Space Colonies Seminar

vademecum space colony, illustration by Dan Roam

Kerbal Space Program (KSP)

See our Saint Ann’s “Crash Course in Kerbal Rocket Flight” web page.

The game is incredible and has free demo: get your own copy from

RSS news feeds:

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Links Galore

My ‘space’ links, Al Globus (Orbital Space Settlement info including NASA’s 1975 study), Space Studies Institute, The Space Show (news with podcasts), NASA, National Space Society,,,, Living Universe Foundation,,,, Artemis Project,, Wikipedia re space_colonization,

Pie in the Sky?

(recent link bookmarks)

Could some of that limitless solar energy in outer space be safely beamed down to Earth, making us less hungry for oil, and less reliant on gas-burning cars and coal-burning power plants? Could we mine and manufacture iron, steel, aluminum, etc. in space instead of on our fragile planet? (See IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change).) [Besides, on Earth we receive only one billionth of the energy that our sun is sending out.] It would be a tremendous boost for health, environment, prosperity, sustainability, you name it, if these things could happen

In February 2007 I finished reading T.A. Heppenheimer’s 1977 book Colonies in Space, a lively book that suggests that space colonies could build solar collectors in space, using minerals from the moon, and using microwaves to send down (cheap?) energy. This book has inspired me to read more (especially Gerard K. O’Neill’s 1989 The High Frontier, Harrison Schmitt’s 2006 Return to the Moon, and Charles Cockell’s 2006 Space on Earth: Saving Our World by Seeking Others) and to start planning a high school seminar about Space Colonies, which asks whether space colonies are a possible, desirable investment in the future, while exploring some of the following topics.

--Mike Roam, Chairman of Computer Department at Saint Ann’s School, Brooklyn, New York.

Gerard K. O’Neill

Princeton physics professor Gerard K. O’Neill (1927-1992) did early space colony analysis (see his book The High Frontier, and the NASA studies (big pdf files) in 1975 and 1977) looking at energy, cost, and physics, asking the open-ended and unusual question, “Is the surface of a planet really the right place for an expanding technological civilization?” O’Neill helped found the Space Studies Institute.

Tests & Equipment

Learn the basics of rockets and space travel.

The International Space Station is an ongoing real-life test of life support, construction, long term health, and solar energy in space. (ISS overview, BBC). Various groups and nations are studying space-based solar collectors (NASA & Obama?) and microwave energy transmission [older article]. Submarines have been another way in which people have learned how to run life support systems in closed quarters. Nanotechnology, computers, and robots will undoubtedly play a huge part. (Hear speech with question and answer session by MIT’s Rodney Brooks (itunes free podcast), mentioning asteroids as a source of platinum (crucial for fuel cells for clean-burning hydrogen) and Nasa’s Mars rover robots. (I was fortunate enough to meet Steven Squyres, NASA’s “Athena Science Payload Principal Investigator”, who encouraged me to keep teaching young people about robots and science.)

Alternatives; CivIV & CivV

The Civilization IV & Civ V games, with their “manage a country” role-playing: the “Beyond the Sword” extension has “Final Frontier” civ-in-space scenario, there was a (now cancelled) “civ in space” scenario/modification …perhaps we could find or design another, or look into Galactic Civilizations. In CivIV the player is always choosing between alternatives while budgeting limited food, money, resources: in real life, are there better solutions (to climate change, environmental issues, war, poverty, illness) than space colonies?

Are space colonies just a technical “solution” to a behavior and population problem?

Space Colony Design Contests

There are annual space colony (also see NASA) and settlement design contests for high school students. (Mike’s brother Dan was commissioned by NASA to illustrate the 2006 winner “Vademecum”, shown above.) Here’s a basic space-exploration tutorial from 1961.

I found the following on “”: ”With the free version of Trimble’s “Sketchup” (formerly from google), you can create your own photorealistic textured 3D models. (These can be used in Google Earth.) Examples of SketchUp models are available in the 3D Warehouse. You can create, for example, spaceships.”

Buckminster Fuller

Buckminster Fuller, 2 who spent much of his life dreaming up technical projects that he hoped would improve life for all people. His 1981 book Critical Path ( summary) talks about planning for the future: what things (e.g. design, build & test rockets) have to be done to make other things (e.g. solar panels in space) possible in order to help solve problems (e.g. people fighting over limited energy resources)? Online (video interview with Fuller, 1974). “Future by Design” interview with Jacque Fresco

Ecological modeling for life support

Biosphere struggled in its early attempt to build a self-contained ecosystem. “Stella” is Systems Analysis software for modeling of systems such as financial investments, or world population/hunger/resource trends. There are a variety of analyses and models that try to look at the big picture of population growth versus food and resource supply. “Club of Rome” and “Malthusian” models vs. alternatives that make different (sometimes optimistic) assumptions about the use of alternative resources and high technology.

There is a lively range of disagreement and common interest between environmentalists and space exploration advocates (some say outer space is “pristine” and to be protected while others say it is apparently dead and ready to provide resources for life): overview, while astrobiologist Charles Cockell’s 2006 book “Space on Earth” (review) argues that they have shared goals (survival of many species) and should get along. (Cockell is chair of the Earth and Space Foundation, and was founding president of the Mars Club.)

Former astronaut-geologist and former Senator Harrison Schmitt has a recent book out (2006) called “Return to the Moon” which argues that the moon’s surface (“regolith”) is rich with Helium-3 which would be helpful for a clean kind of fusion energy machine.


Ray Kurzweil’s 2 forecast of a rapidly approaching technological “singularity2: not just a breakthrough but an escalating collection of breakthroughs in genetics, genomics, artificial intelligence 2, robotics, nano-technology, energy, “trans-human” implants, etc. There might be a chance to look into Stephen Wolfram’s “New Kind of Science” (which Kurzweil seems to underestimate).


I’d love to see or build some kind of argument web: an “argument map” visual chart of pro and con arguments, show-stoppers, counter-arguments, counter-counter-arguments, experts, citations, emotions.

Some questions:

Many more replies and counter-arguments are at the Space Settlement FAQ.


What are some of the possible benefits of cheap, clean, safe energy? Maybe sea-water desalinization plants for people without fresh water, for one thing? Create the wealth and education for all that usually leads to lowered reproduction rates? Stop burning coal and oil? Build more Cancer-research hospitals?

What are some of the possible problems of cheap energy? Super weapons? Space Weapons? Abuses of human rights?

Star brightness magnitude:

(not talking about Lindsay Lohan)

Space Law and Property