Picard's third ear
August 19, 2010 4:57 AM   Subscribe

Space Settlements collects various resources relating to the human colonisation of space: online books (including NASA studies from 1975, 1977 and 1992), a contest for schoolkids (so NASA can steal their ideas, natch), but most importantly, kitschy 70s pictures of proposed space colonies (toroidal, spherical, OR cylindrical!).
posted by Dim Siawns (17 comments total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
Well, yeah, so NASA can steal their ideas, but the contest really inspires the kids competing. Particularly in really exam-driven school systems, this kind of contest encourages much needed outside-the-box thinking.

(Full disclosure: I taught and studied at the school that won the contest this year, although I have never had anything to do with the teams or their prep.)
posted by bardophile at 5:05 AM on August 19, 2010

Kitschy?! Those are non-ironically awesome and if I can't live in a universe that has them I wish I could at least live in a universe that didn't laugh at the idea of at least attempting to build them.
posted by DU at 5:19 AM on August 19, 2010 [8 favorites]

Agreed. This was inspirational fuel for me growing up. It represents a country/world that looks forward and upward.
posted by CarlRossi at 5:43 AM on August 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

This is great. I have actually been meaning to ask an AskMe question about where to find those NASA studies. I recall calling NASA as a kid when I was doing a report on designing a space station. I have no idea who I called, but they were incredibly snarky and dismissive, telling me that NASA was not in the business of science fiction. (This was in 1981 or so.) I still remember the feeling of righteous vindication I felt when I found the 1975 report linked here at the library. It was truly awesome.
posted by OmieWise at 5:51 AM on August 19, 2010

I remember seeing these vary same space colony pictures--or ones just like them--in the young adult science books hidden back in a dusty corner of children's services at my town's library. Back in third grade I just knew that this is what the future would look like & I was certain that one day soon I would get to live in a massive space station.

Later on I got around to reading the words next to these pictures and was very disappointed to find that all the proposed launch dates were well overdue.

Oh shinny paradise in the sky, I am ready for you!
posted by Hoenikker at 6:48 AM on August 19, 2010


posted by theodolite at 7:37 AM on August 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Woah, so cool. I actually have one of the books, it's called "Space Settlements: A Design Study" published by NASA in 1977 - (NASA SP 413) It's full of charts, graphs, and exactly these sorts of illustrations and I never really put it in context of all this other stuff. Thanks for posting!
posted by jardinier at 7:41 AM on August 19, 2010

I'm glad that in these futuristic space stations, we won't have to sacrifice our sprawling suburbs.
posted by Dr. Send at 8:05 AM on August 19, 2010

Must be a generational difference, I always knew that joke as 'Spock's third ear'.
posted by davelog at 8:29 AM on August 19, 2010

When I was a kid I had a UFO report magazine that had some of these illustrations with the slant "this is how we will live in the future and perhaps how aliens live now". The images were beautiful and breathtaking then and they still are today.

(or maybe it was in Omni or possibly both)
posted by fleetmouse at 8:32 AM on August 19, 2010

space stations! cool! definitely a great thing for kids to get interested in.

that being said, doesn't it seem like they're skipping a step? wouldn't it be a lot cheaper/easier/feasible to focus on colonizing planets, asteroids or moons first?

1) gravity (partial)
2) atmospheres and magnetic fields to protect from radiation and cosmic rays
3) easily accessible resources (metals, water, etc)

maybe floating freely in space just gives me the creeps
posted by kakarott999 at 9:35 AM on August 19, 2010

Mars Farming Gets Green Thumbs-Up
posted by homunculus at 9:40 AM on August 19, 2010

Artist Don Davis, previously on Metafilter.
posted by jayCampbell at 9:56 AM on August 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

wouldn't it be a lot cheaper/easier/feasible to focus on colonizing planets, asteroids or moons first?

Or, indeed, the top of Mount Everest, or the Saraha Desert, or Antarctica. And therein lies the problem. The most inhospitable, barren, far-away place on Earth is easier/cheaper/more practical to colonise than anywhere else in the Universe. If you could conjure up another Earth a few light-minutes away, that would be a different matter. But they aren't there.

But that's approaching it the wrong way. Sure, we can't put humans on other planets. But we can put human civilisation there! Robots, machines, computers, factories, all using solar and nuclear power, swarming over the solar system, beaming us back news and views and knowledge. And one day probes heading off into the dark... We'll be in space, just not in the flesh.
posted by alasdair at 11:08 AM on August 19, 2010

wouldn't it be a lot cheaper/easier/feasible to focus on colonizing planets, asteroids or moons first?

If the primary human motivation were "whatever is easiest" we'd still be in the caves.
posted by DU at 2:15 PM on August 19, 2010

I believe Robert McCall may have done a few of those. Also probably a few John Berkeys in there. Let's not forget those guys.

And if you're trying to colonize away from Earth, it's certainly cheaper to build space colonies than to colonize any place that isn't the Moon. Everywhere else is really, really, really far away.

It would likely be much cheaper to build space colonies after we colonize the Moon, because its gravity well is so small. Physically easier to shoot raw or refined materials up to space from it. If we can figure out how to live safely and sustainably in large space colonies that are unprotected by the Earth's magnetic field (solar flares are thoroughly lethal if you get caught in one), then we can fly anywhere in the solar system in a relatively comfortable, mostly self-sufficient "home" rather than in tiny tin cans.

This is all sci-fi, really. We can't even figure out how to not ruin our own planet-sized biosphere, and the Bio-Dome experiments didn't go so well, I hear.
posted by zoogleplex at 10:32 PM on August 19, 2010

Way back in the ironic seventies, back when they weren't yet ironic, I was a bullied, marginalized, difficult child. The space program had collapsed amid the great national subsidence of the will, the most futuristic car they could come up with for less than zillionaire money was the Triumph TR7, and I had a subscription to Popular Science and Popular Electronics, with stacks of '50s and '60s-era Popular Mechanics (nerd stuff was apparently popular, then).

When the feather-haired antagonists with giant lime green Goody combs sticking out of the back pockets of their skin-tight Tuffskins would come a'calling, I'd duck out, taking refuge with my illustrated space science annuals and a stack of Popular-everything, and I went to those beautifully rendered space stations as my place where things could really, finally, be right.

By the time I got to Rendezvous With Rama, which I erroneously pronounced "ren-dez-vus" until the 80s, I had this quasi-religious feeling about artificial habitats, and when, in that book, the lights go on, I was properly and completely enraptured, in a way I never was by religion. What a vision that was, and made entirely of words.

Certainly, the visions were maybe too optimistic, and too brightly colored and utopian, and they assumed things about us that maybe won't come to pass for another millennium, but I miss when you could feel that way about the future, with a kind of joyous, earnest, wonder, instead of looking back and laughing at the white bell-bottomed jumpsuits with orange piping.

In the future, I'll be wearing velour and silver lamé, even if I'm not in orbit.
posted by sonascope at 10:43 AM on August 20, 2010 [1 favorite]

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