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.
Extra energy *
Steve Baer * The SF vote * Dennis Meadows * Hazel Hendersen
Allure * Daughter * Carl Sagan * Rather
Paul and Anne Ehrlich * Pioneer * Down the road
William Irwin Thompson * The rest of it * George Wald * David Brower
Michael Phillips * Ant Farm * John Todd
. . . Extra-terrestrial solar energy should remain there. Extra energy, only adds to the positive feedback of the very system which created all of the problems which O'Neill wants to solve. Aside from the damage that all this energy will do when put to work (what will the "limitless" amount of electricity do besides create more of the same?), the thermal effects can only create new, unforseen problems. Claude Summers (Sci. Amer. Sept. 1971, "The conversion of energy") has demonstrated that, assuming all pollution problems associated with energy production were totally solved, "waste" heat would inevitably provide overriding negative feedback and bring limits to growth. All energy beamed to earth must end up as heat. only invariant systems of energy production (systems that add no energy to the earth besides naturally received solar energy) can avoid adding excess, and potentially damaging, heat to the biosphere....
Eric Alden Smith
Ithaca, New York
Inventor, writer, president of Zomeworks, author of Dome Cookbook; Zome Primer; Sunspots.
I can't keep my own car running, can't fix a broken radio or light bulb - who am I to recommend anything as complicated as a space colony?
The project is spoken of as if it were direct as our stepping over and grabbing a large rope, giving it a huge pull and flinging people into space. But I know that instead it consists of order-forms, typewriters, carpets, offices, and bookeepers; a frontier for PhD's, technicians and other obedient personnel.
Once on board, in my mind's eye I don't see the landscape of Carmel by the Sea as Gerard O'Neill suggests. (He must keep his eyes on his shoes and not breathe too deeply in order to suggest duplicating the pacific coast aboard the space colony.) Instead, I see acres of air-conditioned Greyhound bus interior, glinting slightly greasy railings, old rivet heads needing paint - I don't hear the surf at Carmel and smell the ocean - I hear piped music and smell chewing gum. I anticipate a continuous vague low-key "airplane fear."
There is something especially boring about car nuts talking endlessly about different model cars. I am suspicious that the space stations are the next step for these people, for the whole world would have a manufacturer, a model number, etc. Who would ever be able to shut them up once one got started on the "AJAX 8" or O'Neill's "Island One"? [sentence deleted]
I admit, though, that there is something fascinating about the Space Colonies. They might be the perfect cure for the "car nuts" - probably after a term in such a place you'd never want to see another piece of machinery again - just go off and roll in the dust for a year.
Of course the positive side is that Space Colony activity is less dangerous than multiple war head guided missile activity - but I'm sure others will describe such advantages. Space Colonies = Methadone for technology junkies?
The SF vote
. . What a project. I'm hooked.
My 17-year-old brother who's also quite a fan of your magazine (and very much into the Whole Earth mentality) was super cynical, predicting that it wouldn't work technically, that the ecology would fall apart in "a big bottle" and that the government would be a totalitarian autocracy with absolutely no personal freedom allowed. My question: why did we react so differently? Was it, perhaps, because at his age I was reading 5 -10 science fiction books a week, while to the best of my knowledge, he's never read one? (I myself haven't read more than 2 - 3 in the past four years, something that will no doubt change now that dreaming isn't so painful anymore.) . . .
Jose Garcia .
Social technical systems analyst, co-author of The Limits to Growth; Dynamics of Growth in a Finite World. This one was a conversation.
"I have a mixed mind about L-5."
"My impression is that there are cheaper ways ways less demanding of capital, to satisfy any goal put forward by the L-5 effort to do that on Earth rather than to do it in Space. You cannot justify the L-5 effort in any sort of physical terms.
"lt plays a function, which may be negative or positive, of giving us another frontier, when we've used up all the ones we have on earth. I'm not sure if we should want to have another frontier. It seems to me to block constructive response to problems here on Earth. If you look around at societies to find those that have come into some sort of a peaceful harmonious accommodation with themselves, many of them turn out to be on islands, where the myth of a new frontier vanished long ago."
SB: How did they get to the islands in the first place?
Meadows: Well they migrated, I'm not sure that we want a new frontier. If we do, this is a nice way to do it.
But now let's turn to things like providing food or energy here on Earth. Of all the ways I can think of doing that L-5 is very costly, risky, and long-term. The thing that it doesn't involve is institutional and value change. Our current values and institutions will give us an L-5, conceivably.
"What are needed to solve these problems on Earth is different values and institutions - a better attitude towards equity, a loss of the growth ethic, and so forth. I would rather work at the root of the problem here."
Co-director, Princeton Center for Alternative Futures; advisor, Office of Technology Assessment
As you asked, here are some of my thoughts on Prof. Gerard O'Neill's space colony proposal. I have also discussed them with Alice Tepper Marlin and they reflect her views also.
Firstly, I have little doubt that a model space colony could be initiated and I will accept for the purpose of this discussion, O'Neill's trust in the availability of technology to accomplish this. How long it and its human inhabitants could function according to plan, and what surprises they would encounter are largely unknowable at this point.
I also have no doubt that the money could be found to fund the program, since NASA is still desperately casting around for new, politically-sexy projects and they have a good deal of clout when they lobby in concert with their prospective corporate contractors. Furthermore, the high-tech community is currently drumming up concern on Capitol Hill about a new and terrifying "Sputnik Gap" which will justify hyping U.S. science and technology so as to "improve our competitive position in the world" against all comers. They implicitly assume that the health of the U.S. scientific enterprise is coterminous with the health of the country, so a new WPA-type project to keep them fully employed will not be hard to sell.
It would be nice to believe that the money for the space colony could be carved out of the military budget, or even out of the Highway Trust Fund, the Corps of Engineers, or half a dozen other well-heeled Washington-based, make-work schemes. But we must assess realistically the political mood of the country that "big government must be trimmed,'' and "the Federal Budget must be cut" etc. You know as well as I do that it is always social spending that gets axed, while "military gaps" and "space gaps" and the fear thereof are always sure-fire stampeders of legislators and voters alike.
Given this sad reality, O'Neill's certainly innocuous space proposal must inevitably compete with other priorities in our national budget. Therefore, less benignly, it will very likely displace programs advocated by weaker societal interests or those less appealing to the voters' imaginations. I suppose it is hard to dramatize food stamps and all the other dreary, ameliorative and income transfer programs that are made necessary to cope with the human casualties and other consequences of our high-tech, industrialized society.
So there is a temptation I have noticed in O'Neill's statements to try to justify the space colony as a hope for the Third World, to ameliorate the population crisis, to solve the energy "problem" and to provide "immediate jobs of the high-technology kind which economic studies have shown generate wealth throughout the economy." O'Neill can't be naive enough to believe such studies, which are based on per capita averaging, and are discreetly mute about how that wealth generated will be distributed. Such studies are usually based on neoclassical economics, now rapidly being discredited within the discipline itself, since such studies rely on now clearly unrealistic assumptions of the free market, where buyers and sellers are supposed to meet each other with equal power and equal information; where these markets are always cleared at the equilibrium point where supply and demand are equal, at however astronomical a price, and a whole string of other myths which I have examined in my own writings. (Ecologists versus Economists, Harvard Business Review, July - Aug. 1973, New Models for a Steady State Economy, Financial Analysts Journal May 1973, Limits of Traditional Economics in Making Resource-Allocation Decisions, Transactions of the Fortieth North American Wildlife and Natural Resources Conference, 1975.)
In fact, these justifications, based on neoclassical economics and borrowing pragmatically from John Maynard Keynes, seemed to be the main pitch of the group of "true believers" in O'Neill, styling themselves as the L5 Society who so fervently buttonholed participants at the recent Club of Rome meeting in Houston, Texas. So it seems that this is to be the latest, most baroque elaboration of Keynesian "trickle-down industrialism." The poor are always told that one day, when those at the upper end of the income scale really have enough then you can get yours. Meanwhile they are told they must accept inequality in economic distribution so that some of us can continue to accumulate wealth for capital investments so that these lucky few can create jobs for those so "unfortunately" dispossessed. This myth too, is unravelling in spite of the massive barrage of corporate image advertising about how they must have profits since this is the only way to accumulate capital for investment for jobs. We see all too easily however, that corporations given generous tax credits for capital investment in the hope that they will create jobs, quite frequently use their capital investments to dis-employ people, (as the new automated check-out systems in supermarkets, and electronic funds transfer systems in banks will do) or to export the capital to set up factories in the Third World to exploit cheaper labor, or even to go on acquisition shopping sprees, such as Mobil Oil; while pleading for more profits to plow back into developing new energy, it promptly acquired Montgomery Ward and the Container Corporation instead. So far, only the Wall Street Journal has jumped ship on this set of myths. In an August 5th editorial entitled "Growth and Ethics," the WSJ finally admitted that the American people would have to choose between economic growth and redistribution! The latest escalation in corporate propaganda on these issues is due to begin soon, when the U.S. Department of Commerce is to launch with our tax dollars a $5 million Advertising Council campaign of "economic education" of the American people.
In his less euphoric moments, O'Neill does more soberly assess such issues of concentration of economic and political power, which will so materially affect his space colony's chances of ameliorating our planet's social ills, and indeed, may cause it to exacerbate them. He states, "If the new option is taken, it would be naive to assume that its benefits will be initially shared equably among all of human kinds. The world does not work that way, and since people do not change, there is no reason that it will that way in this case." So the moral seems to be, "If you can't beat 'em, join 'em."
I will leave assessments of the biological feasibility of the space colonies to those more qualified: Lynn Margulis Paul Ehrlich and others. Paul Ehrlich suggests, "A biologist like George Woodwell, who really knows ecosystems inside and out, will have to sit down and explain to O'Neill why his ideas are complete nonsense." At least, I sense some sweeping dismissals of possible biological constraints in such phrases as "the space community residents could enjoy a per capita usage of energy many times larger even than what is now common in the U.S., but with none of the guilt...." It seems to me that in the U.S. we are already consuming more energy than we can digest, and we have all the pathologies of high-energy industrialism to prove it, from the current epidemic of cancer to hypertension, mental disease, drug addiction, heart ailments and obesity.
Similarly the blithe dismissals of long-term effects in O'Neill's statements: "People can breathe pure oxygen atmospheres perfectly well. The Apollo astronauts were breathing pure oxygen atmospheres for days at a time. I've done it for hours at a time." and "Plants couldn't care less." One wonders at this typical attitude of scientific over-optimism. I have just read a rather shattering paper on "Scientific Optimism and Societal Concern," by Gerald Holton, Professor of Physics at Harvard (Hastings Report 5, Dec. 197S). Holton comments on the psychology of scientists as well as their acculturation. The scientific and technological imperative are both powered by the same optimistic dynamism. The prevalent "other-orientation" of scientists leads them to attempt to transcend people-oriented problems and escape to a world filled with order, rationality and neutrality. Problems with a high degree of non-falsifiable and non-verifiable content are avoided in favor of problems submitting to quantification or instrumental manipulation.
In the last analysis, for me at least, the space colonies appear as simply a linear extension of the technological fix, instrumental rationality so beloved of this culture; another case of too much hardware and not enough software. Perhaps O'Neill would enjoy tuning in to some of his fellow physicists who are exploring the physics of consciousness and trying the indescribably more difficult task of writing the observer back into the equation (see for example, Jack Sarfatti and Fred Wolf, Space-Time and Beyond, Dutton, 1974). If our destiny is, as I believe, to strive for cosmic consciousness, I cannot see space trips in clunky, materialistic, tin-lizzie spaceships as the means for embracing the cosmos. Surely we will roam the universe with our minds and dream up far less materialist, more elegant means to restructure and repattern ourselves. Surely we can leapfrog the current instrumental materialism and perhaps even escape the prison of matter entirely. For heaven's sake, what difference does it make which arm of our spiral galaxy we are in? Will journeying across it in a spaceship really change anything? As O'Neill himself says, "people manage to make themselves unhappy in almost any circumstances." When will we stop trying to re-tool the planet and get on with the job of trying to re-tool ourselves? For me, not the High Frontier, but the Human Frontier. My question remains. "Why?"
I was a little surprised at your enthusiastic presentation of O'Neill's space colonies in The CQ. The concept seems to me well thought out, rational, very alluring, and quite mad....
. . . Whatever I can do (contribute) - may help my beautiful daughter to slip away from this failing civilization here on Earth.
Capt. Jonas Caron
Space scientist, exobiologist, author of Intelligent Life in the Universe, 'The Cosmic Connection and The Dragons of Eden.
I think "Space Colonies" conveys an unpleasant sense of colonialism which is not, I think the spirit behind the idea. I prefer "Space Cities." One of the many virtues of the Space City proposal is that it may provide the first convincing argument for extensive manned spaceflight. The earth is almost fully explored and culturally homogenized. There are few places to which the discontent cutting edge of mankind can emigrate. There is no equivalent of the America of the 19th and early 20th centuries. But space cities provide a kind of America in the skies, an opportunity for affinity groups to develop alternative cultural, social, political, economic and technological life-styles. Almost all the societies on the earth today have not the foggiest notion of how best to deal with our complex and unknown future. Space cities may provide the social mutations that will permit the next evolutionary advance in human society. But this goal requires an early commitment to the encouragement of cultural diversity. Such a commitment might be a very fitting. Bicentennial re-dedication to what is unique about the United States.
. . I would rather have gone with Hank Hudson, Sam Champlain, or Lewis & Ciark, but ... now is yet....
Timothy C. Cornwall
New York, New York
PAUL AND ANNE EHRLICH
Population biologists,environmentalists, author (Paul) of The Population Bomb; co-authors of Ecoscience-Population, Resources, Environment. Paul co-conceived with botanist Peter Rauen the concept of co-evolution, our founding idea.
The prospect of colonizing space presented by Gerard O'Neill and his associates has had wide appeal especially to young people who see it opening a new horizon for humanity. The possible advantages of the venture are many and not to be taken lightly. In theory many of humanity's most environmentally destructive activities could be removed from the ecosphere entirely. The population density of the Earth could be reduced, and a high quality of use could be provided to all Homo sapiens. It might even make war obsolete.
What can one say on the negative side about this seeming panacea? At the moment the physical technology exists largely on paper, and cost estimates depend in part on numbers from the National Aeronautics and Space Admmistration (NASA) - not necessarily a dependable source. There appear to us, however, to be fewer barriers inherent in the further development of the O'Neill technology, than in others in which society has committed itself to large, open-ended and highly speculative investments, fusion power technology being a prime current example, the atomic bomb one from the relatively recent past.
On the biological side things are not so rosy. The question of atmospheric composition may prove more vexing than O'Neill imagines, and the problems of maintaining complex artificial ecosystems within the capsule are far from solved. The micro-organisms necessary for the nitrogen cycle and the diverse organisms involved in decay food chains would have to be established, as would a variety of other micro-organisms necessary to the flourishing of some plants. "Unwanted" micro organisms would inevitably be included with or would evolve from - "desirable" ones purposely introduced. Furthermore in many cases the appropriate "desirable" organisms for introduction are not even known to us. Whatever type of system were introduced there would almost certainly be serious problems with its stability - even if every effort were made to include many co-evolved elements. We simply have no idea how to create a large stable artificial ecosystem. For a long time it's likely that the aesthetic senses of space colonists would have to be satisfied by artificial plants, perhaps supplemented with "specimen" trees and flower beds.
The problems in the agricultural modules would be less complicated but very far from trivial. Since, according to O'Neill, agricultural surface is relatively cheaply constructed it seems likely that early stations should have perhaps four times as much as required to sustain the Colony and that it should be rather highly compartmented and diverse to minimize the chances of a disaster propagating. A great deal of research will have to go into developing appropriate stable agricultural systems for space. The challenge is fascinating - especially because of the variety of climatic regimes possible, the potential for excluding many pests, and the availability of abundant energy.
We can say, then, that although there appear to be no absolute physical barriers to the implementation of the O'Neill program, potentially serious biological barriers remain to be investigated. What about psychological, social, and political barriers? The question of whether Homo sapiens can adapt to the proposed space station environment seems virtually answered. Six thousand men live for long periods on a Navy super-carrier orders of magnitude smaller than a proposed space habitat, without women and without the numerous other amenities envisioned by O'Neill. Many city dwellers pass their lives in a similarly circumscribed area and in much less interesting surroundings (travel among stations and, occasionally back to Earth is envisioned). There is little reason to doubt that most people would adapt to the strange situation of access to different levels of gravity.
Whether or not society will support the venture is another matter. Much may depend on whether O'Neill's calculations on the profitability of the solar power generating enterprise stand up under closer scrutiny and limited experiment. The strongest objection that will be raised against space colonization is that it cannot help humanity with the problems of the next crucial decades, that it will divert attention, funds, and expertise from needed projects on Earth, and that it is basically just one more "technological circus" like nuclear power or the SST. That Space Colonies will have no immediate impact is recognized by O'Neill, but he would argue that we should look to medium range as well as short range solutions. Diversion of funds and expertise also do not seem extremely serious objections. There is, for instance, no sign that capital diverted from, say, a boondoggle like the B-l bomber, will necessarily be put to "good" use. Equally it does not follow that money for space colonies must be diverted from desirable programs. The expertise needed is superabundant - many trained aerospace engineers, for example, are not able to find appropriate employment now.
The problem of diverting attention from immediate problems like population control is much more serious and can only be avoided by assiduous care on the part of O'Neill and other promoters of the project. Some of O'Neill's associates have done his cause great harm by not realizing this. At every stage people must be reminded that for the potential of space colonization to ever be explored, society must be maintained for the next three decades.
Environmentalists, including us, had a strong negative reaction to the O'Neill proposals when first presented with them. They smack of a vision of human beings continually striving to solve problems with more and bigger technology, turning always away from learning to live in harmony with nature and each other and forever dodging the question of "What is a human being for?" But again O'Neill's vision shares many elements with that of most environmentalists: a high quality environment for all peoples, a relatively depopulated Earth in which a vast diversity of other organisms thrive in a non-polluted environment with much wilderness, a wide range of options for individuals, and perhaps time to consider those philosophical questions. The price of this would, of course, be a decision that a substantial portion of humanity would no longer dwell on Earth.
Environmentalists often accuse politicians of taking too short-term a view of the human predicament. By prematurely rejecting the idea of Space Colonies they would be making the same mistake.
. . . I'm fourteen years old right now, and I think in, say, 20 years, this planet is going to be pretty cramped. Not only for humans, but for other living beings too. Resources of every kind will probably be shot for the most part.
It's a good idea to have an alternative ready.
The people who are saying "no, no" now, will be screaming "yes, yes" then - a little too late. I'd like to go - do my teensy bit for depopulating the Earth. The idea of going scares me, but I think I could overcome that. Yes . . . I'd definitely like to go.
Down the road
A journey of a thousand miles does not end with the first step. My mind is not Earth-bound, My body doesn't want to be either.
Charles D. Walker
WILLIAM IRWIN THOMPSON
Author of At the Edge of History; Passages About Earth. co-founder of Lindisfarne
We need to transform our civilization, not simply extend it. If we extend ourselves as we are now we will simply be setting up metastases of the carcinoma of industrial civilization. If we are going to move out into space, we will have to learn how to be inhabitants of the universe, and that will require a transformation of consciousness. Such a transformation of consciousness was beautifully expressed by Rusty Schweickart in the piece you published last summer. What I am asking for is an exercise of imagination more profound than the science-fiction fantasies of the comic books of a generation ago. It is not an exercise of imagination to envision solar energy as the means of beaming down intense concentrations of power to drive capital intensive economics of scale. There is abundant solar energy on the earth for a good life. It may not provide enough energy to fly Ritz Crackers in jumbo jets to Venezuela, and if it doesn't we need to rethink the whole kind of crazy economy we have created. If that economy is now running out of energy, perhaps there is good reason for it to do so.
I don't see anything wrong with setting up a colony in space but I do see something wrong in thinking that one can create wildness by placing it into a container. At the present time, there is a battle going on in American culture between those who are trying to surround management with Culture, and those who are trying to surround and contain culture with Management. If the space colonies are sold to the American public as a way of escaping the juggernaut of apocalypse, of escaping the internal contradictions of our industrial civiiization, and of not having to face those contradictions but simply to extend, extend, extend always to a new American frontier, then I think we will overextend ourselves to a point of a deserved collapse. I think the space colonies excite the Faustian imagination of the managers and the technocrats for it offers them a way of continuing their existence without going through the pain of a transformation of consciousness. Though I see nothing wrong, in and of itself, with the idea of an experimental small colony at L5, I do see a lot of things wrong with the hype that is being generated in order to sell the American public on colonies, so that they will encourage congress to pass the appropriations. You yourself, are guilty of encouraging some of this hype by captioning an article on the colonies as apocalypt goodbye to the juggernaut of apocalypse. The apocalypse, in the fashion of the Tibetan book of the dead, is but the malevolent aspect of beneficent dieties. If we can in the face of famine, pollution, and war, remember our Buddha-nature, then we can go through the terrifying initiation of the race to discover that the apocalypse that we seek to escape is inside us, and until we come to terms with it, it will follow us wherever we go - to L5, to the moon, or to Mars. Since all of us have to make some kind of choice as to what work will receive our limited energies, I prefer to work to create a planetary, decentralized, meta-industrial village on the surface of the face of the earth. Earth may not be the best place for a highly technological civilization but it is, as Robert Frost said, "The best place for love. I don't know where it's likely to go better."
(The rest of it)
I'd like to get away from earth awhile
And then come back to it and begin over.
May no fate willfully misunderstand me
And half grant what I wish and snatch me away
Not to return. Earth's the right place for love:
I don't know where it's likely to go better.
Sent by John Graham
Guernewood Park, California
Biologist, pacifist. Nobel Prize 1967
CoEvolution has asked me to write my thoughts about Space Colonies O'Neill's or any others. Let me say at once that I view them with horror.
I am a little late in getting this to you since I spent the last eight days in Rome as a member of the Bertrand Russell Tribunal II, hearing testimony on U.S. imperialism in Latin America and the atrocities being committed by the atrocious military dictatorships we have set up and maintain there. That too was horrifying; and not altogether irrelevant to the present subject. If we took better care of what goes on here, if we managed to live decent human lives in decent environments, if we relieved the exploitation and oppression of life on Earth, human and animal, and of the Earth itself, living in space might seem less enticing. And we could use the wealth and energy that it would take to put a colony into space to do someof these other things.
What bothers me most about Space Colonies - even as concepts - is their betrayal of what I believe to be the deepest and most meaningful human values. I do not think one can live a full human life without living it among animals and plants. From that viewpoint, urban societies have already lost large parts of their humanity and their perversion of the countryside makes life there hardly better, sometimes worse.
We are cultivating a race of fractional human beings, living in tractional environments, machines for living for human parts; providing mass produced and standardized unit spaces for depersonalized human units.
The whole concept of space colonization carries this impulse to the ultimate limit. What has already gone much too far on earth in technologizing all aspects of life - nutrition. motion, medicine. birth and death and everything between - will find its complete consumation in space.
A few years ago I had a strange experience at the University ot Vermont. The students had organized a symposiun, on "Man-made Men." I had taken that title to be ironic symbolic, hyperbolic. A few days before the symposium I learned with dismay that it was meant literally. Those students, brought up and surrounded by mass-produced object were excited by the conviction that within another decade human beings would be produced in that way. They were looking forward eagerly to coming off an assembly line. Men, I told them this is absurd, neither possible nor desirable. I had a fight on my hands. Their first response was that I was old and behind the times.
So that my point is that the very idea of Space Colonies carries to a logical - and horrifying - conclusion processes of dehumanization and depersonalization that have already gone much too far on the Earth. In a way, we've gotten ready for Space Platforms by a systematic degradation of human ways of life on the Earth.
A nice example of that is in the major developments of architecture throughout this past generation. It's all gone to designing monstrous machines for human existence in the cheapest ways out of the shoddiest materials.
All around me at Harvard buildings are going up of poured concrete, surely the ugliest and least durable of all construction materials, gray and dead. Pier Luigi Nervi is their prophet. I am told with enthusiasm, "You see, we don't smooth the concrete. We leave the board marks. You can even see the grain of the wood!" That's just great! Wood made out of poured concrete! Like shingles of tar paper or extruded plastics.
Le Corbusier designed a building for art and design students here, the Carpenter Center, of poured concrete of course. Unfortunately, the building itself is the showpiece. It's a goldfish bowl - visitors can see from outside everything going on inside. There is no privacy whatever. Just the thing for an artist.
Walter Cropius, ending his career at Harvard, designed a major living space for students. Again, the shoddiest materials. Every room was a unit space for a unit student, small and forbidding, lined with cinder block. One couldn't drive a nail to hang a picture. In the open space outside is a Bauhaus object d'art: a stainless steel Tree of Life. It looks like an umbrella stand. A young woman student once said to me, "On moonlit nights in the spring Radcliffe girls dance around it, dropping ball bearings!".
Mies van der Rohe: I gave a series of lectures in Chicago in his memory. Before the first lecture my hosts were so kind as to drive me about Chicago to see his buildings. They were huge, skyscraper apartment buildings, great "functional" concrete and metal and glass structures, each housing thousands of persons. And expensive: for the most part condominiums. That word has always bothered me; for me it carries an inescapable suggestion of contraception. After that trip I realized that the suggestion is apt. Those condominiums are no place for kids. They are the greatest contribution to birth control since the sports car.
Paolo Soleri: There he is, that gifted man, making bony constructions in the American desert. I haven't seen one that I would remotely want to live in. But he has larger plans: for simple, integrated structures each to house hundreds of thousands of persons, a city. All human needs fulfilled in one great block. And "functional": one of Soleri's models shows such a construction that is simultaneously the spillway of a huge dam. That might be fun for Soleri. But can you imagine trying to live, even to raise children, in such a place?
All that dehumanizing architecture is getting us ready for Space Colonies. So one last but not least consideration concerning them: Who is to go to them? The power elite of our over-developed society? The highly affluent'? Who else? Perhaps, having made piles of money out of war, smart bombs, nuclear weapons, they can find in the Space Colonies the refuge from which to watch the rest of humanity killing and maiming and poisoning and mutating one another - deciding eventually when it is safe to come back down.
Ed Taylor, the physicist, seems to be a nice guy (see McPhee: The Curve of Binding Energy). His parents were missionaries and pacifists, so when he went into making atom bombs he had a problem. First he set out to make the biggest, most effective fission bomb ever. It was going to be so horrifying as to end all possibility of war. It didn't. Then Ed Taylor took a new tack: he designed the smallest, most effective fission bomb, the poor man's atom bomb. That would spread so widely as surely to end an war. It didn't.
Ed Taylor ended up wishing he'd had nothing to do wiht any of that. So what's he into now?
You've guessed it!
It's to design the biggest space vehicle ever dreamed up, one on which persons could survive for many generations. And after that?
How about a farm, Ed Taylor? How about a horse? Our sun has about another six billion years to run on the Main Sequence. That's a long time. If we take to serving life rather than death, if we can come to realize that maximizing profits is not the primary aim of human existence, if we could begin to take care of life - human, animal plant; if we cultivated rather than devastated the Earth then it could be a great place to live on and to enjoy for the next six billion years! It's worth a try!
President, Friends of the Earth; initiator of "exhibit format" books such as This is the American Earth
Thank you for the chance to add my comment about the O'Neill Space Colonies to the comment of the brilliant people you have written to, even though I suspect you expected me to give a knee-jerk reaction, which I shall, because people who don't have good reflexes are in trouble, and my knee jerks when pounded.
Ever since I first discovered a fatal flaw in the logic of one of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars books (I once read them all), I have maintained a healthy skepticism ordinary people are supposed to maintain about attempts to achieve perpetual motion, or anything like it. That goes for the Mars lights that Burroughs invented that kept recycling their own light and thus needed no energy added. It goes tor breeder reactors. And I am afraid it goes for the Space Colonies.
Owing to my preoccupation with problems on our friendly local planet, I have not had a chance to apply my scientist's analytical capabilities to all the details of the colony scheme, but I am afraid I must remain in opposition unless Mr. O'Neill can guarantee that Murphy's Law will be inoperative on all his satellites, and that the Little Prince running each of them will never be overcome with what inevitably happens to leaders. sooner or later.
With Murphy's Law operative, I have grave misgivings about the colony gravity machine. Won't an aweful lot of things start floating around willy nilly and getting hopelessly mixed up - people, crops, fertilizer, sidewalks, vehicles, and schoolteachers when the rotating device that develops the gravity must be stopped for replacement of defective parts? I shall always remain suspicious of anyone who tries to mess with the Law of Gravity. Such a person might meddle next with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, and foul up the whole system.
As for the Little Prince, what happens if, upon your arrival at his colony you ask him to take you to his leader, or his successor? Or he asks you. Colony politics needs to be thought through, because although engineers can build, politicians are at the switches.
Further aspects would worry me, I am sure, if the major argument against the scheme didn't make all other considerations academic. The major argument is this: In the last analysis, the scheme is born of despair, which, as C.P. Snow says, is a sin. Despair leads to Escapism. Let's not worry about what mischief we are wreaking with our one pass at the planet, Escapism says, because (a) we can get away for weekends, vacations, or sabbaticals, (b) we will be rewarded in heaven later on for putting up with the hell others have perpetrated for us on earth, (c) some remote island or continent will put enough space in between us and our tormentors, or (d) some other colony, on a (1) ready-built planet nearby, or (2) a custom-made contraption pleasantly devoted of all the honing, perfecting forces of the very adversity that was solely responsible for making our present shape, senses, and spirit possible.
I would not wish to appear adamant. If Mr. O'Neill's colonies, after due energy accountancy and review of the environmental impact statement, prove more desirable than the present alternative, then let me be the first to place reservations, for the first colony, for all who would continue the atoms-for-peace/war experiment here. Let all of them, salesmen and customers, be aboard the maiden voyage, absolutely free of charge, with a bonus if they promise to stay away.
And let the rest of us stay here, on this poor old beautiful planet, plagued only by ourselves, and try in good heart to fix it.
Co-founder Briarpatch Network, author of Thc Seven Laws of Money. As POINT director, made the grant ($600) that paid for O'Neill's first Space Colony conference in 1974.
My comments on the new planet are divided into two parts: (I) predictions that may be of interest to your readers, based on the three years of thought I have given this subject, and (II) current research directions of the International Committee for a New Planet.
Section I. Predictions
1. The milieu at the end of the end of this century: there will be two to five construction satellites in earth orbit with I0,000+ inhabitants on each, building a variety of space objects (such as power facilities and manufacturing stations), including a few planets for solar orbit. One or two of these solar orbiting planets will be functioning with populations of 40,000 or more. Most of these space objects will be oriented toward nation/cultures on Earth and will be affiliated with language groups such as English, Russian, and German, and also possibly Spanish, Japanese, and Chinese.
2. The scenario for the following quarter century, to 2026, will see the proliferation of planets in solar orbit based on a greater variety of peoples, some will be corporate creations-next-century equivalents of Xerox and Mitsubishi; some will be concepts groups such as Scientology, EST, and the Catholic Church; and some will be indescribable in current terminology, such as our own International Committee for a New Planet, which is made up of several cultural groups.
3. Interest in new planets will be primarily American. It fills our need for a new frontier. And as we did with the ecology fad, we will believe that the rest of the world thinks the way we do about new planets (they won't). Remember our "race" to the moon, which turned out to be us running alone.
4. The effect of the New Planet on people's minds will be of the same magnitude as were the adventures of Marco Polo and Columbus on the Western world. If there were a hierarchy of mind experiences ranging upward from opinions to attitudes to ideas to concepts, and higher to persuasions, religions, general philosophies, and cultural horizons then there would be one still higher on the scale. I'll call it "human species perception." It is this level that was affected by Marco Polo and Columbus and it is this level that will be affected by the New Planet. I think a good case can be made for the position that these two men shaped the Reformation, science, and all subsequent Western political thought. I think it was their actions that fostered and developed the view we now refer to as The Perfectibility of Man doctrine. This doctrine of perfectibility was the basis of Bacon's and Newton's development of scientific technique. It also led to political doctrines ranging from Hobbes and Locke to Rousseau and Marx - and ultimately to the political experience we call constitutional democracy.
5. I think the nature of this new "human species perception" will be to understand and accept the findings of biology and archeology in the past century . . . so that if we are "perfectible," it must be in the context of our being an animal which evolved over hundreds of millions of years and which has 3 million years of direct experience in its current physical form. In addition, this evolutionary view will be subordinated to a new scientific finding emerging in the next quarter century: that we are a species with a single common culture that is 60,000 (or more) years old and has shaped us far more than the recent 6,000 years of recorded history.
6. We will come to learn of ourselves as descendants of a small (maybe 20 million worldwide) population of genetically homogeneous people who had a continuous cultural history of more than 50,000 years. This culture was partially absorbed into our city/non-nomadic culture since it was translated from the oral tradition directly into writing in our first written documents (old Testament, Baghavad-gita, I Ching, the Books of the Dead, Euclid, Plato, Upanishads and Arabic algebraic works, etc.). The part that was not absorbed may today still be around us but ignored or partially destroyed (American Indians, gypsies, Africans, Shintoists, so-called "island primitives," and probably some esoteric gurus). With future research the language and experience of this 50,000 years of our cultural heritage will unfold and may dramatically shape all of our personal directions. The power of this tradition along with the immediacy of its influence will so drastically shape our view of our "perfectibility" that we will no longer look to governments or contemporary social structures to "perfect" us as we do now. We will begin long, arduous, personal (almost monastic) endurances to achieve a harmony with our "old" cultural heritage.
7. Science and the scientific method will become even more preeminent. Within 25 years 70 percent of all literate people will understand statistical testing and statistical "significance." The power of 300 years of science, which was empirically validated (completely!) by the first nuclear bomb and by our bringing back rocks from the moon, will be so completely accepted, absorbed, and understood that its primacy will spread rapidly to other fields. The fields most affected will be medicine and the political sciences (within these two broad categories I include biology, anthropology, and economics). In these fields high-quality empirical testing will become the norm, not the exception.
Section II. Current Research Directions of the International Committee for a New Planet
1. The end of the next decade will see the beginning of one of the most momentous changes in human behavior since the development of agriculture. It will be the beginning of the era of the "great network." Computers are the reason, but they won't be visible and we won't call them computers (we don't call the phone system a computer, or talk about the computer-controlled elevator, but that's what they are!). We will just become media freaks as the new voice-operated interactive network terminal (or whatever) becomes more usable. Information will become free. Information has two incredible noneconomic properties (as Dr. Peter Sherrill has taught me) 1) it is more valuable as more people have it; thus, the value of a single piece of information is not diminished when it is duplicated and distributed (for example . . . this article). 2) It is the basic source of all economic (and political) power. This will drastically alter all human institutions, ranging from power structures to work patterns, and most important, people's behavior will change (I won't go into detail here). Peter suggests an increase in psychopathy particularly its milder forms such as manipulative role playing and the detached bureaucratic personality. I think there will be more Briarpatchism, people living on lowest incomes, with the fewest possessions, sharing resources, and emphasizing service to others.
Our research consists of interviewing, studying and testing people who have lived partially in this "future milieu": telephone operators, phone freaks, and real-time computer operators. Anthropology of the future.
2. We will support and encourage research in areas described in Section I, No. 6 above: the culture of the period 50,000 years before writing. Much of this research will be anthropological and archeological, but some of it will be scientific analysis of specific remaining artifacts, ranging front pre-Columbian knotted ropes to Tibetan stones, Shinto paper structures, Tarot images, and American Indian petroglyphs. The time scale on this work will be long and our Committee's efforts will be mainly supportive, looking for the occasional Rosetta Stone that will encourage other researchers.
3. We're going to get started on the technical work related to building a new planet. In less than 15 years NASA will be looking for a prime contractor to build Gerard O'Neill's working station. The airplane companies that became aerospace companies are no more appropriate for this than auto or railroad companies would have been for building rockets. So we can start building such a prime contractor now. I think the businesses that have the potential skill are in the underwater diving field, especially the ones doing the most difficult high-tech underwater work on the off-shore oil rigs. A large well-run company, multicultural, in this field would be a very appropriate prime contractor to build planets in space. So I'm going to start work on creating such a company.
We welcome help from CG readers on any of these last three specifics. No philosophical treatises please.
for a New Planet
330 Ellis Street
San Francisco, CA 94102
SPACE COLONIES ARE TAIL FINS.
I've been doing some research into World War II technocracy and its legacy of pesticides, appliances, plastics. rockets. and other household items, especially the automobile, all in preparation for a book on cars by Ant Farm.
It seems almost everything we are living with today, from aerosol cans to McDonald's and the Interstate Highway System, has its roots in World War II. Harley Earl, who was the Vice President in charge of styling at General Motors until the mid-sixties once credited the airplane, particularly the slick wartime fighter planes, with being the greatest influence on car styling. The Cadillac tail fins which Earl designed, were directly derivative from the Lockheed P-38 Lightning. (We found a good use for tail fins when we built the roadside Cadillac Ranch in 1974). G.M. used dream cars to introduce far out ideas like the tail fins, rocket ports, and wrap around windshields because they realized that the American consumer responded to IMAGES of technology in far greater numbers than they did to technological innovation. (Technological innovation was never G.M.'s best suit). But the images were a subtle way of selling an attitude that pervaded the war-time years, and has become synonomous with American Know-how. It's an attitude of machine idol, an infatuation with technology in general as a catch-all for problems both large and small. It can be seen in a little boy's love for cars, trucks, trains, planes, and anything shiny and fast. It was romanticized, mediaized, and sold American as the dream, a way of life, during the fifties. Not until the mid-sixties did we first recognize feedback on some of the fallout from our frenzied technological growth. Our pollution, our poisons, our congestion and our cancer rates can be measured statistically, but our loss in terms of alienation, attitude. and style of life can not.
So here I am, finally aware of my addiction to machines, my love of cars and all that sparkles and where it came from. I'm trying to come to terms with it. I don't want to become a return to the woods' anti-industrialist and yet I must become free from a generation of techno-conditioning. In the midst of this dilemma I open up CoEvolution and find Space Colonies - the ultimate machine fantasy. It will solve, you tell us: "The Energy Crisis, the Food Crisis, the Arms Race, and the population problem - in that order." [Sentence deleted] It will have: "a Hawaiian climate in one and New England in the other, with the usual traffic of surf boards and skis between them" It sounds like a dream come true! It sounds like General Motors Futurama at the New York World's Fair of 1964: "In the distance, our eyes make out a jungle metropolis - dramatic proof of how mobility can help master even this tropical environment and turn it into a productive contributor to the world's marketplace." A reference to the giant roadbuilder that makes 'instant highways' in jungles and other 'alien' environments.
Hey, wait a minute. That gives me a great idea. Why not give the Space Colony contract to General Motors? G.M. could stop building cars (a solution to the energy crisis) and put a war-time-like effort into Space. The assembly line workers could again feel they were doing meaningful work and G.M.'s tremendous industrial capacity could be put to work building next year's Space Colony for the good of all mankind (those who can afford it that is). G.M.'s huge network of dealers could become space travel agents and in their service departments citizens could learn how to live in space, in simulators.
Well, that settles it. If you give G.M. the nod we will support Space Colonies 100%. To give you some incentive we are enclosing a stylist's rendering of the 1991 Space Colony by G.M. And even if they don't work they will be totally entertaining.
Good luck in the future,
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