INVESTING IN OUR FUTURE WAR AGAINST HUNGER: COLONIES IN SPACE
Advice to President Obama: dust off an old idea. How can we invest in the future of Mankind in such a way that would provide dividends well into our future, including profits for our investment as well as low cost food supplies great enough to feed the planet? The answer is startlingly simple, and old: Colonies in Space.
In 19707 two books appeared creating a blueprint for self contained space cities in orbit around the earth. T. A. Heppenheimer’s Colonies In Space and Gerald K. O’Niell’s The High Frontier . These writers addressed several problems that concerned the scientists of the day, namely overcrowding, food shortages, and finding cheaper ways to produce energy.
Overcrowding cannot realistically be rectified by building space cities that might house five to fifty thousand people, at least not in any immediately recognizable short term. The other two goals, however, are very do-able, and a side benefit might well be listed as the new third goal – tourism.
First, one has to consider the cost. The hard sell comes from a general lack of enthusiasm for space activity of any kind. Gearing up the nation and the world for a truly international space system will be difficult at best. The cost of one space colony might seem astronomical, no pun intended (in 1977 dollars the price tag was already in the billions of dollars – but in today’s shaky global economy, we speak in trillions as if we were checking our grocery list). Experts can figure out the dollars and cents. Using the existing space station as a manufacturing platform, and using materials from the Moon for production wwill help defray transportation costs.
But consider the benefits. First, a colony in space will not be constrained to weather patterns and rainfall amounts – they will create their own weather, irrigation, and sunlight. Agriculture will not be constrained to seasons or even daylight. With staggered farming a single colony can produce fruits and vegetables for the hungry masses below, even as our earth faces draughts and overbuilding on arable land. With enough produce, shipped back to the earth in unmanned drones, the cost of food should actually go down.
Second, a space city can gather solar energy 24-7-365, store it, convert it to microwaves, beam it back to the earth surface, and supply endless renewable, cheap energy. With no weight to constrain manufacture, the solar panels can be enormous.
Third, such construction, maintenance, and ongoing farm labor would help create new jobs. Support services, from newscasters to letter carriers to grocery suppliers to health spas, would provide more jobs that would not necessarily require greater skill levels than people already have.
Finally, there could be a bonus industry here, namely tourism. Can anyone imagine a better vacation spot with more spectacular views? Restaurants and pubs abound. On the inner shell of the city, as the city rotates seven times a minute on its axis, gravity would be nearly normal. But closer to the vast open center of the sphere gravity lessens. At the very center is a pool – a mass of water with no containment floating freely. People swim on every surface of the pool, some of them doing complete circuits. And near the pool are near-zero-gravity cabins for the romantics among us anxious to experience sex in space.
Tourism would appeal to the very rich at first, but over time, and I imagine not much time, the cost of shuttling to the colony will become reasonable and, once there, a vacation package will cost the equivalent of a family package to Walt Disney World.
Mr. President, famine and environmental ruin will not be destroyed by words, and nothing is as powerful as an idea whose time has come. Perhaps this idea, thirty plus years later, has found its time and its champion in you. And remember this, as well: technology always advances exponentially in times of war. And we are at war. Not against terrorism, but against excess. Against hunger. Against energy dependency, job loss, economic disaster. In times of war, we must act.
I will gladly send you my copies of both books, if you wish.