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.
Something about O'Neill's dream has cut deep. Nothing we've run in The CQ has brought so much response or opinions so fierce and unpredictable and at times ambivalent.
It seems to be a paradigmatic question to ask if we should move massively into Space. In addressing that we're addressing our most fundamental conflicting perceptions of ourself, of the planetary civilization we've got under way. From the perspective of Space Colonies everything looks different. Choices we've already made have to be made again, because changed context changes content. Artificial vs. Natural, Let vs. Control, Local vs.. Centralized, Dream vs. obey-all are re-jumbled. And Space Colonies aren't even really new. That's part of their force - they're so damned inherent in what we've been about for so long.
But the shift seems enormous, and terrifying or inspiring to scale. Hello, stars. Goodbye, Earth? Is this the longed-for metamorphosis, our brilliant wings at last, or the most poisonous of panaceas?
I've done a couple of things to help drive the question as deep as I could, for most original yield. Along with the presentation in the Fall '75 CQ of several angles on O'Neill's vision I stated all of my enthusiasm for the project and few of my misgivings - the usual brainstorm approach. I was partially aiming at environmentalists, including me, who have become too predictable of late, too smug, certain, convergent, uninquiring and unimaginative. We have come to love our famous problems (population, inequity, technology, etc.) and would feel meaningless if they went away. That's a lousy design posture.
This winter (1975-76) I wrote personally to a number of notable people inviting their comments (which follow beginning overleaf). I said I would pay them $30 and print whatever they sent, and would they hold it please to 1,000 words (some didn't). Response was amazing; at least half of the list wrote something - divided almost equally pro and con, somewhat more on the con. For this I'm grateful. Space Colony planning is going ahead full-bore and one-eyed. It badly needs intelligent criticism.
The readers at large were invited to remark, telling whether they think Space Colonies are a good or bad idea, whether they'll gladly emigrate, and why. 170 people responded, which seems a lot for our modest circulation (17,000 or so in 1975). Results have been tabulated in the graph Excerpts from the readers' letters are scattered through the following pages (they were paid $10 each).
There's one thing within the response perhaps worth mentioning. The colleges these days are having another Silent Generation like the one I was in during the late '50's. Nothing seems to make them jump - not politics, drugs, heroes, projects, or any special sense of themselves as a generation. The 122 people who wrote us enthusiastically approving of Space Colonies - and most of them wanting to go - are nearly all college students. -SB
Ken Kesey * Russell Schweickart * Lewis Mumford
Lynn Margulis * Richard Raymond * The real backers
Wendell Berry * Dean Fleming
Wilson Clark * Space for peace * E.F. Schumacher * Stephanie Mills * Steve Durkee *
Inside a Model III Space Colony. This painting by Don Davis has aroused as much ire as admiration. Viewing from a colony end-cap mountain it depicts weather, a running river, mature ecosystem, "night" falling, and agricultural pods outside the skylight. Real Space Colonies may never be so nice, may never be at all, or may be much nicer.
Novelist, author of One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest; Sometimes a Great Notion
A lot of people who want to get into space never got into the earth. It's James Bond. It's a turning away from the juiciness of stuff. That's something that's lost its appeal for me.
NASA astronaut (Spacewalk, Apollo 9)
Gerry O'Neill is my hero. At a time when hair-shining is the style and immediate utility the password to success, O'Neill dares to open the door again to man's destiny. A yes of fresh air in the no of a closed and stuffy room. This is the elixir on which mankind grows toward a deeper understanding of his nature and purpose - a mountain to mountain climbers.
Many of us, on returning home from space, brought back the perspective of a lonely and beautiful planet crying out for a more responsible attitude from its most prolific partner. Strangely, we didn't talk about the stars much. Perhaps with O'Neill's "seed pods" now emerging the perspective is enlarged again. Not that we should care less for the earth, for it will remain the principal home for most of us for a long time. But now, mother earth need no longer remain barren and generations of diverse offspring can continue to ask why.
Cultural historian, author of Technics and Civilization, The Story of Utopias; The Pentagon of Power: etc
Dear Stewart Brand,
If you were familiar with my analysis of "The Pentagon of Power", you would know that I regard Space Colonies as another pathological manifestation of the culture that has spent all of its resources on expanding the nuclear means for exterminating the human race. Such proposals are only technological disguises for infantile fantasies.
Microbiologist, author of Origin of Eukaryotic Cells, co-deviser of the Gaia Hypothesis
Sorry to be so late to respond to your invitation, but of course things on the surface of the earth, things here and now, always take precedence. That, alas, may also be the fate of the planning for Space Colonies that you ask me to comment on.
The effect of colonialization on the Mother Country self image is immense and incalculable. King George III was accused of "enslaving" his embittered Virginia and Carolina colonists 200 years ago. (It perhaps would have been more accurate to have called the gentlemen colonists slave masters). However the analogy helped feed the flames and led to irreconciliation with the colonies. Can the effect of the American ex-colonies on the British self-image be assessed?
The Great Britain 4 p.m. tea service, white gloves and all are seen in perspective when Jeremy Button of Tierra del Fuego tried to retain it in the rugged offshore rocky islands of his forefathers. What seemed desperately important in 19th century drawing rooms looked ridiculous in Tierra del Fuego, the Gold Coast and the logging northtwest of Canada. The values of the Mother Country must take on a new perspective from the distance of the colony. How small, idiosyncratic, isolating, anti-rational, parochial and repressive seem all tribal and national and imperial customs seen from a distance. I can't think of any exceptions (the American housewife lamenting Nicaraguan attitudes towards time as she waits for the hairdresser in Managua).
Of course Space Colonies are worthy of investigation and investment, in my opinion. Why do some sun-requiring algae actually live inside carbonate rocks? Why do you find small blind arthopods scurrying at the backs of caves? Why do giant luminescent female fish (carrying their tiny males parasitically) inhabit the abyss? Why do red and green microorganisms cover the newly fallen arctic snows and multiply on its surface? Why do certain funny poorly known fungi (examples in the group Laboulgeniomycetes) live only on the left anterior appendage (read left front toe) of its insect host? The answer is the same as the one to the question why do people like O'Neill and his students imagine Space Colonies and advocate the move out.
There are two parts to the answer: (1) the environment exists; and (2) the populations of organisms in question have the capacity to adapt to the environments. No fancy explanations are required. If there is space and if organisms can internally regulate utilizing the sources of energy at hand well enough to insure their replication, organisms will fill the space. This is the evolutionary pattern. It began over 300 million years ago, it still goes on. Steadily more and rougher parts of the earth's surface and near-surface have been colonized. There is no reason to believe the pattern will not continue to go on, at least in the near future.
What is obvious (and you already have said so) is that the John Todds of the World (e.g., holistic biological thinkers and doers) must connect with O'Neill and his crew to help stop the handwaving. Many details are not easily worked out simply because it is said that they are easy. Delivery of all needs, removal of all wastes, transport of the right things to the organisms in the right quantities with the right timing. Easy to say but perhaps incredibly complex to realize. I am not qualified to comment on the engineering difficulties except to perceive that they must exist. Furthermore, I think the working out of the details might be frightfully boring. But then I don't find Space War very interesting either. but (as I know from reading Brand) these issues are a matter of taste and indeed the working out of details might excite lots of differently temperamented people with inventive and exploratory natures. People who liked soldiering and rampages not because they are cruel but because they love excitement, for example, might go in a big way for Space Colonies. (Certainly such types have been highly successful in recent human history - evolutionarily speaking.)
Then there are the priorities. If we invest in Space Colonies from what other budget lines do we take the funds? I wouldn't mind a wholesale transfer from most of medical research to exploratory research on space colonies. Much of our illness is in the spirit anyway, and I like to see people permitted to be sick and die in peace. Although attainment of agreement on budget priorities will hardly be easy, perhaps it can be done.
What we need is a sober assessment of the technical feasibility by those qualified to make it, a nearly intrinsically impossible feat. But it is good to see CQ in the forefront of the search, as usual.
President, Portola Institute (which parented the Whole Earth Catalog)
If twelve people become passionately committed to a mission, the mission will succeed. That is an axiom. My friend Virginia Baker says two are enough, and I am inclined to believe whatever Virginia says on this subject, having observed the continuing growth of the Zen community with which she is affiliated. The New Planet mission appears already to have acquired a number of passionate sponsors, and I concluded several months ago that the question is no longer "if" but "how soon."
Another friend whose opinions I trust is Don Michaels, who recently wrote On Learning to Plan and Planning to Learn, in which he convincingly argues that the underlying justification of an organized society is to encourage and nurture the ongoing learning of its citizens. Thus an enduring society is not one that sees itself as primarily an aggregation of economic institutions - its economic stability will be a derivative outcome of its capacity to learn and learn and learn, endlessly.
There is no question but that the New Planet is a leading challenge to many of the world's most elite scientific and philosophical thinkers. Unless our culture produces some other more engaging intellectual challenge for this exploring contingent, their project beautifully fulfills the purpose of a human society. And that is not to say the world has no other deeply significant problems to solve; it is equally appropriate that a society encourage its citizens to become involved in each important issue that generates greater understanding. (Here at the Portola Institute, this is called "learning how the world works.")
I, personally, am challenged by some of the mysteries of this planet and am not arguing in defense of the morality, the economic benefits, or the political consequences of the New Planet. Yet I acknowledge it already exists as a project it expands the understanding of society's members, and I wish godspeed to those who dig it.
The real backers
. . . SB writes "the voters will be interested enough to approve the requisite $100 billion." Since when do voters, or congress for that matter, appropriate money for those kind of projects? They are pushed through by the folks that profit from huge government expenditures (enterprising capitalists and corporations) and passed by the people (government officials) who profit from the profit. Who stimulated European settlement of the Americas? The British East India Company, The Dutch East India Company, the gold seeking Spanish royalty. So realistically, the space colonies will get started when the Exxons of the future decide to monopolize this energy resource too. Solar energy at less than competitive prices? I wouldn't count on it....
Poet, novelist, farmer, teacher author of The Long-Legged House; The Memory of Old Jack; A Continuous Harmony; and The Unsettling of Ameriea.
Mr. Gerard O'Neill's space colony project is offered in the Fall 1975 CoEvolution Quarterly as the solution to virtually all the problems rising from the limitations of our earthly environment. That it will solve all of these problems is a possibility that, even after reading the twenty-six pages devoted to it, one may legitimately doubt. What cannot be doubted is that the project is an ideal solution to the moral dilemma of all those in this society who cannot face the necessities of meaningful change. It is superbly attuned to the wishes of the corporation executives, bureaucrats, militarists, political operators, and scientific experts who are the chief beneficiaries of the forces that have produced our crisis.
For what is remarkable about Mr. O'Neill's project is not its novelty or its adventurousness, but its conventionality. If it should be implemented, it will be the rebirth of the idea of Progress with all its old lust for unrestrained expansion, its totalitarian concentrations of energy and wealth, its obliviousness to the concerns of character and community, its exclusive reliance on technical and economic criteria, its disinterest in consequence, its contempt for human value, its compulsive salesmanship.
The most striking feature of Mr. Q'Neill's testimony is his lack of doubt, what I would take to be his unscientificness. He does not speak to us as the appropriately skeptical or dispassionate student of a possibility, but as its salesman. He sees no good alternative to his plan. He has no reservations. Or, rather, he has one reservation: he thinks that "it's very wrong to assume that something like this is going to promise happiness to all people. . ." - a point that will not greatly discomfort the plutocrats at whom ultimately this pitch is aimed.
As a salesman, Mr. O'Neill faithfully utters every shibbolith of the cult of progress. If we will just have the good sense to spend one hundred billion dollars on a space colony, we will thereby produce more money and more jobs, raise the standard of living, help the underdeveloped, increase freedom and opportunity, fulfill the deeper needs of the human spirit etc., etc. If we will surrender our money, our moral independence and our judgment to someone who obviously knows better what is good for us than we do, then we may expect the entire result to be a net gain. Any one who has listened to the arguments of the Army Corps of Engineers, the strip miners, the Defense Department or any club of boosters will find all this dishearteningly familiar.
The correspondence between the proposed colonization of "the high frontier" of outer space and the opening of the American frontier is irresistible to Mr. O'Neill. I find it at least as suggestive as he does, and a lot more problematical. The American prospect after, say, 1806 inspired the same sense of spatial and mental boundlessness, the same sense of limitlessness of physical resources and of human possibility, the same breathless viewing of conjectural vistas. But it is precisely here that Mr. O'Neill's sense of history fails. For the sake, perhaps, of convenience he sees himself and his American contemporaries as the inheritors of the frontier mentality, but not of the tragedy of that mentality. He does not speak as a Twentieth Century American, faced with the waste and ruin of his inheritance from the frontier. He speaks instead in the manner of a European of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries, privileged to see American space and wealth as conveniently distant solutions to local problems.
That is to say that, upon examination, Mr. O'Neill's doctrine of "energy without guilt" is only a renewal, in "space-age" terms, of an old chauvinism: in order to make up for deficiencies of materials on earth we will "exploit" (i.e., damage or destroy) the moon and the asteroids. This is in absolute obedience to the moral law of the frontier: humans are destructive in proportion to their supposition of abundance; if they are faced with an infinite abundance, then they will become infinitely destructive. Mr. O'Neill sets it down as a false premise "That any realistic solutions to our problems of food, population, energy and materials must be based on a kind of zero-sum game, in which no resources can be obtained by one nation or group without being taken from another." That is the lesson that the closing of the earthly frontiers puts before us; it calls for an authentic series of changes in the human character and community that, if made, will afford us the spiritual resources to live both within our material means and with each other.
Mr. O'Neill proposes to learn no such lesson and to make no such changes. He proposes to outflank the lesson entirely. What we obviously need - as any old buffalo hunter or strip miner would also tell us - is a "new frontier :" some place, that is, where the mentality of exploitation may proceed without restraint, "correcting" the ruin of one place by the ruin of another.
But it seems to me that, in essence, Mr. O'Neill's false premise is true everywhere in the universe. All we have to do is rephrase it in terms of what we know of our history and of the insights of the ecologists, so that it reads this way: Whatever human beings use they must take from the rest of creation, either temporarily or permanently. So phrased, this allegedly false premise is seen to be a practical truth with profound cultural implications. Instead of the moral escape valve of yet another "new frontier" to be manned by an elite of experts, it proposes certain limits, restraints, and disciplines that apply to all of us. It avoids the corporate and governmental big-dealing that will be bound to accompany the expenditure of a hundred billion dollars. And it avoids the open-ended chauvinism, perfected by the strip miners, that is always willing to advocate the destruction (for money, jobs, and the general amelioration of the human condition) of some other place. It has always been possible to export bad character and disrespect, but that can be understood as a solution only by misunderstanding the problem.
This brings me to the central weakness of Mr. O'Neill's case: its shallow and gullible morality. Space colonization is seen as a solution to problems that are inherently moral, in that they are implicit in our present definitions of character and community. And yet here is a solution to moral problems that contemplates no moral change and subjects itself to no moral standard. Indeed, the solution is based upon the moral despair of Mr. O'Neill's assertion that "people do not change." The only standards of judgment that have been applied to this project are technical and economic. Much is made of the fact that the planners' studies "continue to survive technical review." But there is no human abomination that has not, or could not have, survived technical review. Strip mining, fire-bombing, electronic snooping, various forms of genocide and political oppression - all have been technically feasible, and usually economically feasible as well.
Stripped of the glamour that we associate with adventures in "space" and of the romantic escapism left over from our frontier experience, Mr. O'Neill's project is clearly not a solution, in any meaningful sense, to any problem. It is only a desperate attempt to revitalize the thug morality of the technological specialist, by which we blandly assume that we must do anything whatever that we can do.
Mr. O'Neill's testimony is littered with the evidence of his moral bewilderment. His concern for the environment leads him directly to a plan to strip mine the moon. He says, "I have a deep suspicion of governments," but he does not hesitate to promote a scheme that would vastly increase the power and influence of government. He apparently sees no chance of political corruption in an expenditure of a hundred billion public dollars. He says that he "would far prefer to see a cooperative multinational program formed" to carry out his project, but only flve paragraphs later he speaks of the project as a way to return to the "traditional role [of the U.S.] as a generous donor of wealth to those in need." Nowhere does he see the absurdity of trying to solve on a grand scale by expensive technology a problem that can probably be solved on a small scale, and cheaply, by moral means (see E.F. Schumacher's article, same issue). Nowhere does he see the absurdity of trying to solve with existing technology a problem that, as Schumacher suggests, "has been produced by the existing technology."
Mr. O'Neill predicts readily that his scheme will promote diversity and freedom. But he neglects to consider that the machine is already a renegade concept that sees people as spare parts, and uses them as such. Exactly how, one wonders, is this to be corrected by building an even bigger machine and causing people to live inside it, in absolute dependence on it? What, exactly, would be the effect of a completely controlled environment on human character and community? What, exactly, would be the influence of space colonization on earthly political and social forms? Mr. O'Neill does not know, and he has no way to know. He is not, then, merely asking for a public subsidy in the amount of a hundred billion dollars. He is proposing that he and his colleagues should be permitted to experiment with fundamental values. This is the violence of the specialist. This kind of thing is familiar enough. What is new here is the scale.
Perhaps most important of all is Mr. O'Neill's failure to see that the so-called energy crisis is a moral crisis. He assumes that it is simply a matter of scarcity, which can be remedied by the time-honored method of getting more from somewhere else. But it has been obvious for some time that the energy crisis has at least as much to do with the uses of energy as with its availability. The world will tolerate the use of even less energy than it can supply. The question is not of how much energy we can get, but of how much we can use without destroying, at a minimum, our ability to enjoy the use of it. The question of restraint is much more pertinent to the problem than the question of supply. And Mr. O'Neill has apparently never thought to ask what good might be accomplished by the proliferation in space of a mentality that cannot forbear to do anything at all that is possible.
Mr. O'Neill has failed to think of these things because temperamentally he is a scientific super-star. His ambition can comprehend only the grandiose. He is a professional mind-boggler. With the apparent simple-mindedness of the true-believer, he sees himself as the evangelist of the next "giant leap for mankind." He makes the overwhelming presumption of the evangelist - that he knows better than we do what is good for us. And he is asking for an influence over the material means of our lives which will require our spiritual capitulation. Like an evangelist, he wants both our faith and our money.
Finally, I would like to raise the question of what may be meant by this advocacy of space colonization by The CoEvolution Quarterly.
Evolution, as I understand it, is a slow process. It develops gradually, by seasons, like a plant. It paces itself according to the capacities of organisms and the changes of the environment. It involves a profound mutuality of response between an organism and its environment. It is deliberate, meticulously attentive to details. It does not proceed by coup or decree; it does not often risk the wholeness or coherence of its systems. It would not allow one man or any few men to take "a giant step for mankind."
Coevolution I understood to mean a concept of human change modeled on evolution: changing together slowly, coherently, feeling for the right ways with some mutuality of consciousness and regard. Fundamental to it, I thought, would be a suspicion of change by technological or governmental coup. I thought that it grew out of the new awareness of material and moral limits that Mr. O'Neill's project is designed to repudiate.
I admit that I am bewildered. Perhaps I will have to admit that I have been wrong. It is certain, however, that the Fall 1975 issue displays a potentially ruinous split between what I at least have thought to be convolution and what I think the energy lobby would unhesitatingly recognize as Progress - between the mind of Gerard O'Neill and the mind of E.F. Schumacher. On the one hand we have an admirer of Mr. O'Neill's project saying that if it should be implemented "maybe humankind could walk gently in the Universe." And on the other hand we have an article by a twenty-year-old scientist at work on Mr. O'Neill's project, in which it is proposed that we should send out to the asteroid belt "a work crew equipped with about one thousand 100 megaton hydrogen bombs...." The editor's implicit approval of both statements makes of the first a vacuous sentimentality. The other, in any context, would be monstrous.
Artist, co-founder of Libre Commune
Space colonies are potentially the greatest creative focus in human history. If we may assume the highest achievement for humankind is to become totally, fruitfully human; responsible for being conscious of every detail of the living environment, heart and mind used for the mundane manipulation of matter while soul abides receiving continuously from the More then clearly the way now to reach such states is to take on the task of a totally integrated colony in Free Space. Every being so fortunate as to be able to participate will immediately be called upon to come up spiritually and psychically to handle the overload of unbridled forces (which may be ecstatic according to some astronauts) and still live the simple human life watching the vibes of the rock and the pond. Every conceivable act would have to be as the Hopis' dream an act of consciousness and inevitable worship. If being creative without ceasing builds humanness in humans imagine how sprung loose God will feel when relieved of the burden of creating the "skies" and the "waters"!
In May 1970 I attended a NASA symposium on habitability in Venice, CA. During which time I lobbied for an experimental community deliberately living as if in space. (Forget about the Arctic! Maybe on some Caribbean Island!) They thought I was nuts. But now they would have 5 years of solid info at their fingertips. Do you think they could go for it yet? Sign me on! I swear all this time I ve been painting for that kind of space!
Author of Energy For Survival, advisor to California's Governor Brown.
Perhaps the greatest significance of O'Neill's proposal is that it is being taken quite seriously, particularly by the technologically oriented members of our society. The idea has been rooted in science fiction since the industrial revolution's adolescence, and it has a certain charm, in light of the fact that the very scientific "advance" which we have produced has rendered our remaining earth environment a battleground, pocked with the evidence of technology's increasing sophistication in war, environmental destruction, etc.
I am reminded of the wisdom of Oliver Wendell Holmes, who commented in 1872 that, "Science is a first-rate piece of furniture for a man's upper chamber, if he has common sense on the ground floor."
Notwithstanding the palpable evidence that our science lacks common sense, it is conceivable that we could ignore the implications of this, and build the space colonies - to prove that we could do it. Why? O'Neill's primary rationales are (1) Future energy needs to be met by space - generated solar energy for terrestrial and space use; and (2) Exploitation of lunar materials. From an energy and materials standpoint, the production of metals from space ores would have to exceed the demands on terrestrial energy and materials to construct and maintain the space colony/industry. Given the extraordinary demands on earth materials and energy supplies to initiate the project, it is doubtful that it could meet even this basic criterion.
From an energy standpoint, there is no compelling need to demonstrate solar energy in space. Solar radiation reaching the earth's surface is ample in most areas of human habitation to provide essential energy needs, at far less cost than a space system.
One practical rationale, which also meets the requirement of common sense, is to proceed with construction of the colony, thereby occupying the time of thousands of technologists and planners, who otherwise would be spending it inventing new genetic manipulation techniques, plutonium warheads, nerve gases, etc. If the colony were actually built, they could be sent there en masse, relieving earth of an annoying burden.
In proposing this idea, O'Neill has done us all a favor, by forcing us to ponder our philosophies and approaches to life on (or off) this planet. What if we were now living in a space colony, debating the possibility of colonizing earth? Would we be asking the same questions? I think not. From the viewpoint of a creature in some metal and plastic isolated environment, the key question would probably be seeking the companionship and cooperation of the diverse population found on earth, rather than avoiding it for the "safety," or "high technology" of a space cocoon.
Stewart Brand's incisive remark in the Winter'75 CQ, that self-sufficiency has done more harm than good, reflects a far more important view of the future than space fantasy. By taking stock of our precarious existence on earth, we can begin to rethink our relationship to technology and value, and hopefully find some approaches to help us redress many of the wrongs already accomplished by our species. What we need is nothing less than a quantum leap in our approach to science, relieving ourselves of the onerous image of Homo absurdus. O'Neill speaks in terms of a "first beachhead in space," evoking the image of the greener grass on yonder hill. Unfortunately, we have little time in which to prevent the elimination of the vegetation altogether.
Space for peace
. . O'Neill is as convincing as the Atomic Energy Commission was advocating the benefits of Nuclear Power....
Eureka Springs, Arkansas
Economist, author of Small is Beautiful and Guide for the Perplexed.
Yes, Stewart, I'm all for it. I am prepared to nominate, free of charge, at least five hundred people for immediate emigration. For every one of these emitgrants, once they are well and truly gone, I am prepared to donate $1,000.00 US dollars for the furtherance of the work that really needs to be done namely, the development of technologies by which ordinary, decent, hardworking, modest and all-too-often-abused people can improve their lot. With the above-mentioned emigrants out of the way, it will be a great deal easier to obtain support for this work. P.S. "As for those who would take the whole world to tinker with as they see fit, I observe that they never succeed."
Editor of Not Man Apart (Friends of The Earth)
Apropos of space colonies, the sainted Walt Kelly express a basic qualm better than ever I could. To wit:
"I feel that we have done little enough with our present way to warrant our going off and putting soft-drink signs all on Mars and cluttering up the moon with oil rigs. These places are not ready yet for such advanced achievements. We should really go a little more slowly. We don't expect kangaroos to whistle 'Dixie,' do we? Not the first try, anyway. Let the universe come here when it's ready. Don't rush it."
Me for tending to home sweet home, that's frontier enough.
Artist, co-founder of Lama Foundation, book designer of Be Here Now; Seed; Toward the One.
The positive feelings that I have for such a project rest on the assumption that we will get more out of it, in terms of net energy gain, than we put into it. In order to make such an assessment, I feel that we need to do further research & exploration of leads turned up by Skylab & other missions. Items like: promising fishing grounds indicated by observation of ocean currents, surface & geologic indications of subterranean water sources in West & Saharan Africa surface hot spots indicating geothermal energy sources, location of ore & oil deposits suggested by aerial photography. If it could be shown that some of these leads pan out it would become much easier to convince the people & those who control the purse-strings that funding of such a project could result in manifest gains. Also I would think that there would need to be future Skylab related missions which would specifically undertake research & development work in Zero G conditions in the fields of crystalography & metallurgy since it seems that much could come from this in terms of computer based technology perhaps paving the way tor a new generation of computers freed from planetary restrictions & hazards.
Going down the line of positive feelings; 1) Planetary Consciousness: Furtherance of whole earth thinking provided by daily input to the planet surface of planetary phenomenae affecting local & global interests. At present we have such feedback (weather, re-con, etc.) but what I envision is more at the level of World Game, International Design Decade, Club of Rome kind of material (weather patterns, tidal flows, crop patterns, inventory & mapping, etc.). People would become used to the whole earth, seeing it they would not see all those funny lines denoting political divisions, arbitrary in many cases but would rather learn to think in terms of regions rather than nations, biotic provinces rather than NATO or SEATO, geo-oceanographic reality rather than trade embargoes with island republics, watershed reality rather than states rights. When the blood & guts of Viet Nam began pouring out of the TV News onto the living room floor the peace movement in America began to extrapolate; similarly I feel that the whole ecological awareness of people & their understanding of inter-relatedness would be vastly accelerated by information (visual & sensory) that could be provided by the stations.
2) Energy Transmission Stations: Tho this seems the most promising, cheap, clean power I have yet to understand from reading the articles what the proposed means of transmission would be. So far as gathering the solar energy this is not so different from what we have already been doing with the various probes, missions & skylab experiments. I can also see that crystals necessary for conversion of solar energy into electrical energy could conceivably be produced with a greater rate of success than on the planet (the high cost of such crystals I understand comes from the fact that there is a fail rate of 90%+ in the manufacturing process). But the big question I am left with is HOW it gets from there to here? Do you convert solar energy to radio waves, beam to earth, radio waves convert to electrical energy? Seems like a lot of steps & how much is lost in each step? Further I can't quite see in economic terms why, when we are told that it is not feasible here on earth, to use large areas of Aztlan (Sonoran Mexico, New Mexico, Arizona, So. Cal. Nevada, etc.), Saharan Africa, The Hedjaz, The Afghani-lranian Desert, The OutBack of Australia (to mention a few possible places) to produce solar energy, why would it be more feasible to try & do the same in space? But it seems as tho there are possibilities in the area of Transmission so this remains a positive area for me.
3) Cosmic Ship or Ark: I don't feel it's necessary to elaborate on this. Cities in Flight by J. Blish as well as countless sci-fi novels plot this scenario. For one reason or another, a station decides to go off the line & the rest of it I leave up to your Imagination. Pirate Stations & Rogue Stations, Interplanetary & Intergalactic(?) Travels. Generations growing up in space with only rare visits earth side. that should breed a whole new type of being. This is probably my favorite plus reason.
My negative feeling about such a project revolves around the kind of "Pie in the Sky" vibration which I feel from the project. Given the problems we are facing from population overload & its attendent horrors: famine, land rape, water pollution, dwindling resources, etc., etc. I wonder as to the wisdom of putting before people the idea or even the possibility of "getting out of here," when here is where the work is, here is where the problem is. At that level it seems like escapism, and as such the last place where we should put our energies.
As for recommendations. I teel that the project should become an international one from the start. That all phases of the project should be based on the ideals of co-operation & co-elaboration both on an international level & inter-disciplinary level. That people chosen to work on such a project would blend together rigorous scientific methods with ecologic awareness & whole systems mentality & hopefully that the mystical & transcendent implication of the project would be deeply considered.
Within this project there is the germ of a possibility in creating something which would serve to focus the aspirations & consciousness of many people the world over. What Sputnik did for the last generation this could do for the next. When I told my nephew what I was typing he said, "I'm ready, when's it happening?"
In short even if economically it was a borderline case there are other payoffs which might seem ephemeral at first but which could provide more important, if subtler, payoffs. This will be in the hands of the inceptors & the kind of values they stress & put forth. If it were handled wisely it could gain somewhat of the aura that the ancient Olympic games had & as such might serve as a model or operating symbol for world & planetary evolution. One could, for instance, move the UN into space. That would change the game.
In closing I would like to offer a cautionary tale;
One sunny spring morning leaning up against the east wall of an old adobe, soaking in the warmth, the fields around beginning to green, the apple trees in fresh bud, the freshly turned earth of the vegetable patch steaming, I was listening to this old man, can't remember if he was a Sioux or Kiowa talking to a group of us "younger boys." He was talking about the red people & the green people & what he called "the hurry Up & let's go" people. He was saying something like; "You know them hurry up & go people. They always want to go someplace else. Never like it where they are. I betchyou them people they just going to hurry up & go out there (pointing heavenwards with his pursed lips). Yeh, that's all right & God bless them, they don't like this one here anyway (patting the earth with his hand). Yeh, they just gonna up & go. But one thing you should tell them, those boys they gotta be careful, real careful with that moon."
That's all Folks, BE CAREFUL WITH THE MOON.
TABLE OF CONTENTS