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.
SPACE COLONIES SHOULD KEEP AWAY FROM THE GOVERNMENT FOR A WHILE
Astronaut Russell Schweickart on the phone
THE DEBATE SHARPENS Wendell Berry Angry * "Spaceship Earth" comes home to roost * Driving or driven to Space? * Satellite surveillance * Other Voices * Life Spreads Before the Sun * If the Sun Dies
ECOLOGICAL CONSIDERATIONS FOR SPACE COLONIES
Space agriculture and Space cops * Space agriculture retort
The smile of Timothy Leary * Space just means bigger weapons * 8 am of the world * Limits to Growth - wronger than ever * Grandiose failure
JACQUES COUSTEAU AT NASA HEADQUARTERS
THE SPACE COLONIES IDEA 1969-1977
Space colonies should keep away from the government for a while.
Apollo 9 Astronaut Rusty Schweickart (the first man to walk in space without an umbilical) was flying a desk in Washington for the applications end of NASA activities when I phoned him in 1976 and we fell into this conversation.
Most of us consumers who are demeaned by mechanical conveniences never see what it is to fine-tune oneself to the edges of possibility of a superb machine. When the Space Program is moving (its been slow lately) the astronauts are athletes in a game that changes as fast as equipment design and their abilities can co-evolve. Help invent a bird and fly it and invent again. The trick is, making only mistakes they have a chance to learn from. The adversary is appalling distances, vacuum, radiation, and cold just three degrees above absolute zero. The ocean of space has no other side, only other tiny islands.
We were wrong in perceiving the astronauts as crew-cut robots.
The problem is that NASA is part of the system, and new ideas, at least a lot of the better ones, come from outside, and then get co-opted. If I've got a fear about this thing, it is that the system will co-opt it too soon.
Stewart Brand: How might that work?
Schweickart: Well, it might work by NASA starting to seriously fund the whole project, which unfortunately a lot of people would see as a good thing. I would see it, depending upon when it happened, as either good or bad. The later it happens the better.
Schweickart: Because, if the whole thing starts getting formalized and funded by the government, then the government puts its heavy hand in it in controlling further funding, and once people get used to being paid for their time and their energies, then they're no longer going to do without it, and then OMB and the Congress, and other people. . .
SB: What's OMB?
Schweickart: The Office of Managment and Budget, the old Bureau of the Budget. They're amazing. They have the lowest profile in government, and tremendous power.
They're not bad people, but their principal responsibility is to control the budget, which means mainly hold it down. The place where they cannot hold things down is where you have a constituency, where people's immediate well being, livelihood, jobs, are affected by it. But any idea like O'Neill's, which is visionary, which is further out, which is long-term, is just a sitting duck for OMB, because it isn't going to lose anybody any votes. They can come out against it, and the President isn't going to be faced with a large constituency of people with a vested interest who are going to go after them.
As soon as something like this gets into the system formally in a full-blown way, then it goes through all of the necessities which it has to go through eventually, but if it goes through them too soon without the correct mental set in the country, without the momentum behind it and the emotional commitment to it, then things like cost-benefit analyses and the various trade-off studies and this, that, and the other thing that have to go on inevitably will kill it. The government does things when it has to, and if it picks up an idea like this too soon, it can kill it in a way which would make it difficult for somebody on the outside to pick up again.
Whereas, in its present state it was gernerated totally outside the government.... It's picking up a lot of momentum on its own outside the government, through things like CQ and others, and the government is having to respond to it because of the pressure from outside. So I'm not in any rush to see the concept come totally into the government. I would like it to be discussed in the media, at universities and college campuses and groups forming all over the country to support it, that kind of thing. If there's a little resistance by the government, it's going to pick up a lot more popular support.
SB: What do you think would be an optimum schedule?
Schweickart: I don't think it is so much time, Stewart, as it is circumstance. First of all I think we've got to reach the bottom of this cycle we're in now in the nation. We've got to see a more favorable economic attitude that can tolerate a little bit of luxury and long-range thinking. Nothing gets approved right now in the government unless you can show immediate utility.
There are only two things that get approved. Let me take NASA as an example. First are the kinds of things I'm working on right now, the earth resources satellites, the direct payoff applications of space. You'll get support for something which shows that the nation will benefit ten dollars for every one that we invest. The other kind of project that NASA has that will get approved are those kinds of science programs which are moderate sized. Moderate sized for us is a few hundred million dollars. Programs like the Viking mission to Mars for example, which doesn't have an immediate practical value but which is legitimate science. They'll get approved because they don't make any difference, and they can be cut off immediately without the governors of half of the states and half of the Congressmen coming down on OMB or the President or somebody for cutting it off. So we do science at a level which will keep us doing science, not aggressively, but we will keep our hands in it, and we will also do those kinds of things which show an immediate benefit.
But a large-scale project like this which does not show immediate benefits, something like the Apollo program, is not going to be approved for a while yet. Now if the space shuttle works, if we get that off the ground and it works right, and the demand on its use begins picking up, there's one other thing that's got to happen. I think we're talking perhaps early-to-mid-80's before we're going to have a real test of the space shuttle. People are going to have to look at it and say, "Sure, of course we need it. How could we have ever thought we wouldn't need it," before they are going to start looking seriously at another large space project.
Now this trend towards utilitarianism I mentioned is even evident in the work that NASA is doing on O'Neill's concept, in that NASA has pushed it quite a bit towards the idea of power generation, to relay power back to earth. One of the principal reasons for doing that is because the project now takes on a practical value. Well, that's ok, but you've got to be careful, because if you once start playing that ball game, then you've got to come out a winner within the rules of that ball game, or else you're doomed. You're much better off refusing to play until you know you can win.
The fact of the matter is that each step along the way to a lunar base or O'Neill's concept or a trip to Saturn or whatever, each step along the way is going to justify itself on practical grounds, but it will also, as a spin-off, permit the next step. The big difference is that if you have that long-term vision that O'Neill has inspired, it will generate the enthusiasm for the intermediate steps, which will then each and of themselves justify themselves on relatively mundane grounds.
March 1969, Earth-orbit, Apollo 9. Schweickart, pilot of the Lunar Module "Spider", goes outside to get a thermal sample. More "outside" than anyone had ever been. With him on the mission were James McDivitt and David Scott, who took the photograph.
SB: What are some of the intermediate steps?
Schweickart: The space shuttle is one.
SB: Once the shuttle is up what does it do that makes everybody glad it's there?
Schweickart: All kinds of things. It puts up useful satellites, communications satellites, at reduced cost. You can put up earth-orbiting earth-resources packages, which are going to help in things like city-planning and forestry management, and agriculture and all kinds of things. The shuttle is going to open up space for low cost utilization. It's really a transportation system into a useful environment which we haven't been able to afford in a major way up to this point.
SB: Will there be any manufacturing facilities?
Schweickart: Oh yeah. Space manufacturing is a little research-y right now compared with other applications, but it's a comer. One of the nice things about space-processing is that it's going to require man to actually be in space operating things in order to develop the technology, as opposed to things like remote sensing where you really do most of the development on the ground, put up a sensor, and let it go.
SB: Do you feel it's always better to have someone with the device?
Schweickart: It depends on what you're going to do. In the research phase, I think for complex operations the answer is yes. In the operational phase, where you already know exactly what measurements you want to make, you want to make them on a repetitive basis, you want to make them routinely, no, don't put a man up there. You can automate that. But in the research phase, it looks as though man will be very useful in space The interesting question is whether man will be of real value in space applications in operational situations as opposed to research and development situations. That's a question people don't have anywhere near as clear a feeling on one way or the other.
The next step beyond the shuttle I think is going to be a space station in near-earth orbit, and that again I think will argue for itself partly as an outgrowth of things like space processing. There are other reasons for going toward a space-station where you'd have a permanent crew, or at least a crew which you would cycle just occasionally.
SB: A crew of what size, do you suppose?
Schweickart: Oh, it'll probably start out modular, and build. Ten people to start with, and then you'd probably build up to stations which would have hundreds I'm sure. But that's a long way off.
SB: How thick are the Russians in that stage of the fantasy?
Schweickart: Well, you never know. They seem to have a lot more fantasies than we do. That is, they seem to be more willing to speculate and wave their arms about things of that kind than we are. It's questionable whether they have the real competence or the real determination when it comes to putting the ruble down to do it. There's no question that our technology is way out in front of them in most of the things we're talking about, in anything that requires sophistication, in the practical use of space, but when it comes to speculating about it and talking about far-out things, the Russians are more willing to do it than we are. Perhaps because they are further away from having to commit real resources.
SB: Do you know of any interest by them in the O'Neill concept?
Schweickart: As a matter of fact I don't. I have no knowledge of whether they've been looking at it, or even whether they're familiar with it.
SB: I've heard speculation that the Russians and we have some kind of unstated mutual program, that we seem to be making vehicles like mad, and the Russians seem to be more into pay-load like mad. For a space station or whatever Is that the case?
Schweickart: No. Well, I can't state positively that I know it's not the case, but I'm high enough in the organization that I know we're not that cooperative with the Russians yet that we would forsake one element to them and risk getting caught with vehicles and no payload, or vice versa. We're a long way from that. Even with the Europeans where we're in an arrangement for the shuttle/space lab, even there our shuttle can do a lot of things without their space lab, but the space lab can't do anything without the shuttle. So we're on the safe end of the deal.
SB: There's a European consortium?
Schweickart: Yeah, the European Space Agency - ESA - which is a combination of ESRO, the old European Space Research Organization, and ELDO, the European Launch Development Organization. It's a consortium of something like 12 European nations which collaborate on a project-by-project basis. They're all members but they can opt whether or not to participate in any given project. With the Spacelab I think all 12 of the members are partners, with the Germans being the leading interest.
SB: Is that a growing involvement by ESA?
Schweickart: It's a total commitment. They have sole responsibility for the design, development, manufacture and testing, and everything, of the spacelab which will fly in the shuttle. NASA is basically a customer. We actually will purchase our spacelabs from Europe, so we are really totally dependent on them for that concept. On the other hand, what they did in doing that was to give up an autonomous space program, because they scrapped all of their major development in terms of boosters for independent pay-loads. They really hung it out.
SB: What level of budget are they into with that?
Schweickart: I'd have to do a little research to tell you. It's something I'm not directly connected with, so I don't know those kinds of numbers. Off the top of my head it comes to something like 500 million dollars. It's big.
SB: What are prospects of a Concorde-type debacle out of that do you suppose?
Schweickart: I think very very low. There's a mutual inter-dependence here which is an interesting thing to watch. Europe, because of its commitment now, has put a certain pressure on the United States to continue the program, and to stay on schedule, and not rock the boat, because of our partnership. At the same time Europe is somewhat the same way. Because the shuttle is going on, it's overcoming a lot of their political problems to keep the thing together. The inter-relationship obviously will have rough spots. When you marry somebody it's a little different from living with them. Things bother you that didn't bother you before, but at the same time you have a committed relationship, and the children will come.
SB: Do you know if ESA has any knowledge or interest in space colonies?
Schweickart: Yes, they do. But I don't know how formal it is, and I don't know what their specific reaction to O'Neill's thing is, but I do know that they have looked at long-term projects. In about '81 the first operational shuttle will carry the first spacelab. It'll be a cooperative European-American payload.
SB: Are there any Europeans in the astronaut program yet?
Schweickart: There are no Europeans in the astronaut program right now. The next selection however is being considered now, I think for a year from this summer if I remember right, and I'll be very surprised if we don't find European applications, and probably we'll be accepting some Europeans. Now, that's a delicate matter. NASA may ask ESA to recommend specific people rather than the United States trying to select among the member nations of ESA. Imagine the delicacy of that one. You can see Spain, with a 3% budgetary commitment, in the spacelab with an astronaut and Germany with 53% commitment having none, or something.
SB: Is the space shuttle very adaptable to moving from near-Earth orbit to lunar-distance orbit, for work on Space Colonies?
Schweickart: Not directly.
SB: How serious a change would be required?
Schweickart: It would require a total new vehicle. The shuttle is really designed to do one job and one job only, and that is to get into low-earth orbit from the surface and back down to the surface, and do it over and over again. That's where you realize the economies. But even if you severely penalize the payload and put in the maximum number of additional fuel modules and things, you're limited to something like a 600 mile high orbit, which is not very high. The normal orbit would be a hundred miles or so. Well, that's a long, long, long way from going out to lunar distance and returning.
SB: Is fuel the limitation?
Schweickart: Well, it's two things. It's fuel, but also there's no reason for taking wings to the moon. The only reason to have wings is to mess around in an atmosphere.
SB: Would you end up with a two-stage shuttle - the shuttle-shuttle to get to near-earth distance, and something else to get to lunar orbit?
Schweickart: Right, you would have a vehicle which would have to be designed probably to be carried up either whole in the shuttle, in the payload bay, or more likely be carried up in modular form and assembled in orbit perhaps near a space station, and then go from there to the moon, and back again. You end up with basically a stable of different vehicles for different purposes. You would have a vehicle which would provide transportation to lunar orbit from earth orbit. You would probably have another vehicle which would go from lunar orbit down to the surface.
SB: Would you use the same vehicle to get to O'Neill's colonies at L-4 or L-5 as you would to get to lunar orbits?
Schweickart: Yeah, no reason that you couldn't. Once it's been built, that vehicle is going to serve all its life in a weightless state. It could take you anywhere. But if you're going to come down through an atmosphere, whether it's a Jovian atmosphere, or Earth atmosphere, or Martian atmosphere, or wherever there is a problem in aerodynamics, you need another vehicle.
SB: How's the space environment for maintenance on a piece of equipment like that? Is it going to be worn out in a number of years, or go on indefinitely because it's operating in a weightless vacuum?
Schweickart: Well, we don't understand all we might about that.
SB: Presumably the stresses are mainly in the propulsion system.
Schweickart: Not entirely. We don't understand rotating equipment, for example. Bearings. In some sense bearings ought to last indefinitely in space. You don't have any gravitational forces wearing them out. All they do is sit there with just occasional very very small stresses on them. In fact that's not the case. We had large rotating inertia wheels on Skylab which were the principle means by which we changed the attitude, or controlled the attitude of the laboratory. And one of them failed. I think it was at the end of the second mission, or maybe the beginning of the third mission, and a second one was having heart attacks and was threatening to fail as we approached the end of the third Skylab mission. Now, these momentum wheels are monstrous, they're just huge fly-wheels is what they are - not all that huge, only about a yard across, but they're pretty massive, and they spin at 10,000 rpm or something like that, very fast. You've got a lot of momentum in them, and you do generate side forces on the bearings, but we don't understand the failure mode. We don't understand why they failed or how they failed. There are different ideas about lubrication in weightlessness, and how the flow of lubricants and the behavior of surface tension effects in liquids is changed in weightlessness, so we don't really understand it fully. There are some pretty interesting engineering questions that have to be answered before you are going to be able to really design things in detail like Gerry's space colonies.
SB: Are there any problems like that with the centrifugal gravity that O'Neill is counting on?
Schweickart: Artificial gravity does do some nasty things. The only way to generate an artificial gravity, of course, is to rotate, and when you rotate you immediately complicate the process of looking outward from the spacecraft. If you want to look internally and work internally, it's no problem. However, if you want to communicate with the earth, or you want to point a radiotelescope, or an optical telescope, or you want to make observations externally, then the only direction you can look is along the axis. And even then unless you want to have things rotate as you look at them, you immediately have to de-rotate something. You've got to somehow get out of the rotating system, or counteract the rotation by having a counter-rotating hub, or perhaps some sort of separate equipment standing off to the side that doesn't rotate and a data link between you and it or something of that kind, so it complicates and therefore increases the cost of space operations to have an artificial gravity.
On the other hand there are obviously very nice things about having an artificial gravity, in that things behave "normally" and you don't have to take all the precautions with containing liquids. Convection works, as well as a lot of other things that you are used to here on earth. And if you're going to start growing food and vegetables and things, there's a lot less uncertainty about what you're trying to do if you have an artificial gravity. On the other hand, the work with Skylab was all in zero gravity. We had three guys up there on the last mission for about three months. After 84 days we saw no indication of anything that would stop us from going for significantly longer periods.
SB: How was it for them when they got back in 1-g?
Schweickart: Well, it was better for them than it was for the guys who stayed up a shorter time. They were in better condition than the crew who stayed up for 59 days, and they in turn were in better condition than the crew that stayed up for 28 days.
SB: Any explanation?
Schweickart: Yeah, there are two. One is that going from the shorter to the longer flights we increased the amount of exercise in each mission. We started out with a little over a half an hour per man per day. The second mission we went to about an hour per man per day. The third mission we went to about an hour and a half per man per day.
SB: This is just thrashing around in mid-air or playing with ropes or what?
Schweickart: Oh no. This is programmed physical exercise. Either riding a bicycle ergometer or running in place against a set of bungies on a teflon sheet, or arm exercises with a bungie, or various exercise devices we had. And putting out real work. Not just keeping limber but really putting out a hell of a lot of BTU's. As you do on earth, everybody felt subjectively much better after the exercise. They felt more invigorated, more energetic, more wide-awake, all the same things, except I guess you might say in spades compared with here on earth, because we put out a lot of work just sitting. In weightlessness, everything is floating, and you really power down. Your muscles are doing nothing. Here on earth just reacting against gravity, sitting up in a chair, walking around, getting the coffee, is a lot of work that you just take for granted.
The other reason is that we found that you reach in some sense a low point in the adaptation process somewhere around 21 days. If you look at all of the various physiological parameters - heart rate versus work, oxygen uptake, red blood cell count, heart rate and electrocardiogram under various stress conditions, they all have a different time history in their adaptation. But you could say that at something like 21 days you kind of reach a low point, and then begin returning to basically a pre-flight condition. Gerry Carr on the third mission actually came back at about the same weight he launched at. Body weight is a good indicator. It decreases and then goes back up. Subjectively you bottom out in about a day or two with space sickness, and then start coming back.
SB: Was that your experience?
Schweickart: I put my own reactions off by not moving around for about two days, so I had about a day to two-day lag in there which I found out afterwards is not the right thing to do, but we didn't know it at the time. Basically you find that you physically feel the worst after about a day or two, and then from there on you feel a lot better. That's quite noticeable. But the things which you aren't aware of continue on this trend for several days, or in some cases weeks, and then start coming back up again.
SB: What's the effect on dreaming?
Schweickart: None that we know of. We measured the sleep in Skylab and the basic observations are that not only do you end up getting about the same amount of sleep but the same proportion of sleep is spent at the different stages and in REM sleep.
SB: How about dream content?
Schweickart: I don't think anybody ever consciously tried to do any analysis of dream content. Most of the guys aren't the kind of people who even recall their dreams on earth let alone up there, and nobody seriously proposed trying to train anyone to recollect their dreams or wake them up during REM sleep or something like that to recount dreams.
SB: Did you have anything?
Schweickart: No. I'm not even aware that I dreamt at all, but that's true here on earth too.
SB: Let me get back to grand strategy for a minute. I've found that a lot of people who don't like space colonies because it will take money from other things get real interested if they think that space colonies might take money from the Department of Defense. That's a trade-off they'll accept. Do you see any practicality in that?
Schweickart: I don't know. That's so wrapped up in the nature of man, Stewart. It's difficult. That's the dream of an awful lot of people. It's certainly mine. A lot of people have written statements or comments about that as a concept. I just don't see any . . . Angola is a great example. We just had one of the worst lessons in our life in Viet Nam, and yet here we are in Angola messing around, and it's only the Congress yelling and screaming which has forced the Administration to back out of it. This system is so oriented and conditioned to the idea of having to protect itself from other nation states that I'm not optimistic. I wish I couId be.
SB: At least the Congress is resisting this time. They didn't before.
Schweickart: Yeah, I think they've gotten the message a little bit better maybe than the CIA and other people. I don't think that Congress is any smarter or any better intentioned than anybody else. The real difference is that Congress is accountable and the CIA is not accountable. The Administration is every four years, but even then it's not as accountable as the Congress is, and that's really the major difference. The people of the country have learned a lesson in Viet Nam, and they're gonna ensure that Congress knows it. The CIA and all the rest of DOD, the whole government (NASA included, NASA's no different, it's only that we're not responsible for national security) - if you don't have direct accountability you're going to keep going in the way that your momentum vector is pointed, and that is what we've been doing for a couple hundred years come July.
SB: NASA's not as subject to that as CIA or DOD I guess.
Schweickart: Not as much. But we're a bureaucracy too, there's no question of that. I'm not starry-eyed about that. I'm thankful that we've got a lot of bright people but I'm sorry that we don't have too many visionaries. I almost cried the day Von Braun left. Do you know Jesco van Puttkamer?
SB: No, who's that?
Schweickart: Jesco came from Germany but I think he's not old enough to have been associated with the original Peenemunde crowd. He went to Marshall Space Flight Center and worked for Von Braun, and he now has come to NASA headquarters in Washington. I forget what his title is, but he's basically responsible for advanced planning in the Office of Space Flight, which used to be the Office of Manned Space Flight. He's the guy in NASA who is charged with looking at O'Neill's stuff and other concepts like that. The long-range planning for NASA.
Anyway Jesco took his planning, which goes out through the year 2000, and some very nice graphs and slides, and went up to the Star-Trek conference in Chicago. He went to attend it, really. Well, they asked him if he'd show his presentation, and he said he'd be willing, and they said all right, we'll get a room and you can put it on. Five thousand people attended the damn thing, and he ended up putting it on two or three times because of the interest. I heard his presentation back about two months ago, and it was the first thing I've seen in NASA in a long while that really lit my candle. Jesco's got a very nice way of saying that you don't justify a trip to Mars or a space station around Jupiter right off the bat. But looking at the logical stepping stones that allow you to do it you find that each one of them has real practical value and will justify itself on practical grounds. The way in which he brings that across is very nice, because it takes all the work that he is doing in long range planning and it says it isn't just dreaming, it causes you to think about the process and where it's going and what it will permit you to do. I'm so excited about O'Neill's project because it presents a challenge that's worthy of interest and time and energy on the part of young people, where so much of what we're doing is sort of the drudgery of space flight. We're trying to extract a practical value out of a communications satellite and those kinds of things, which are useful, which are good, which I have nothing at all against, but which are not the kind of a challenge which is going to cause somebody to climb Mount Everest.
SB: Well, we're hearing from quantities of those young people. They're in high school or they're in college, and they wonder what they're supposed to study to be of use. What do you tell them?
Schweickart: I generally point towards the sciences. The number of people who are going to be up there - it's something like airlines. You've got a lot of passengers in the back and you've got about three or four people up front who are doing the flying. After all, the glory days are gone in a sense. There's a lot of exploring left, and there's a lot of room for the individual, but the fact of the matter is that when we start operation of the shuttle we're going to have bus drivers and we're going to have passengers. That's a very unglamorous way to put it, but the flying is going to rapidly move toward routine, and the exciting thing is going to be what's done up there in that new environment. That's where the volume is going to be. You can transport a hell of a lot of people with a fleet of ten buses and 20 bus drivers.
SB: What are the passengers going to be doing?
Schweickart: They're going to be doing earth observing of all kinds - meteorology, oceanography, earth resources, forestry, agriculture (both in space and observing earth features for agricultural benefits). They're going to be doing all different types of astronomy - radio astronomy, optical astronomy, a whole new infra-red and ultra-violet astronomy, areas of the spectrum which aren't even open yet. They're going to be doing things like materials processing - operations where weightlessness is involved in the process, or very large capacity high-vacuum operations. Things that actually directly utilize the characteristics of the space environment. That whole realm of metallurgy and biological research into the effects of weightlessness on living organisms and materials. God, it just opens wide up. Anybody in almost any kind of physical science or engineering I think is going to be involved. The things in which I don't see direct involvement are the social sciences and the arts, at least in terms of government sponsorship. Now, when we get to taking passengers, I hope to hell we have a lot of artists and poets and other people going up.
SB: Here's a datum for you. As you know, our contributors are mostly environmentalists and are mostly against Space Colonies. But our graphic artists are almost universally for them-people like Arthur Okamura, Dean Fleming, Steve Durkee.
Schweickart: Where is Durkee now? Is he still in New Mexico at the Lama Foundation?
SB: Yeah. Do you know him?
Schweickart: Well, I've got a very good friend who's one of his best friends, who runs a thing for the University of New Mexico. It's a sort of a retreat near Taos at the D.H. Lawrence ranch. The Lama Foundation sits right down the road from them, and Al does a lot of sort of free labor for them, advice on mechanical things. Anyway, through Baba Ram Dass (Be Here Now) and Durkee's work with the Lama Foundation putting out the book, I developed an interest, but I've lost track the last few years.
SB: Do you know Ram Dass?
Schweickart: I don't know him personally, but I sure know his stuff. I've been following the guy since he was Richard Alpert at Harvard.
SB: We'll have to try to get you guys together some time.
Schweickart: I'd love to. We have a lot of common interests I know that. You know, I never really wrote you back a letter and said anything to you, but it's on my tongue right now, and I think the kind of stuff you're doing with CQ is absolutely fantastic.
SB: Thank you!
Schweickart: I'm not trying to pull your head up, but I think very much of the kind of stuff that Bill Thompson's trying to do with Lindisfarne, the kind of thing that you're doing, the Steve Baers, the whole thing that you're wrapped up in there, and I sort of vicariously have one foot into it while the other one is still in the system.
SB: Vicariously, hell. You probably detected me going into interview mode a while ago.
Schweickart: Yeah, I was kind of chuckling about it.
SB: I put a tape on to be sure that I was getting a few things right that you were saying, and realized that I was hearing more good stuff than I've heard in months. What I could do if you're at all interested is work up a transcript of what we've been saying and let you look at it and see how you feel about it, and if it seems publishable, I'd love to do that, because what you're saying adds a whole other level of reality to this discussion. Mostly people are talking in this issue about space colonies as if it were an academic debating point but nothing that's actually going to happen. It's all sort of hypothetical. Some of your discussion I think would help bring it so much right down to cases for people that it would keep that pressure on them that it really is possible.
Schweickart: I have no problem with that. If you think you can make something worthwhile out of it, that's fine. The point you made is very interesting, and it's one that I've seen happen within the space program in the eleven years or so that I've been associated directly with it. Even in something like the Apollo program, or right now the shuttle program, people go along every day spending ten hours a day putting tremendous amounts of energy into the engineering, the design, all the hassles that go into making something like that happen, and they'll go that way for a couple of years and then one day they'll have a trip to California or somewhere where the actual hardware is that they've been messing with and are so familiar with that they can't stand it, and they'll finally get to the point where they actually see the hardware, and all of a sudden this reality sets in. They've been fighting the budget battles before Congress, and they've been doing all the hard engineering trade-offs, and all those things for years, but it's academic even to them until one day suddenly they realize, "By God it's real." People have got to recognize that the Apollo concept when we started out back in 1962-63, with the idea of landing a man on the moon and coming back to earth, that was at least as far out as O'Neill's space colonies. And seven years later in 1969, the 20th of July, a damned good friend of mine named Neil Armstrong put his damned foot on the moon and said here we are.
SB: What was the point of reality producing for you?
Schweickart: I think it was when I started traveling out to Rockwell in Downey and actually sitting in that spacecraft in the middle of the night. We'd test equipment and go through the development stage for 24 hours a day, seven days a week during a lot of it, and you would literally spend half a day in the spacecraft testing components as they went in and running the whole thing through different kinds of system and sub-system tests. Inevitably in something like that you have short periods of testing and long periods of trouble shooting and holding, and in those periods you basically sit there with a lot of time to think about it. That's useful time, but at 3 o'clock in the morning you tend to just sit there and realize where you are. "Here I am, a kid off a farm in New Jersey, sitting at three o'clock in the morning in the middle of a spaceship, a year and a half away from flying this thing off the earth." You can rap on it, knock knock, and it hurts your knuckles, and it's real.
The same thing happens to pilots, at least it happens to me when I'm flying . I fly a couple hundred hours a year in high performance jet aircraft, and most of the time I'm busy getting somewhere, to a meeting, or a symposium or to a speech that I've got to make, or to something, and I'm thinking about the end point, the way you always do, but every once in a while it'll just be a spectacular night, and the milky way will be bright and the zodiacal light will be up, and the shooting stars are out, the whole place is a display. And you get to looking at it, and you say, ''God, look at me, here I am flying! I'm a man, a creature with two legs, and here I am with an absolutely unexcelled view of the heavens flying along at 40,000 feet in a jet airplane, on those little bitty wings out there behind me. What a miracle!" It is an exciting exhilarating thing. People do it too seldom. You can do that when you're driving a car, when you're walking, when you're just breathing, but when you're in an unusual circumstance it's a little easier to do.
SB: Is there any chance you'd be flying out here sometimes in February? O'Neill will be in California, and it would be interesting to try and get you and he and Governor Brown together.
1964, Moffett Field California. Schweickart flies simulated Gemini re-entry in the centrifuge.
Schweickart: I'd like that. Let's see how schedules work out. There is one suggestion I'd like to make to Gerry O'Neill. I sure would like to have the inhabitants of those colonies have a relationship with the cosmos and not just be totally internal, inward looking. Their rate of rotation is considerably slower than the rotating restaurant at Los Angeles Airport, so if you wanted to look out you would see all right. You could design underground restaurants and meditation chambers where you could have a nice meal looking over a railing at the star scope, or meditate sitting on the stars.
TABLE OF CONTENTS