USA.  President Kennedy’s initiative to land a man on the Moon by the end of the sixties and return him safely to the Earth was in large part a response to this Soviet dominance.  The Moon Race, that is the struggle between the superpowers to land a human on the Moon first, was part of a long battle between the two for dominance, technically and in terms of international prestige and influence. 

After the end of the Cold War, more details have come to light about the nature of the Soviet lunar programme.  The Soviets had the capability to track NASA’s flights to the Moon and if the landings had not taken place they would have been the first to tell the world.  They would have been delighted to have uncovered any evidence of trickery.  Yet in reality after the landing of Apollo 11 they graciously congratulated America on its achievement.  The hoax theory cannot realistically include the Soviets within their conspiracy. If there was any evidence of faking the landings, the Soviets would have discovered it and released it to the world.

Similarly, the British Jodrell Bank Observatory tracked the Apollo missions along, interestingly, with the Soviet unmanned lunar lander at the same time.  More broadly, the Apollo landings were broadcast over an international network of television stations. Many other non-NASA and even non-American organisations and individuals tracked the missions. None suggested the landings were faked.  It simply is not realistic to suggest that all of these organisations, individuals, television and receiving stations would have been involved in a conspiracy to mislead the public. 

Buzz Aldrin sets up an experiment on the lunar surface during Apollo 11

The Lack of Evidence of the Hoax

The hoax theory, as a whole, simply tries to pick holes in small parts of the whole range of evidence of the lunar missions.  It unconvincingly talks about flags waving, alleged problems with photographs and so forth. It does not set out a positive case of its own and as a lawyer this always strikes me as a major failing.  To suggest that the Apollo moon landings were faked is a proposition so wildly divergent from accepted history, the hoax theorists need to provide reliable evidence that positively supports their case.  There is none. 

The hoax theory fails to provide any direct or primary evidence to supports its allegation that the lunar landings were faked.  No witnesses are produced who saw the studio and the set on which they were alleged to have been filmed.  No models, props or sets in which the lunar landings were filmed are given up for examination.  No documentation showing evidence of the faking, such as scripts, camera directions, billing or invoices for sound crews and so forth are ever released. No evidence is provided as to what happened to the Apollo space hardware, such as the lunar modules, if they were not left in space or on the Moon as part of the missions.

There are no confessions by either NASA employees or the numerous contractors, academics, universities and other staff.  No newspaper stories providing details of how the lunar landings were staged have ever been written.  Actual confessions of this sort would be amazingly valuable to newspapers as it would be a great story for them to publish and reveal to the world. But it’s never happened.

It's difficult for hoax theorists to suggest the Apollo launches did not take place as hundreds if not thousands of people watched them.  There were six unmanned launches in the Apollo missions followed by the manned missions of Apollo 7 to 17.  From Apollo 7 onwards the launches were broadcast on television.  So, the hoax theorists cannot plausibly suggest the launches didn't happen as there were so many witnesses. If the landings did not take place, where did the rockets go? The hoax theorists have not provided any direct evidence for this.  There are no tracking stations that indicated the missions did not go exactly where they were supposed to.  No one has come forward to say they tracked an Apollo lunar mission and it did not go to the Moon. Again, the hoax theorists would have to supply primary evidence of this sort for their theory to start to have any credibility.

The hoax theorists might then suggest that whilst the missions went to the Moon they were unmanned in reality and so no humans stepped out onto the Moon. We are then back to the previous missing evidence concerning the film studios in which the Apollo missions were allegedly filmed. It has to be remembered that Apollo 15, 16 and 17 used the Lunar Rover, the remarkable "car" which lead to the astronauts range over the Moon being greatly extended.  If these missions were filmed here on Earth it would have required a very expansive studio in which to have created this footage.  No evidence has ever been provided of the location of this studio or its size.

Conspiracy theorists would suggest this is because the cover up involved is so complete, so overwhelming that this primary evidence cannot and will not come to light. Yet that suggestion is simply not convincing given the nature of all the secrets that have come to light.  As discussed below, Apollo involved a huge amount of people over a long time – at some point some form of witness testimony or physical evidence showing the nature of the faking would come to light. Consider scandals such as Watergate.  Governments and organisations are simply not that effective at keeping such a mass of evidence so tightly concealed.

On balance then, the hoax theory’s complete lack of primary evidence to support it coupled with its unconvincing attempt to rubbish Apollo’s evidence leads to the only reasonable conclusion – that the Moon landings were not faked.  The hoax theorists even fail to provide a reasonable theory as to how the landings were allegedly faked and how it was then covered up and by whom.

In a similar theme, I've never been clear as to why in particular the Moon landings are deemed to be fakes but no attention is given to other space missions.  The Apollo lunar missions are only a small subset of all the human journeys into space. We start of course with Yuri Gagarin in Vostok 1 in 1961, through the long, glorious history of the Soviet and then the Russian space programs and their extended stays in space on board their various space stations.  Did the Russians fake all or some of all of this? If so how and why?

With NASA of course we have Mercury, then Gemini, then Apollo, followed by Apollo/Soyuz and then onto the three decade long space shuttle programme.  If Apollo was faked, what about all these other missions?  What happened with them? Are the hoax theorists suggesting the International Space Station is a hoax too? What about other aspects of space exploration such as the unmanned missions to the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and so forth? Is Voyager 1 really heading out beyond the planets or is that fake too? The inconsistent application of hoaxing to the Moon landings just doesn't seem reasonable.  Apollo wasn't sealed off from other aspects of NASA's activities and was by and large very open to the press.  Faking it seems entirely implausible.

The Evidence for the Apollo Moon Landings

There is a wealth of evidence to support the reality of the lunar landings.  There is the large amount of photographs and television transmissions.  The later Apollo missions featured colour television broadcasts including the journeys across the lunar surface on the Lunar Rover. 

The Apollo missions included experiments on the lunar surface including distance measuring by laser. Called retroreflectors, measurements have been taken from these ever since the Apollo missions and continue to date.  In addition, the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission of 2009, forty years after the Apollo 11 landing, has taken photographs of all six landing sites and provided photographic evidence of them.

There are also the moon rocks brought back by the Apollo missions.  No one has ever credibly suggested these are anything but genuine.

Project Apollo was HUGE

Project Apollo is sometimes referred to as the Moon Landing. Singular. In fact, six missions landed on the Moon within Project Apollo: Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17.  So for the moon landings (plural) to be faked required the plan to operate throughout this entire period.  Actually, Apollo lunar missions commenced with Apollo 8, which I always think of as the really historical one, in December 1968 when for this first time astronauts travelled beyond Earth orbit and orbited round the Moon.  Apollo 10 was also a lunar mission, a rehearsal as it were for the first lunar landing of Apollo 11.  As the missions progressed they became increasingly lengthy and on Apollo 17 the astronauts spent roughly three days on the lunar surface.

As a result, the hoax theory implies that the faking carried on at least from December 1968 to December 1972.  The build up to the lunar missions included Apollo 7 in 1967 and Project Apollo itself commenced in 1961.  As a result the lunar programme lasted slightly more than ten years.  The amount of people involved at its peak has been estimated at 400,000 including all the contractors and academics involved.  The hoax theory seeks to suggest that some or all of this enormous outpouring of effort over such a long time was a fake.  Does it seem likely that such a huge undertaking could conceivably be a fabrication?

What’s striking about a lot of the people supporting the hoax theory is how little they actually know about Project Apollo and its size and complexity and yet at the same time they are so expert they are in a position to judge the moon missions as a whole. 

The Science of Apollo

One point that intrigues me about Apollo is the way non-scientists seem to think that after watching a programme or short film on the subject, they are therefore far more knowledgeable than the myriad of scientists who either worked in Apollo or commentated on it for the benefit of the public at the time.

Take for example the sadly missed Sir Patrick Moore.  Many of us will think of him as a wonderful television personality who brought the delights of astronomy to us all.  He was also a lunar expert whose work in mapping the surface of the Moon was of assistance to lunar exploration.  Yet those who support the hoax theory imply that they are more knowledgeable and expert on conditions on the lunar surface and science in general than someone like Sir Patrick.  As can be seen from the documentary posted above, Sir Patrick was a fierce enemy of the hoax theory. Why would he, for example, be part of any conspiracy?

Whilst it must be right that anyone can make an argument, we also need to look at the scientific education of those making these suggestions.  Most if not all the people who seem to support the hoax theory have little or no scientific training and yet seem to insist they are experts on physics, optics, rocket engineering, astronomy and orbital mechanics simply from watching a few short films on youtube.  This is not to even mention selenology, which for those who don’t know (which will be most hoax theorists) is the science of lunar geology or, more broadly, lunar science generally.

Science is often far more complex and fascinating than articles in popular magazines or short films on the internet might suggest.  Conditions on the Moon can involve parameters that are very different if not to say alien than those we encounter on Earth. What is common sense here on Earth might not apply on the Moon. Yet the typical hoax theorist seems to have so little scientific knowledge that they cannot even conceive that it might be otherwise.

The Lunar Rover from Apollo 15
The Apollo Legacy

As noted above, Project Apollo was arguably the single greatest achievement of the human race to date.  So big, perhaps people living now want to deny that it ever happened.  Perhaps people don’t like the idea that the most exciting thing that we as a civilization have ever done is not taking place now in our contemporary era but finished over forty years ago.

All the Apollo astronauts, from the tragedy of Apollo 1 to the final steps in the Taurus-Littrow Valley of Apollo 17 and the historic Apollo/Soyuz mission, are eternal heroes of our species in extending human consciousness out into the universe.  Yet aside from Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, most people could not name any of the others to have walked on the Moon.  The hoax theory seeks to urinate and defecate all over the extraordinary heritage of Apollo, that Herculean effort by so many people in seeking to make humanity more than a one world people.

One has to question why some people seem to be so keen to suggest that the moon landings were faked.  We can put aside the question of why would NASA and the USA’s government want to fake such a thing or how they might do it -  no one has ever suggested a convincing rationalisation for such a plan. The hoax theorists seem to take an almost gleeful zest in their cause. Why? Why is it so important to advance such a squalid proposition?

What is perhaps the humbling lesson from the hoax theory is the seeming instant gullibility of some to believe anything they are told.  This is a frightening lesson to us all.    

Thursday, 19 September 2013

From Imagination to Reality #2 with the British Interplanetary Society

On Saturday I spent the day enjoying a series of talks about space exploration at the British Interplanetary Society (BIS) headquarters in London.  Our hosts were none other than model making master craftsman Mat Irvine and space advocate and presenter Jerry Stone.  The themes throughout the day were the celebrated author and BIS member Arthur C. Clarke and the interplay between the imagination and the realities of space travel and exploration.

The first speaker was the President of the BIS, Alistair Scott, who talked informatively and entertainingly about the history of communication satellites, one of the commercial practicalities running through the decades of space missions.  Starting with the early work by BIS as well as the breakthrough concepts created by Arthur C. Clarke, Alistair took us through their development including such historic satellites as Telstar and Intelsat 1.  He also described how the three axis design took over from the earlier spinning mode for satellites.

The original periodical in which Arthur C. Clarke sets out the concept of geosynchronous orbit 

Alistair gave a very polished, professional presentation and noted in particular the role of champagne in celebrating a successful deployment of a satellite after what must always be a nervous build up to launch. 

The next speaker was Gerry Webb, CEO of Commercial Space Technologies.  Gerry gave a very personal, heartfelt account of how as a boy he had been thrilled by the adventures of Dan Dare and other space comics and how they fired him with ambition to pursue a space career.  He talked about how becoming a member of BIS (including meeting Arthur C. Clarke and Patrick Moore) had changed his life and helped him achieve his dreams.  In particular, Gerry described how he became involved with the Soviet space programme and how his company worked with them during the 1980s.

A good speaker engages the emotions of the audience and it was not difficult to feel some of Gerry’s enthusiasm and passion for his subject.  He concluded by talking about the concept of World Ships – that is enormous space colonies that wander far from our solar system spreading life from Earth with them.

The speaker before lunch was Per Wimmer of WimmerSpace.  Per is an extraordinary man, an adventurer and space tourist in training.  He described one of his adventures in becoming part of the first tandem skydive over Mount Everest.  Per was one of the first to sign up with Virgin Galactic and described their activities in some detail. He mentioned that unexpectedly he had met a number of celebrities as a result including of course Richard Branson and also Buzz Aldrin and had even gone bowling with Kylie Minogue!  He was an excellent advocate for Virgin Galactic.

Per Wimmer of WimmerSpace - adventurer and space tourist in training
Per has also bought tickets with XCOR Lynx and Space Adventures. He is living the dream for many of us who long to do what he is doing and I was glad that someone in his position was such a good ambassador for the exploration of space. He is keen to push the educational value of his activities.  The fun of training for such flights also came through in his presentation as he described zero gravity flights on aircraft and training in a centrifuge.  It was an exciting presentation and got everyone talking before lunch.

BIS provide excellent catering at their events and I had a delicious vegetarian lasagne and glass of wine, followed by a huge helping of chocolate cake.  At lunch the speakers generously made themselves available to chat with the attendees.  Some of us had a good look at the beautiful models that Mat had brought along and this lead to Mat chatting to us about Space 1999 and the career of Gerry Anderson.

Per Wimmer, Mat Irvine and Jerry Stone at BIS
Many speakers will be only too aware that the first post-lunch talk can be tricky after the audience has had a fine repast, as we had, so we were lucky to have an animated and fascinating presentation from astronomer Greg Smye-Rumsby.

Rather controversially perhaps to some in the audience, Greg started by saying he thought any attempt to colonise Mars by settlements on the surface, as with Mars One, was doomed as the radiation was too high.  If Mars was to be colonised at all, he believed, it would have to use underground settlements. 

Greg’s talk was on Pluto with an eye to the forthcoming encounter of that far off world by NASA’s New Horizons mission. He discussed the discovery of Pluto, the debate about whether Pluto was a planet or not and the ongoing revelations about the outer parts of the solar system and how new worlds of a similar size have been discovered.  His presentation was liberally sprinkled with all sorts of fascinating points, such as that Earth is in essence the rocky core of a former gas giant planet that formed in the very earliest part of the solar system’s history. The Sun’s energy then tore away the gaseous layers leaving only the rocky core underneath which we now stand (or sit!) on.

Jerry Stone, who had along with Mat been running the event, now spoke about space colonies – the subject of a new BIS project that he is leading.  His theme was looking at whether we could in effect live in an “inside out” world in the environment of a space colony.  Looking at the work from the 1970s of Dr Gerard O’Neill, Jerry discussed the construction and benefits of large space colonies whose populations would be counted in the thousands and possibly even one day the millions. 

Space advocate Jerry Stone discusses the work of Dr Gerard O'Neill
Dr O’Neill’s work depicts an optimistic and expansive future for humanity, pitting it diametrically opposite works of the time such as The Limits to Growth which suggested that ultimately human growth has to be a zero sum as it would be limited by the Earth’s resources.  The High Frontier and other similar texts on space colonies pointed to, as Issac Asimov phrased it, the planetary chauvinism inherent in the idea that human civilization can only exist on planetary surfaces.  Jerry also looked at the work of scientists in generating solar energy from satellites constructed by the inhabitants of such space colonies.

The best position for space colonies, Jerry suggested, was in L5 – an orbit around the Earth at the same distance as the Moon but 60 sixty degrees to one side.  They would be constructed from lunar materials and the new Skylon spaceplane being developed could be used in the building process.  Jerry also discussed the long term possibilities of space colonization and in this regard mentioned one of the novels of Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama.  A similar concept to the World Ships that Gerry had mentioned earlier in the day, the use of the larger Island Three colonies could lead to a twenty thousand increase in the human population of the solar system even if only confined to the space around L5.

Mat explained that he had created a model of the Island One space colony for a programme called “Spaceships of the Mind” which he later gave to Dr O’Neill. He saw the model later in a shot of Dr O’Neill in a magazine with the model on his desk!

The last speaker of the day, Piers Bizony, gave a presentation on 2001: A Space Odyssey, perhaps the most revered science fiction film of all time.  Piers contrasted the different approaches of the optimism of Arthur C. Clarke’s outlook of the future with that of the more sceptical, if not to say cynical, Stanely Kubrick in the film’s production.  He looked at, for instance, the contrast between the awe and excitement of a journey to the Moon with the reality as depicted in the film of Heywood Floyd falling asleep whilst the in flight entertainment shows a film of almost criminal banality.

Piers took us through the model work used in 2001 and the audience was surprised to learn that the model for Space Station V was some eight feet in diameter.  It had been a superb day of talks and Piers’ presentation ensured we ended on a high note.

It had been an informative and entertaining day that encapsulated the BIS’ motto which is “From Imagination to Reality” and like many others in the audience I had certainly learned a great deal.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Libra - a film from 1978 about space colonies

I fully expected to be writing a review this weekend of the new film Elysium starring Matt Damon.  Having seen it, I'm happy to report that it's a great science fiction action film. The special effects are extraordinary, especially the depiction of the droids and the interior of the space colony. It's an exciting film with a strong plot, good characters and stunning visually. But it's not really anything directly to do with the concept of the space colony as put forward by Dr O'Neill, Thomas A. Heppenheimer and others.  Gratifyingly though, the release of Elysium has lead to a number of articles appearing online about space colonisation and given the glorious paintings from the seventies that we are familiar with another airing.

Instead and totally unexpectedly I will be reviewing a different film, one that before this weekend I was unaware even existed.  I've long been a reader of a fascinating blog named Paleofuture which looks at depictions of the future created in the past and noted an interesting film on their related youtube channel about Libra, a film about a space colony.

Libra, an Island One space habitat

To my amazement, the film focusses on an Island One space habitat named Libra.  Released in 1978 yet set 25 years in the future, the theme of the film is the economic case for building space colonies. The future of 2003 is one in which the world's economies, even the American, are planned and regulated yet this has lead to misery for the vast majority.

The Paleofuture blog characterised this as a film about trumpeting libertarian values and its easy to see it in those terms.  I can't speak of the American experience of the late seventies but even as a child I was aware of something of the problems that lead to the power cuts, the strikes, the unemployment and so forth and this all shown in Libra.  In 2003, even New York city is plunged into intermittent darkness due to energy rationing.

A shuttle approaches to dock with Libra

In comparison, the space colony Libra is a haven for free marketers and freedom more generally.  The lights can always be on in Libra.  Libra's main industry is the supply of abundant, low cost solar energy to Earth using solar power satellites. These satellites beam down energy as micro wave radiation which is then converted into electricity.

There is a good description of the space colony and its function starting at around seven minutes into the film. We are told that the creation of solar power on Earth is limited by the atmosphere and cut off every night by the rotation of the Earth.  The satellites are fabricated from materials found in space which leads to a brief description of mass-drivers. Thus the heavy lifting costs involved in obtaining materials from Earth are avoided. This is  a factor in the profitability of Libra's energy creation.

There are some rather lovely special effects sequences showing the space colony and the shuttle that flies some of the characters there.  Whilst they may look slightly primitive compared to the over-saturated computer imagery we are used too now, the Island One model is a thing of beauty.  Even more ambitiously perhaps the interior of the colony is seen and again there is the satisfaction that comes with the craftsmanship of the master model maker.

The interior of the Island One space habitat

The interior of the Island One space habitat
Libra is also of great importance as, at around nine minutes in, it appears to contains some very early computer graphic sequences.

Computer graphics from 1978
All this is the setting for the theme of the clashing philosophies of free marketeers of the colonists set against the planned and regulated economies of the earthly governments.  We are told that by 2003 the first space colonies had already paid for themselves. The original creators of the colonies are referred to as having "guts" and being pioneers of the High Frontier.

On Libra, the free market rules and the currency is even referred to as the "Hayek", seemingly a reference to Friedrich Hayek, the economist and philosopher who greatly influenced the Thatcher/Reagan economic revolution of the early eighties.  New words the colonists use include "freecision" and "freesponsibility", denoting the wielding of freedom in different contexts. Would these arguments be different today after the financial crash of the late 2000s?

Docking port at one end of Libra
The film is very much a creation of the late seventies with its soundtrack and the fashion of the times but at this distance this only helps it to be distinctive and adds interest.

Libra is not only a good outline of the role and need for the colonisation of space but also a well thought out discussion of the roles of the free market and economic planning and, as is interestingly hinted at in the characters' dialogue, the practical power that each side of the argument can wield.

Like Elysium, the colonists have more freedom and a better life than those left behind on Earth but here in Libra this is a sign of hope.  I noted with pleasure that Dr O'Neill is listed as a consultant in the credits and strongly recommend it to anyone interested in the colonization of space.

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Colonies in Space by Thomas Heppenheimer

A book review by Adam Manning

Many people with an interest in the colonization of space will be familiar with the classic work of Dr Gerard O’Neill entitled The High Frontier. Dr O’Neill’s book cogently sets out the need and importance for humanity of reaching out beyond the safety of our home planet into the vastness of space.

A companion volume in many ways, Colonies in Space by space advocate Thomas A. Heppenheimer (born 1947) is a comprehensive vision of the concept as a whole. Written in 1977, and so published shortly after The High Frontier, Heppenheimer, who holds a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering, takes us through the way a space colony could be constructed.  There is a detailed examination of mass-drivers as the principal way to obtain material for construction.  The moon is considered the most likely source for this as lunar soil contains much of the constituents required but later the possibility of using asteroids is also explored.

Colonies in Space by T.A. Heppenheimer

An interesting account is given of a “construction shack”, a large, spherical module in which much of the fabrication work will take place.  The challenging task of constructing large facilities in space is noted but Heppenheimer’s thesis is that all this expense and effort will be more than amply rewarded once space colonies start delivering on the promise of solar power for Earth’s ever increasing thirst for energy.

One of the particular joys of Colonies in Space as a useful guide to the concept is the number of illustrations liberally found throughout. Ranging from hand drawn sketches to full colour paintings, as always with a subject of this nature illustrations greatly help the reader comprehend the structure and nature of much of what is being described.

Construction Shack, drawing by Don Dixon

Once built, the author looks in detail at the lives of the colonists.  The model of space colony focussed on the most is the Stanford Torus.  Heppenheimer enjoys describing the nature of farming in the colony and what is likely to be the most successful method of feeding the colonists.  A lot of thought is given to the homes the inhabitants might live in, their construction from bricks of lunar soil and the way they might occupy and amuse themselves when not working.

Attention is given to one of the critical problems for a space colony; protection from cosmic rays especially during solar flares.  A number of solutions are suggested but the most practical given is layering the colony in lunar rock.  The less pressing threat of meteorites is also discussed.  Colonies in Space is convincing in part because it calls upon the work of a number of specialists from the time who considered a wide range of topics within the overall concept. 

Following the construction of the initial Stanford Torus colonies, Heppenheimer describes how much larger O’Neill Cylinders might then be built and how different they might be from the initial outposts.  He describes the benefits for the inhabitants including how groups of people might have the freedom to live how they want. The possibilities for new science and even space borne universities that might lead to presently unknown vistas of knowledge and thought are also enthusiastically set out.

Looking much further ahead, Colonies in Space suggests that the large space colonies might be the basis for an even wider dispersal of life from Earth as the colonists set off in them to the nearest stars in search of new homes.  Taking many decades, if not centuries, generations of colonists would succeed each other as the huge cylinders coast through space on their interstellar voyage.

Combining both a wonderful sense of vision with a detailed and practical approach, Colonies in Space is highly recommended for a comprehensive study of the concept.  Copies are available from Amazon and I was able to purchase an original edition with a relatively decent cover to it even after all this time since publication. Fortunately the National Space Society has made a copy available online from their website at which is a great resource for those interested in the subject.

Thomas A. Heppenheimer

Sunday, 18 August 2013

L5 : First City In Space - a review

Considering the exciting vision of space colonies as put forward by such writers as Gerard O’Neill and Thomas A. Heppenheimer, it’s surprising that there are not more films or television series that feature them.  One of the best for a general or family audience is L5 : First City in Space which was first released in 1996 in IMAX format but has since been converted into 2d for a DVD release.

A short film at only 35 minutes long, L5 manages to fit in a lot, a surprise given its gentle, unhurried pace.  A film for the family, it features a family as its main characters. In particular the film’s plot is told through the character of Chieko, a young girl living on the space colony called L5, named after its position in space.  Casting children in a production can be unpredictable but fortunately the role of Chieko is charmingly performed in a beautiful, underplayed manner by the junior actor.

 The film begins by explaining the history leading up to the construction of L5 with a brief overview of the Mir Space Station and the ISS.  L5, the film’s chronology tells us, was created around 100 years after the ISS and a brief overview is given of the colony’s construction and structure.  We are shown vistas of a lush, garden like interior much like the wonderful paintings from the 1970s that are so well known to those interested in the subject. 

A lot of the shots of the colony and other space scenes appear to have been created by computer graphics and in comparison to the creations of the latest Star Trek or Star Wars films, for example, some of them may seem a little dated. Yet they still give a good understanding of the layout of the colony and how the parts fit together.  L5 is a Stanford Torus design with a wide diameter for the actual torus. 

The positioning of the space colony at L5 refers to one of a series of points in space known as the Langrangian points (also known as Langrange, libration or L points). These are special points in a two body system where the two combined gravitational pulls of the larger masses act in such a way that a much smaller body placed at one of the points will orbit with them.  So, a space craft could be placed at L5 and it would not need, comparatively speaking, a lot of energy to remain stable at that point.  L5 is a particular point at the same distance as the Moon’s orbit from the Earth but set at sixty degrees behind the Moon.  As a result, an equilateral triangle could be drawn between the three points of the centres of the Earth, the Moon and the space craft at L5.

The construction of the colony notes the need to encase it in a thick layer of Moon rock to protect the inhabitants from cosmic rays.  Like most plans for the first space colonies, a population of 10,000 is given and the colony is modelled on a small town.  Chieko enjoys visiting the hydroponic farms that feed the colony and notes that compared to most farms they do not have many cows.  There are some good shots of the interior of the colony which are again inspired by the paintings from the seventies that we are familiar with.

The plot centres on the colony running out of water and an audacious plan to harvest ice from a comet whose orbit has to be altered to ensure it nears the colony sufficiently closely (albeit not too closely presumably as this would entail the comet coming close to Earth as well, a potentially very dangerous situation).  Finally, after all this is concluded we see some really wonderful shots of the whole of the colony now in orbit in tandem with a second.

L5 : First City In Space is a refreshingly optimistic view of the future of humanity and its expansion into the solar system.  It works as an easy, accessible introduction to the concept and is highly recommended to anyone who wants to learn more about space colonisation and its scope and nature.

Monday, 12 August 2013

An Interview with Space Advocate Jerry Stone

Jerry Stone is a well known space advocate who works freelance as a presenter and workshop leader, looking at many different aspects of space exploration.  His website Spaceflight UK has details concerning his activities and I have got to know him thanks to his leadership of a study project with the British Interplanetary Society on space colonies.  I recently spent a very enjoyable few hours with him and learned a great deal about the subject from him. He kindly agreed to answer some questions on the subject and his answers are set out below.

1. As a space expert, you’ve been interviewed on the radio and TV about all sorts of subjects related to the exploration of space. What interests you about space colonies in particular?

I grew up in the 1960s, so I am one of the children of Apollo.  This was exploration completely beyond anything that had happened before, and I regard myself as privileged to have watched - live - as men from Earth walked for the first time on the surface of another world.

At the time, people assumed that before long there would be bases on the Moon and we would reach Mars, but unfortunately it didn't happen.

Then in the mid-1970s I heard about studies that were being carried out about the colonisation of space, and this seemed to me to be not only incredibly exciting but also a logical way of moving into space.  This would not simply be space exploration, but the spread of mankind out into space on a massive scale, and for a large portion of humanity space would be their home.

2. How did you first learn about the concept of space colonies as proposed by Dr Gerard O’Neill?

As far as I recall, I first heard about this on a TV programme, and this led me to buy a copy of O'Neill's book "The High Frontier".

In September 1977 O'Neill was in the UK and gave a presentation to the  British Interplanetary Society - this was before the Society had its current HQ and the meeting took place at University College in Gower Street.  After the meeting a small group of us took him for a meal, and I had the opportunity to discuss the subject further with him.

I still have my copy of "The High Frontier", signed by Gerard O'Neill.

3. What are the advantages of building colonies in space rather than say on the surface of the Moon or Mars?

This goes back to the question that O'Neill originally put to a group of new students: "Is a planetary surface the right place for an expanding technological civilisation?"  The surprising answer from their studies was "No".

One of the main advantages of a colony in space over one on the surface of a planet is the availability of solar energy.  Using a curved reflector, this can be concentrated to heat materials to around 5,000ÂșC, or it can be converted into electricity.  This solar energy is constantly available and is free, whereas on a planetary surface the Sun is hidden for half of the time and only at full strength for part of the day.

In addition, manufacturing can take place in weightlessness, which can allow us to produce things that cannot be made on Earth; alternatively by rotating the manufacturing unit we can have gravity at any level we want.

Together these give considerable advantages over a ground-based installation.

4. Do you think the large space colonies proposed by Dr Gerard O’Neill and others are capable of being constructed within say the next hundred years?

Definitely.  O'Neill didn't give a specific timescale for the construction of the colonies, but he believed that major work could be done within 15-25 years of the studies being carried out, with the construction of the first colony taking about 6 years. This is all dependent on a suitable space launch infrastructure to ferry people and initial materials into space, which unfortunately the space shuttle was unable to provide.

Now, with the development of a completely reusable launcher in the form of Skylon - which is being produce by Reaction Engines in the UK - the situation will change.  It doesn't make sense to wait until Skylon is about to fly before coming up with projects for it, and that is why I have started a project to re-examine the colony studies from the 1970s and bring them up to date, so we will have plans ready when Skyon goes into service.

I therefore believe that large space colonies could be constructed within the next 50 years, never mind 100.

But will they? We have the technology to do this, and the project could provide services which means that it could recover its costs in less than 30 years.  It only requires the will to proceed.  I believe that the benefits that are offered - in particular the provision of energy to Earth - will prove to be what results in this going ahead.

5. What benefits could these sorts of space colonies have for people – both in the colonies themselves and those back on Earth?

For the colonists, a habitat with a controlled climate and no hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis or volcanoes could provide living conditions that may be better than in many places on Earth.  The abundance of energy available would also contribute to high living standards. Within the colonies there would be no need for combustion engines; electric vehicles would be perfectly adequate, which also means that the colonies will be somewhat quieter and far less polluted than the Earth's towns and cities.

We could take bees - to make honey - but we could leave wasps behind, so we can enjoy picnics and barbecues in safety!  Plant and animal life that is threatened on the Earth could find safe havens in the colonies.

As I've just mentioned, a major benefit for those on Earth will be energy from space.  A major role for the colonies will be the construction of solar power satellites which will be moved to appropriate orbits around the Earth to intercept sunlight and beam the power to Earth where it will be converted into electricity.

I have also mentioned the advantages of manufacturing in space, especially unlimited power.  O'Neill estimated that within a century most of our heavy manufacturing could be moved off the surface of the Earth, which would reduce pollution and the overloading of the planet's heat balance.  This was many years before we had become familiar with the idea of global warming.

Those who say that we should "sort things out on Earth before going into space" may be surprised to find that the greatest way of benefiting the Earth is to go into space!

6. You may have heard of the film Elysium which is being released soon which features a large space colony which is only inhabited by a very rich elite. Do you consider this might be an issue for real space colonies, especially given how expensive their construction will be?

The reason the colonies will be expensive to build is because of their vast size; the smallest is designed to house 10,000  people, and the largest would be home to millions, so actually the cost per person will be relatively low. The main point is that because of the huge number of inhabitants they will not be composed of an elite.

The astronauts who make up crews on the International Space Station are among the most highly trained people there are, but although special training will be needed for those who will build the structures, the colonies will need the people that would be found in most towns and cities on Earth. We will need engineers of course, but also farmers, builders, electricians, teachers, doctors and landscape gardeners. We'll need people to administer the colony, monitor its ecology, produce food and deal with waste.  The list of skills required goes on and on ...

7. If you could make a presentation about space colonies to anyone, who would you most like to speak to?

If this was a project to build something like the International Space Station then I would want to address the aerospace companies that would build the units, the organisations that would organise the project and arrange the funding, and the companies and research institutions that would want to do research on it.

The colonies are a completely different case. As the project is so wide-ranging, involving people with such a huge spread of skills, I would want to speak to anyone who is interested in seeing the project become a reality.  Of course the people from the organisations that could be involved in the construction would be very important, but so would the potential inhabitants.

If Skylon begins operations in 2020 and colony construction begins 5 years later, then that is only 12 years away.  With the project continuing for decades, audiences could include people who might be directly involved themselves - or whose children will be.

8. What do you enjoy most about being a space advocate and presenter?

It's always good when you are doing something that you find interesting and enjoyable, and dealing with space exploration has to be the best!  In this case, it means much more when you're doing something that could actually help mankind's expansion into space!  I said at the beginning how exciting space exploration is. Also space is an activity that has no limits and has incredible promise for the future.  I tell audiences that I have found that not only do I enjoy learning about space, but I also enjoy telling people about it.  In my "Mission To Mars" workshop, I can tell pupils that they are the right age to be amongst the early people who might actually travel to Mars!

As our space activities expand they become much more inclusive and there is more opportunity for people to be involved.  The space colonies project does this on a much greater scale than anything we have done before.

The project that I am leading to revise the studies from the 1970s is primarily being carried out by members of the British Interplanetary Society, but we don't expect to have the required expertise in all of the many topics that the project will cover, so if you are interested and can provide advice then please contact me at

A very big thanks to Jerry for taking the time to provide these answers. His passion for the subject is very catching and I would urge anyone with an interest to get in touch.

Thursday, 1 August 2013

New work on 3d Island One model

I'm currently working on a new 3d model for the Island One.  Here's the first rendering. I'm working on the basic structure of the model at present.  The next step is to add in the larger radiators at either end.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Island One - A habitat in Space

Imagine a future in which life has spread from our Earth into space.  A future in which life, people, animals and plants, are no longer confined to the one world.  Over population and the degradation of Earth’s natural environments are no longer a threat.  Where men and women live, work and play in space and even raise children there.  A future in which the enormous resources to be found in space are put to use for everyone’s benefit to make life better for all of humankind.

The first steps to make imagination a reality would recapture the old tales of the pioneer, the explorer and the settler.  The people who were brave enough to go beyond the edge of what was thought possible, beyond the edge of the map that everyone else used.  It has only been such people who have lead civilization to the heights it has reached today.  It will only be such people who take civilization onward and outward from our island home of Earth into the vast ocean of space.

This may seem a dream but there are very real, detailed plans to make it happen.   In 1929 the British scientist John Desmond Bernal proposed a new idea for a long term habitat for people to live in space, called the Bernal Sphere.  During the seventies, a series of studies at Stanford University for permanent space settlements proposed a design referred to as Island One which was very similar to the Bernal Sphere.  This, according to the plan, was the first phase in building large scale habitats in space. 

The scientist most associated with these ideas is Gerard O’Neill and his book The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space is a well known exposition of how people might live in space.  In it he shows how they can be built with today’s technology and how they will benefit Earth’s population as a whole.

A principal thesis of The High Frontier is that the onward progress of the human race will encompass the use of the enormous resources the settlement of space will put at our disposal.  No more shackled to just what our beautiful home planet can provide, we, our children and future generations can lead richer, better lives without spoiling the Earth as we have done. 

The initial impetus to settle space and build colonies such as the Bernal Sphere will be to have direct access to the effectively unlimited power of the Sun.  Solar power directly beamed from stations in near Earth space could help our civilization overcome its addiction to fossil fuels and free us from the environmental and geo-political issues involved.  The outer solar system contains enormous amounts of ice which of course can provide water for a growing human presence spreading out from Earth.

Perhaps the settlement of space might have other less direct advantages.  Freeing ourselves from the Earth and our historical and cultural boundaries we may see ourselves more as members of an inclusive human family of all peoples.  The minds of humans might be liberated to contemplate novel ways of life, new philosophies fitted to take us into an exciting future of extraordinary opportunity.   

The smaller version of the Bernal Sphere proposed by Gerard O’Neill is around 500 metres in diameter and would be able to provide living and recreational space for a population of around ten thousand people, a huge increase on the space habitats that have been built to date.  Away from the central sphere, the outer rings contain the layered agricultural areas used for growing plant and animal food.  Mirrors placed around the habitation sphere reflect the sun’s energy inside, both for natural sunlight and for providing energy.  Panels at either end radiate away any excess energy and the units at either end provide for large workshops in which the settlement’s industrial activity takes place and also for docking stations for transport to and from the settlement.

Although it might seem a fantastic enterprise to construct such a settlement in space, far larger than anything built to date, it does not require any new exotic materials to be created.  Although a diameter of 500 metres is large, it must be remembered that the International Space Station, the largest space habitat constructed to date is itself roughly 100 metres across.  Much of the material used to build the Island One could be transferred from the surface of the Moon or alternatively from near Earth objects and asteroids.  This material would also be used as shielding for the habitat area from cosmic rays.

The inhabitants of the Island One settlement live very much like people on Earth do, waking up in the morning, going to work and spending time with friends and family.  The whole settlement rotates at a little under two revolutions per minute.  The rotation provides a force that acts as a substitute for gravity and at the equator of the spherical inhabited volume, the force derived from the rotation is the same as that experienced on the Earth’s surface.  Away from the equator, this force tapers off so that around the poles it will be possible for the residents of the sphere to enjoy micro-gravity sports and even human powered flight.

Constructed in space, the Island One settlement would be placed possibly in Earth orbit or alternatively at one of several points near the Earth and Moon where gravity is effectively balanced out by the competing pull of each neighbouring object.  The advantage would be that less energy would be needed to keep the settlement in place if it was positioned in one of these libration points in the Earth Moon system.

Establishing a large settlement like this in space would be a resounding confirmation that life from Earth was no longer restricted to just the one world.  Like the Apollo moon landings it would be an extraordinary and ambitious leap into a new world of thoughts and feelings about our place in the universe.  Instead of being limited to our narrow, parochial concerns we will, like the great thinkers, explorers and scientists of the past, be reaching out to new horizons, to break free of the gravity of our old perceptions and preconceptions.

More practically, the human population of Earth is still growing and by the middle of the twenty first century is projected to be around nine billion. The majority of people in what we call the developing world, which will by then be far and away the largest segment of humanity, will want and demand a way of life similar to the developed world and all the riches a Western consumer lifestyle that entails. 

Life on our home planet is already threatened by our burgeoning numbers – the great increase in human population in the coming years will surely make that worse. Instead, the enormous resources to be found in space can be put to use for the benefit of humanity to give everyone the chance to enjoy a good life and ensure the natural beauty of Earth can continue to inspire and delight generations to come.

The Island One space settlement is a first step towards the large scale radiation of life from the Earth into space. With humanity no longer confined to one world, we are much less likely to be vulnerable to catastrophes, whether they be natural or of human origin, such as a nuclear war. We may well assure life some security in the cosmos that it did not have before. 

This early space settlement would hopefully be only the start of the settlement of space. The resources available in space include an enormous amount of water in the form of ice to be found in the asteroid belt. This could allow for an extraordinary expansion of the human population from the billions of today ultimately to trillions spread throughout the solar system.

After this beginning, life may one day spread to the stars and we would be responsible for it. The human race would be bringing life to an otherwise seemingly dead cosmos, a wonderful role for us to play in the continuing evolution of the universe.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Colonies in Space - a proposed study project from the British Interplanetary Society

The British Interplanetary Society ran a presentation by Jerry Stone of Spaceflight UK on colonies in space last night and I was pleased to go along to find out more.  The British Interplanetary Society is the world's oldest space advocacy organisations and is exclusively aimed at promoting astronautics and space exploration.  Their headquarters are in London and finding them was made a lot easier for me by the bold lettering on the front of their building on South Lambeth Road. (Click on the images for a closer look.)

When I walked in I was met by a gentleman called Richard who made me feel very welcome and was good enough to make me a cup of coffee.  We had a chat about many space related activities and especially the Russian space programme.  A number of models of launchers and vehicles were to be found in the entrance room including a one twentieth model of HOTOL, the proposed British single stage to orbit spaceplane from the 1980s.

The Society has a wonderful display of photographs and pictures, many of which are signed by such legends as Buzz Aldrin, Sally Ride and Bruce McCandless.  This included a print of a beautiful painting by Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the Moon.  They also have a large collection of commemorative medals and badges from the Soviet space programme.

Soon more attendees arrived and we were given access to the Society's impressively stocked library.  This seemed to have every book ever written on space travel and included many volumes of detailed technical information.

Then it was time for the presentation.  Jerry Stone is a freelance presenter on space exploration and astronomy and his talk was an exposition on the colonizing or settlement of space.  Drawing on the work of Gerard O'Neill, Jerry described in absorbing detail three different types of large space habitat.  He started with the Island One and set out some parameters for its construction which, very roughly, could cost around the same as the Apollo space programme and have a population of around ten or twenty thousand.  About five hundred metres across, no new and unknown materials would be needed to build it.  Its construction would use materials from either the Moon or near earth asteroids and could be completed in a little over six years.

Jerry moved onto describe the Stanford Torus, an alternative design for a large space habitat which uses large mirrors to direct energy from the sun.  A pleasant, almost idyllic sounding existence was described for the inhabitants who could engage in a range of new low gravity sports.  In his presentation, Jerry placed an interesting emphasis on the Skylon spaceplane (the successor to HOTOL) as the type of vehicle that would be of use in the construction process.  He also talked about the use of the mass driver, developed by Gerard O'Neill and his colleagues, as the means for transporting the large amount of material required in the habitats' construction. I was impressed with how powerful O'Neill's mass driver had become during his team's development work and how much potential such a technology might have.

The largest space habitat to feature from O'Neill's work, the Island Three, was looked at in some detail. This consists of two very large cylinder shaped habitats some four miles in diameter and twenty miles long although even larger habitats could be eventually constructed.  Their populations could be measured in the hundreds of thousands or even millions.  One of the main occupations of those living in such habitats would be the development of space based solar energy for Earth.

Ultimately the human population of the solar system could be counted in trillions rather than billions if such large scale habitats were constructed.

Jerry was keen to outline the advantages such a long term programme of the settlement of space could provide.  This included the following :

  • Moving polluting and destructive heavy industry off Earth and into space.
  • Allowing Earth's biosphere to recover from industrialization.
  • Greater political freedom for all as the habitats could allow new groups to set up independently.
  • A huge increase in human population without threatening Earth's biosphere.
  • Protecting civilization from existential threats such as asteroid impact on the Earth.
In conclusion, the presentation suggested such space colonies are a practical possibility albeit on a scale of the order of the Apollo space programme and that the advantages to the long term development of the human race are so great, it should be embraced as a concept for serious study.  

There were a number of interesting questions and points raised in the discussion afterwards. These included :
  • How would the inhabitants be protected from radiation? 
  • How would such space habitats be protected from asteroid impact? Jerry suggested that they would in fact generally be robust enough to withstand most impacts and normally there would be no danger to the occupants as long as repair work could be carried out reasonably promptly.
  • Space habitats of this sort generate a gravity like field for the occupants by rotating.  There was a discussion about whether a full 1g was required or whether it might be of help to both the inhabitants and the construction of the habitats to accept slightly less than 1g in return for the habitats rotating at a slower rate.
  • Points were made about the huge quantities of nitrogen that would be needed for the atmosphere inside the very large Island Three habitats.
  • Also, points were made about the projected population densities which might be rather more than the idyllic, rural setting the paintings from the seventies usually suggest.
  • Of particular concern were how such habitats would be governed and what laws would apply to their citizens.  The possibility that such potentially closed off and isolated communities might become pockets of tyranny was also mentioned.
In all it was a fascinating presentation and well worth the trip.  I signed up to take part in the proposed study project and hope this is put into effect and that I can make a contribution.