The forgotten story of Darrell Romick.
Romick’s concepts were described in some detail in a book called “Earth Satellites and the Race fo Space Superiority” by a young aerospace engineer named G. Harry Stine, written shortly before Sputnik (but published shortly afterward).
Like most engineers at the time, Stine assumed that rocketry would develop through the X-15 and follow-on x-vehicles to suborbital passenger ships and military reconnaissance ships and finally to orbital spacecraft. He acknowledged that it might be possible to get to space sooner using capsules on expendable missiles but warned that such an approach would be extremely expensive and so dangerous that it might be impossible to find volunteers.
Stine’s reasoning remains as valid today as it was then. Forget “New Space” and “Old Space.” What we need is Very Old Space.
What we need is for the space community to understand the basic driver of free enterprise: property ownership. Until they do, everything else is mental masterbation. This means anyone planning on conquering space needs to realize they can’t do it alone. They need millions of individuals conquering their little pieces of it as well.
There’s more in Popular Science, May 1956 on
Try this link.
Yes, there were many visionaries of space habitats before Dr. O’Neill. Here is a great image from Dandridge Cole’s “islands in Space” from 1963 that recalls the imagery of the O’Neill habitats.
Dr. O’ Neill’s one advantage was that he promoted his ideas in the gap after Apollo when folks were looking for the next step and also was successful in linking it to the emerging environmental movement as a counter to the Club of Rome view of the world. As a result he was the first space visionary most baby boomers were exposed to and so caught their imagination.
But many of the older visions for orbital space habitats, like those of Darrell Romick, Dandridge M. Cole, Isaac Asimov, John Desmond Bernal, were far more practical, both from the perspective of engineering and economics. It would be nice to see some group like the Space Studies Institute to start revisiting these earlier visionaries.
Dr. O’ Neill’s one advantage was… linking it to the emerging environmental movement
I don’t know why so many people cling to this idea. For 40 years, space buffs have been saying the environmental movement is “the natural ally” of the space movement, and for 40 years, the environmental movement has shown no interest in forming such an alliance.
Yes, Stewart Brand ran a few articles in his Co-Evolution Quarterly. Yes, Jacques Cousteau served on the board of directors of NSI. Yes, environmentalists have used one image from Apollo 8 in their marketing literature.
None of that is evidence of strong, or widespread, support. Compare the amount of money NASA spends on global warming and environmental monitoring to the amount it spends on space settlement. It should be obvious what the environmental movement is and isn’t clamoring for.
I agree. The environmental movement isn’t interested in technical solutions, they are interested into returning to a pre-industrial fantasy world. Space Settlements and a human race expanding to the stars are the exact opposite of their visions.
Nor is the government or public interested in space settlement. It doesn’t fit the agenda of government while the average American doesn’t see how any impact on them. That is why Space Settlements will only emerge when a business model is developed that requires neither government nor public support.
Its time to admit that 40 years of space advocacy pushing space settlement as a NASA goal has been a failure and move beyond it and NASA.
If you believe that environmentalists are really about improving the environment and making life better for everyone, then thinking of them as natural allies to the cause of opening up space makes sense. If you understand that the environmental movement is really about surrendering control to a group of self-appointed elites (the main thesis of the Club of Rome) then it doesn’t. O’Neill’s mistake was in not understanding that.
Yes, there is a lot that Dr. O’Neill didn’t understand about environmentalists, economics and the history of human settlement. That is why the idea disappeared from the mainstream so quickly and individuals that supported as policy, like Gov. Jerry Brown (AKA Governor Moonbeam) got laughed it. And the idea of space settlement is still a joke today as the recent election showed when Rep. Gingrich proposed lunar settlement.
Not sure where my reply went from yesterday… But I agree 100%.
The modern environmental movement came out of the anti-nuke movement (BTW note how O’Neill habitats are solar powered instead of nuclear as most other proposed space settlements were?) and so was very much against technology and technological solutions so expanding humans into space was the very opposite of what the environmental movement advocated.
The environmental movement is anti-space settlement. They do not want to spread the disease known as humans to pristine worlds or locations. The modern environmental movement is not about protecting the environment but about control and is inherently anti-human. Spreading into space would loosen their bonds on us and allow the human race to flourish far beyond where we are today.
As the fourth principle of deep ecology notes, “the flourishing of human life and cultures is compatible with a substantial decrease of the human population. The flourishing of nonhuman life requires such a decrease.”
Today, they recognise that the methods with the best track records of reducing population growth are, by their nature, respectful and promoting of human rights.
Yes, the “deep ecologists” are indeed the enemy of space settlement and any technological solutions which help human population flourish. They have no interest in any solution that enables the continued of expansion and progress of humanity.
Dwayne Day did a good analysis some year ago of the rise and fall of the idea of Dr. O’Neill’s habitats.
I think perhaps a bigger problem was the obvious difficulty in building [i]anything[/i] in space for less than billions of dollars, given that launch costs didn’t drop. Did any early space visionary think we’d only have three people living in something like the ISS after [i]sixty years[/i]?
If launch costs had been vastly lower, Dwayne Day’s analysis that the public just wasn’t that interested wouldn’t have been the limiting factor because only a small fraction of the public would’ve been needed to carry out the project. The idea of coming to America never really caught on with most Europeans for centuries, then it had a few spurts, then died out again. It didn’t matter, because tickets were cheap and settlement only required a small fraction of Europeans to get the idea of immigrating in their head. But where settlement costs are high and transport is difficult, it doesn’t much matter if everyone gets the bug, few people are going to make the trip.
Actually there are two ways to attack the launch cost issue. One is the brute force way the space community has used in the last forty years of trying to work the rocket equation to get costs dirt cheap (CATS).
The second is to accept the high costs and find ISRU solutions so that the only mass you need to lift from the Earth’s deep gravity well are humans, biological seed stock and the start up technology.
Unless you get some breakthrough in rocket engine technology or start getting serious about economies of scale (think Sea Dragon), the second is the far more practical way. Not only is the research and development costs for ISRU an order of magnitude cheaper that CATS, but there are potential off ramps to true commercial revenue generation that eliminates the need for government funding or even government involvement.
But unfortunately most space advocacy is inspired by aerospace engineers so everything looks like a question of launch costs and slikc new rocket designs instead of a question of reducing the mass needed to be lifted out of the Earth’s gravity well.
A three-stage, fully reusable launch vehicle with fly-back capability? That sounds familiar. “Economics + The Rocket Equation” only has so many solutions I guess, until someone figures out laser-launch or builds a Space Pier I guess.
The big problem with Rommick’s space station (and Von Braun’s, too) is that there was no real thought about what all those people would be doing there.
O’Neill was one of the first (if not the first) to think about the economic aspects of the colony. Unfortunately, the economy he envisioned was dependent on a single product (solar power satellites), which led to a single-point failure.
Dr. O’Neill wasn’t the first. Dandridge M. Cole in his Islands in Space” based his space settlements on a much more realistic economic justification of mining asteroids and sending the raw materials to Earth while transforming the asteroids mined out into space habitats. Of course in the early 1960′s every one assumed asteroids would be solid rocks.
Dr. O’Neill’s SSP proposal was part of his reaching out to the environmental movement which hated nuclear power even more than fossil fuel. He was offering them a clean alternative that didn’t use any resources from Earth. Of course the environmentalists were not impressed as they weren’t looking for technological solutions that didn’t involved getting rid of 95 percent of the human population and forcing the rest to live in a “sustainable” agricultural utopia.
The other reason of course was that if you were dependent on the government providing the hundreds of billions of dollars needed to build an O’Neill habitat you had to offer the government something to justify it. Massive solar power satellites fit the bill well. Both linked together would make a project well suited to the same government funded program that produced Apollo. Planned communities building government owned power stations, an idea that would make any Soviet Central Planner drool with anticipation
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