Friday, May 12, 2006

Space Colony Art from the 1970s

A couple of space colony summer studies were conducted at NASA Ames in the 1970s. Colonies housing about 10,000 people were designed. A number of artistic renderings of the concepts were made. These have been converted to jpegs and are available as thumbnails, quarter page, full screen and publication quality images.

(Via Boing Boing.)

I distinctly remember coming across some of these illustrations in my childhood -- back when such ideas were still being half-seriously considered (thanks to thinkers like Gerard O'Neill, whose manifesto I wouldn't read until out of college) -- and absolutely yearning. That torch hasn't completely died. Thanks to plausible devices like carbon nanotube space elevators, we're in a position to realize some of O'Neill's visions; it's not impossible that I'll wind up living in an ecologically lavish space colony . . . especially if medical science can prolong my lifespan to a healthy 150 years or more.

Of course, there are darker prospects to consider. Assuming we eventually build space habitats capable of housing many thousands, how fun will it be if the Earth is a toxic cinder? O'Neill's "high frontier" may turn out to be more like an orbital refugee camp, inundated with the victims of contamination and swelling coastlines.


Chris said...

OMG, a new favorite bookmark. One of the first things that would have to go in a space colony would be burials of course. Cremation would be right out too - waste of resources. We'd be recycled at death. I wonder what effect that would have on human culture and the individual psyche? If you know that you're going to be recycled eventually for the good of the community, maybe that would tend dampen personal egomaniacal tendencies in life. It seems like true classical kibbutzim-style socialism would be the only culture that could work in that kind of environment.

W.M. Bear said...

It seems like true classical kibbutzim-style socialism would be the only culture that could work in that kind of environment.

It is interesting to speculate about what kinds of social structures will come out of space and lunar-planetary colonization. I'd like to think that it would be some form of truly democratic (as opposed to bureacratic) socialism. At the very least, though, one would think that current problems such as poverty, unemployment, and war would be almost automatically eliminated. One thought, though -- such colonies would be extremely vulnerable to terrorism of any sort. There would inevitably be conflict (it seems to me) and a native (to the space colony) terrorist would be technologically highly sophisticated in terms of the means that he or she would have available to wreak widespread devastation.