22 May 2009

What Ever Happened to Space Colonies?

Posted by Ryan Anderson


There’s a very interesting article up at The Space Review, taking a look at the optimistic view of the future of space exploration that people had in the 70s and discussing why it never caught on. Where are the space colonies depicted in movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey? Go read the article to find out. Here’s a sample:

Asimov’s article, “The Next Frontier?” and illustrated by Pierre Mion, was written as a first-person account of a visit to an L-5 colony in the far-distant future of 2026. The account is mostly description: the National Geographic reporter is met by the colony’s director George Fenton, who shows him around and explains how everything works. Asimov experiences the gradual onset of simulated gravity as he travels from the arrival hub down a spoke to the colony’s rim. The colony is nearly 1,800 meters in diameter and houses 10,000 people.

Fenton shows him the farms and the industrial areas. He introduces the reporter to a rabbit meat hot dog and goat milk shake. He explains how the population is majority male, but they do have women, and families, and even a thousand children on the station. He shows the reporter a residential area and explains that the streets curve back and forth so that you cannot see them end and become disoriented. Fenton explains how the six segments of the torus are separated by airlocks in case of emergency. The colony is not completely self-contained but is working on it. They still import things from Earth, but most of their raw materials come from the Moon. And of course they recycle everything that they can; the reporter declines Fenton’s offer to tour the sewage plant.

Then of course there is the explanation of how all of this is possible. The manufacturing of solar power stations to supply Earth is a major economic driver, but “old news” according to Fenton. Instead, their newest industry is the growing of crystals and the manufacture of microcomputer circuitry. But, Fenton adds, for a long time to come the primary activity of the colonists will be building other colonies. Asimov adds that it will be a long time, if ever, before the population of the colonies exceeds the population of Earth.