23 thoughts on “Bezos’s O’Neillian Vision”

    1. I saw the picture and thought, “Dr O’Neill certainly looked different back then!” But hey, at least they didn’t use a picture of Richard Dean Anderson, whose SG-1 character also spelled O’Neill with two L’s.

      Having watched the video, I’m more at ease with their design decisions than I was upon first seeing the lander.

      The davit system isn’t bad, but he’s landing the second-story garage floor along with the vehicles. I think he could probably save weight on an upgraded model by going to two engines at opposite ends of a truss, suspending the cargo underneath, somewhat similar to NASA’s sky crane descent module for the Mars Curiosity rover, but with legs. I’d also slightly cant the engines out for landing to avoid dust ricochets onto the cargo.

      The sky crane used four engines, as did the Eagle landers on Space 1999. That seems the sensible thing for stability, but if you can land balanced on one engine, then you can land balanced on only two, as long as you have good throttle control, so four engines are redundant.

      That gets rid of the garage floor, the davits, the davit pivot mechanism and motor, and the winches, and instead the cargo is just dropped a foot or so to the surface. I would probably call that the “Amazon Prime delivery option”.

      However, I think one of the big advantages his lander has over competing designs (and non-existent designs that require a government rocket that might never get launched), is that he’s actually going to build and land it, which is an important design aspect that has been neglected for the past fifty years.

      I would also say that if I saw a fundamental flaw in his business case or development program, one so serious to call his whole program into question, I wouldn’t tell him about it because even if he’s mistaken on his revenue model for building a space infrastructure, he’s still building a space infrastructure. If something goes south, other people will buy that space infrastructure at fire sale prices at a bankruptcy auction, and we’re still way better off than not having any infrastructure.

  1. I have a book by Brian O’Leary. I think it is called The Fertile Stars. It is about mining the Moon, and the asteroids. I also have Gerard O’Neill’s book The High Frontier. I think building O’Neill space colonies could be sooner than Bezos thinks. We start building small ones in LEO first, and then larger ones in L4, and L5. And use 3D printers to build them.

    1. If much smaller than what O’Neill proposed, and what Bezos is showing in pictures, it’s just a space station. Nothing wrong with that, you have to start somewhere. Back in the 1950s, Isaac Asimov proposed asteroid habitats (which he called “spomes”), a concept later popularized by Larry Niven and others. That’s a more likely path, coupling resources to result. Asimov thought it’d eventually lead to generation ships (a spome with its own propulsions). Putting O’Neill cylinders aside, I think Bezos is right in some ways. I think the space fairing civilization to come will emerge from space industrualization. The robot-repairmen of Titan won’t be able to commute and will want to have their families with them at the jobsite. Some will stay for their whole career, and that’s a sort of colony. There was a 1950s Winston juvenile called “Trouble On Titan” by Alan E. Nourse, that describes exactly this. Maybe Bezos should read it. I wonder if Musk has?

      1. It’s larger than a space station. It would house 3,000 people, and have a mass of 8,500 tons. It would be placed in LEO. The name of it is called Kalpana One. This is something that can be built now. Here is a video of it.
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hingjP-BmvA
        There is talk of using 3D printers to make space station modules. But before we do that, we need to start with something simpler.

        Mobile Work Cages.
        An MWC would be a cage that is kept on the outside of the space station. The cage would be in the shape of a dome, or a sphere. When astronauts work outside the space station, they would work inside the cage. If a line should break, and the astronaut floats away, he would be in a cage, and will not go far from the space station. If he loses a tool, or a part, that tool, or part will be in the cage. It would not cause any damage to a satellite, spacecraft, or space station.

        Later on, you build cages around space stations. These will protect the space station from space debris. At the ends where you have a docking port, is where you would have an opening.
        Then you start printing space station modules. After that, you print space settlements.

        1. Quibbling the definition of “space colony,” to me Kalpana One is just a very large space station. And while it may be technically “possible,” I think there are many reasons why its not feasible.

          First of all, imagine the regulatory environment where any person or group, no matterhow wealthy, would be permitted to place a 17 million pound object in low earth orbit, staff it with 3,000 people and then… what? Have an accident? The day after the proposal surfaced, the New York Times would show a Von Brain space wheel falling in flames on New York City.

          What you’re talking about here is disassembling a Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyer, crating it up, launching it to LEO, and reassembling it in zero-gee. Then, when it’s up there and working, shipping up half the crew of a nuclear aircraft carrier. It’s not impossible, but who would do it, and why? And if you decided to build it anywhere else but LEO, the space-faring civilization would have to exist to provide the necessary infrastructure. O’Neill knew that, which is why he specified lunar resources and mass drivers.

          Things like this have to pass a sort of “mundane giggle factor” test. Space cadet love them, but most other people will laugh when they hear about it. It’s like when space types confifently talked about 39 day passages to Mars with VASIMR spaceships. But when you looked at the details, it required either a 600 ton nuclear reactor (good luck with that!) or solar panels the size of a suburban shopping mall parking lot (i.e., a “mile-long spaceship”). Kalpana One is the same.

          SpaceX StarShip passes the mundane giggle factor because it’s not gigantically bigger than things that have already flown into space (Saturn V, Shuttle, and maybe STS), has a familiar look to it (it actually looks like the Star Spear from “Tom Swift and his Rocket Ship”) and doesn’t involve any new technology. Everything it’s made of is in many home kitchens.

          I’m not saying these will never exist, just that they will only exist if it turns out we really need them. Maybe Maternity Stations for Asteroid Belt workers. One around Saturn for the Titan miners, etc. Or maybe not, because who knows what advanced medicine will show up? Or maybe in a thousand years or so, they’ll be called generation ships.

          1. It’s a bit early to worry about space colony design, as that’s about a hundred design iterations in the future, but I will mention some changes that will have to be made to the O’Neill designs. One is that in more recent thinking, the long cylinder designs have been rejected because of a problem with precession of the axis due to an instability in the dynamics. Those also had the problem of staying lined up with the sun, so O’Neill tethered two of them together, which would be a serious engineering problem.

            Those big greenhouse windows are another problem. I quick look at the ISS Cupola windows says that just won’t work. The cupola has the largest window ever flown in space, at 31 inches, and it has a total seven windows, each with four panes, and they’ve already had to replace a pane. Here’s a quick look at those windows. Assuming you used square windows 30” on a side, and were using side illumination in a one mile diameter colony that was one mile long, you’d need 7 million windows, made up of 28 million panes, and probably a hundred million threaded fasteners, plus frames, seals, and all the rest. And once installed, you have to inspect them, over and over, looking for chips, cracks, wear, and leaks, forever.

            And of course you have to guard against major failure, such as when a moron lets something heavy drift into them. If all a window’s pressure panes are ruptured, the air goes streaming out and it will create a vortex.

            So you’ve got a tornado on the inside of the colony, and nobody will be able to approach the area until the hole is sealed. Compared to the small pressure differentials that start an Earth tornado, which only drop about 100 millibars at the core, one driven by a full vacuum might be severe indeed. In the confined space, it might reach to the opposite side of the station. Of course Coriolis forces might bend it over like the Gateway Arch in St Louis, too, but I didn’t do any modeling on it. The physics might be quite interesting.

            In any event, a tornado could suck up objects like cars, cows, or red shirts, and suck them toward the breach in a spiraling vortex. Those big heavy objects will probably start breaking more windows in a catastrophic and cascading failure.

            That’s a problem, and one so interesting that I was thinking of writing a science fiction story around it. I figured nobody would be dumb enough to just go with unprotected windows, so my idea was to balance a big heavy metal shutter on its edge, right beside each window. Since the more basic mirror designs always have light streaming in vertically (with no attempt to replicate sunrise or sunset), the metal shutter wouldn’t block much light. If the window fails, the force of the air rushing towards the breech will tip the shutter over. The shutter’s own weight, and the colony’s internal pressure, will force it to close and seal. Then the breach becomes just a low-priority window repair problem.

            But I came to realize that the whole greenhouse window design was horribly problematic. It’s far easier to just build a simple metal shell with radiation protection from slag and dirt, and then use concentrating mirrors and light tubes to bring the light in, or use regular solar cells feeding internal LED lighting.

            Nowadays I’d probably suggest a ceiling made like super-bright jumbo-tron that could not only make a fake sun that moved across the sky, but gave it varying color, and perhaps displaying fake clouds and even birds. The best feature of the jumbo tron idea is that the colonists could be woken up each morning by a giant video of Jeff Bezo’s giving them a motivational pep talk and telling them that the air they breathe isn’t exactly free.

        2. Kalpan One should be made from lunar resources. A BFR can carry 150
          tons. It takes a BFR three days to travel from LEO, to the Moon. Then
          three days back. With a fleet of four BFR, you can transport 600 tons
          of resources to LEO a week. That’s about 30,000 tons a year. That’s
          enough to build three Kalpana One a year.
          After a few years, you then build a catapult. The catapult will weigh
          about 20,000 tons, and will launch about 20 million tons of resources
          a year.

          Now the BFR can carry about 850 passengers, and crew. Lets say about
          800 passengers, and 50 crew. The ticket price for a seat on a BFR
          would be about $2500, to about $4000.
          So, you build Kalpana Ones to serve as resorts. Each of these resorts
          would need to house 3,000 residents, and about 1500 tourist.

          The total package price for going to the orbital resort would be about
          $12,000 per person. That includes transportation, hotel cost, and
          meals. That would be the lowest fee. You would pay higher if you want
          a larger hotel room, or if you want to go on a space walk. That is
          where the cages would come in handy. While you are outside wearing a
          spacesuit, you are in a large cage. That’s to make sure that you don’t
          float away.

          If the resort has a casino, then they can make more money. More money
          can also be made from strip clubs, brothels, and massage parlors. Then
          there’s also movie, and TV production.

          Now, lets suppose that a trip to LEO, and one week stay, cost $12,000.
          How many people would be able to travel to LEO each year? How many
          people world wide can afford that?

          And you don’t have to pay the full amount at once. You can make $100
          payments every two weeks, for five years. After that, you go on your
          trip to a LEO resort.

          If we go back to the Moon by 2024, then we can start building Kalpana
          One by 2034. That’s 10 years after we return to the Moon.

  2. I think I missed the part of Jeff Bezo’s presentation where he explained how his blue lander will complement what NASA will be doing with Orion and their own lander, both flying on the SLS. I’m sure it’s in there, though, otherwise the SLS might seem a bit redundant.

    1. I honestly have not heard anything yet about NASA building a lander.
      If they do plan on building one (?) that would seem to rule out 2024, as I cannot fathom them doing it that fast.

      Are they planning on dusting off the plans for the Altair lunar lander? Hrmm, might be hard, because if I remember right, they never got beyond conceptual plans for that.

      Bezos’s lander might be the only game in town, unless SpaceX can get Starship working.

      1. They’ve probably got one or two of those old Grumman landers they could dust off and upgrade, replacing and upgrading only all the electrical components and solenoid valves, a task that should only take them about ten years.

        I think the biggest bombshell Bezo’s dropped was simply that he was going to the moon, probably by 2024, and he was going to stay. That leaves NASA in a difficult position, because why should they be spending tens of billions of taxpayer dollars on a mission that’s redundant, late, and unimportant to the main lunar development effort?

        I’m sure NASA folks are all over this, because to maintain their program’s relevance and political viability, they’ll have to rapidly respond to the changed landscape. So how can their program integrate with Blue Origin’s plans, what role might SpaceX also play, and what key components and capabilities can the SLS offer, if any? If Bezos is developing lunar resources, should NASA concentrate on some other mission for the SLS?

        It reminds me a little bit of IBM trying to respond to Acer, Dell, and a host of other faster, cheaper companies, where the future is hitting their top-heavy bureaucracy in the face faster than their management pyramid can even decide how to react.

        One of the first things NASA might have to do is weed out any managers suffering from a terminal case of Not-Invented-Here syndrome.

        1. –I think the biggest bombshell Bezo’s dropped was simply that he was going to the moon, probably by 2024, and he was going to stay.–

          How much does it cost to stay.
          I think Bezo should send first lander the lunar polar region.
          And he does not even have to successful land the lander- just get pictures fairly close to the lunar surface.

          I would try to land on a peak of ethereal light. Or try to find a landing zone on the best or better peaks of ethereal light.

          1. Best peak of ethereal light is most constant direct “radio contact” with Earth. Plus most sunlight. Plus somewhere close to location which might have most minable lunar water. And good location for communication to rest of the polar region.
            Not sure where that is, but contact with Earth [or satellites in earth orbit] should be fairly important.

      2. All I have seen is a COTS like approach to sourcing landers of different sizes that will eventually be large enough for humans.

  3. If StarShip works out, then it may be SLS – Orion – Gateway – Blue Moon will be the last old-style crewed space program. Maybe the Chinese will stay the course as planned, but with Russian engine technology and Chinese money, a Sino-Russian program could play catch-up. I also hope Bezos will use the profits from BE-4 (Vulcan engines), New Glenn, and Blue Moon to proceed to New Armstrong immediately after New Glenn is flying. It could be a large first stage with a heavily modified New Glenn first stage on top (i.e, something like StarShip). He’d still be 10 years behind Musk, but that’s better than where he is now.

    1. Hopefully Blue Moon is not dependent on SLS because the writing is on the wall and it isn’t pretty for SLS. There are only a couple things they want to use SLS for and things they wanted to use SLS for could be handed out to other launchers.

      It looks like BO is positioning to be a traditional government contractor. I wouldn’t expect them to do too much on their own until they have captured government to a significant degree.

  4. More recently, 2013’s Elysium starring Matt Damon and directed by Neill Blomkamp is a film which depicts the “haves” living in a paradise-like space colony and the “have-nots” stuck on Earth dealing with a planet ravaged by climate change and centuries of pollution. While O’Neill colonies sound positively utopian, are we missing the downside?

    Sure, humans will be humans but the premise for this movie was stupid. A technology so common that every house in the rich space neighborhood would have one would also be common on Earth. Even if it wasn’t in every house, there would be several in every hospital, clinic, and doctor’s office.

    Zombies are a symptom of the age of dystopia and they are on the way out. There will always be things to fear but soon people will be waking up to the scam of gullible warming. I think we will see a shift from the doom and gloom to a more positive view of the future within the coming years. But it is tough to say when because dystopian media is tied so close to Marxism and Marxism is ascendant on the left.

    1. I tend to think every age has a monster into which people sublimate their fear of personal death. Post WW1 it was bombers carrying poison gas, then ICBMs, then acid rain, and now AGW.

      1. Maybe we should not send people to Mars or return anything from Mars to Earth. Maybe it is a real monster.

        I don’t think there much chance of life on Mars and if there was it probable that it would something life the large amount life which 1 mile under the ground on Earth. Which we know very little about and no one seems to worry about that life being any kind of threat.
        But one can not rule out all possiblities, mars life may just alter Earth life- earth life might”find” something useful about incorporating Mars life. And that might not be useful to humans.

        As Glenn says:
        ” Human beings are germ condominiums–there are more bacteria living in your body than there are human cells, making you outnumbered in your own skin”
        So I mean that those bacteria living in your body might interact with Mars “germs” or all the massive amounts of “germs” outside human bodies may interact and then interact with “germs”inside the human body, or whales, lizards or trees.
        It very small risk and possible mars “germs” have already reached Earth more than a billion years ago.
        Small risk, and damage could be quite small even if there was a risk.
        But do we need to live on Mars anytime soon?
        Mercury is probably more likely to be like the Moon- lifeless.

        What is difference between Mercury and Mars.
        Higher delta-v to get to Mercury, but not higher delta-v to leave Mercury. Shorter travel time to Mercury, shorter travel time from Mercury to Earth. Shorter travel time from Mercury to Mars, shorter time than Earth to Mars.
        Shorter travel time from Mercury to outer worlds [or inner worlds].
        Mercury lacks the 25 trillion tonnes of CO2- Mercury not a good place to grow crops.
        Mercury is warmer and one can control temperature easily in polar region. So can have passive cryo freezer of below 100 K and fairly easy to have “passive” hot furnace.
        Could have billions of tons of mineable water and have lots of solar energy for electrical generation.
        Mercury is pretty good if you have Nuclear Orions. Nuclear Orions could go from Lunar surface to Mercury. But landing them on Mars would have same problem of using to land or leave with the Earth surface.

        I don’t think NASA should mine lunar water, but what about NASA assembling a Nuclear Orion on the moon.
        Sure it might cost a trillion dollars, but it might be worth it.
        And I don’t think the private sector going to building Nuclear Orions any time soon.

        1. There are a very few good zombie novels, where the subject is treated as hard SF. One example that I thought of offhand is State of Decay, by James Knapp. The zombies are technologically reanimated corpses, originally created to serve as “unkillable” infantry, but then a black marker forms for laborerers and sex slaves. It has a certain amount of “ew” factor, but it’s pretty good noir SF. I’ve written a fair amount about sex robots and the like, but this made me ask myself if I’d like a nice, sexy dead girl. Reminded me of a wisecrack I once made. Somebody asked me what I looked for in a woman, and I snarked, “A pulse.”

        2. I think three different threads combined to create the modern zombie: Passing the infection with a bite (which also shows up with vampires), reanimated corpses, and the dead eating the living.

          I’ve read that the bite fears might originate from rabies outbreaks in cities like Paris. Animals would go crazy and bite humans, and then the humans would die a slow excruciating death, finally lapsing into delusions before they passed. So the thought was, what if the humans went crazy and started biting people, and the disease spread that way? But those weren’t dead people, just people driven mad by an infection transmitted by a bite.

          The zombie concept of living dead or re-animated corpses is very old and entered the English language as “zombie” from Haiti, having arrived there from Africa. But those zombies involve voodoo and witchcraft and are undead turned into slaves, or astral spirits that wander the Earth, not brain eaters, and they couldn’t transmit the state via a bite like a vampire could.

          This idea of reanimated corpses shows up with Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and in some works by Edgar Allen Poe and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and were taken further by H.P. Lovecraft.

          George Romero added the brain eating part in Night of the Living Dead, but I think in his version the newly killed reanimated because they’d been killed, not just because they caught some infection.

          Interestingly, the idea of a god raising the dead to eat the living shows up in Gilgamesh, so it’s been around for a very long time.

          One of the main reasons to proceed with space settlement is that space stations provide a good vacuum gap against zombie outbreaks, as the different stations don’t exchange air or water and zombies can’t pilot a spacecraft. If some kind of infection went undetected until it was within a colony, the undead could be kicked out of an airlock. If that’s problematic, just have the living inhabitants put on their space suits and vent the whole station, on the theory that even zombie cells need oxygen for muscle energy, and then drag them into the airlocks.

          Even an animated corpse has no viable deep space propulsion method, so they won’t return except perhaps as part of an intersecting elliptical orbit, which could be avoided by maneuvering the colony just a bit. Once in space, their cells would freeze, desiccate, sublimate, and get blasted apart by the intense UV radiation from the sun.

          So it shouldn’t be a major problem even in an infected colony, and most colonies wouldn’t even be affected because transport between colonies would be in space ships that don’t automatically fly themselves.

          In contrast, the entire Earth seems to get overrun in weeks, which is yet another reason we need to move off planet.

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