Man walked on the moon for the first time in 1969, but it wasn't long before we began seriously conceptualizing permanent life in space. In the summer of 1975, NASA's Ames Research Center together with Stanford University conducted a seminar which posited the sustainability of organic systems in huge self-sufficient cities orbiting the earth. The team of scientists, engineers, and artists envisioned vast galactic megastructures which would harvest sunlight to be used by the space colonies for industry or transmitted to earth by microwave beam. They then concluded that these solar stations could be built by the year 2000. Oh, how we've failed.
Working from the conceptual work of the Princeton physicist Gerard O'Neill, the NASA team designed a giant toroidal structure spanning a mile wide and hovering 250,000 miles above the earth. It could be entirely built from glass and steel made from ore mined on the moon, which, given the lack of gravity, could be easily hauled to the construction site. The structure would spin continuously to create gravitational conditions within its shell so as to sustain life in an earth-like state.
It would house up to 10,000 people and would be equipped with an agricultural system to feed them. Sunlight would flood the interiors at all times would be collected and used to power to station. NASA hoped that the colony "could be wonderful places to live; about the size of a California beach town and endowed with weightless recreation, fantastic views, freedom, elbow-room in spades and great wealth."
The researchers also developed two alternative designs for even more complex space colonies. The first, the Cylindrical Colonies, features two cylinders, each 20 miles long and 4 miles in diameter, with lush interior landscapes, complete with geographic nuances, like mountains, rivers, and flora, and space for millions of people. The second, the Bernal Sphere, is smaller, with a spherical living area 500-meters in diameter whose surface is lined with soil, trees, and single family homes over which a colossal structural apparatus whirred in a perpetual hum.
Interesting (note: hilarious) is the juxtaposition of visionary engineering and singular structural presence with the minutia of suburban life, from the fraudulence of the verdant hills and artificial rivers to the perversity of revivalist mini-mansions and polo-wearing inhabitants, who live in utter ignorance of the marvels at hand. Despite these conspicuous aberrations, the designs are a testament to the formation of creative work under the strain of historical pressures. The oil crisis of the 1970s provoked considerable amounts of research and experiments aimed not only at finding alternative sources of energy, but also fostering new ways of living. What will we do in our own time, when our lives have been colored by recession blues, thrust into turmoil by sociocultural inequalities, and destabilized by the gasps of a dying planet?
The Cylindrical Colonies
The Bernal Sphere