The High Frontier

The High Frontier (1976) by Gerard K O’Neill describes how humans could build large space colonies in the solar system. O’Neil was physicist who specialised in high energy physics.

The book outlines how space colonies could be built and how they would be superior to planetary colonisation. These large space habitats would be placed near stable Lagrangian points. The initial colonies would be rotating spheres and the equatorial regions would have centrifugal force to feel like gravity. Later colonies would be rotating cylinders. The materials would be obtained by mining the moon and asteroids for raw materials. These raw materials would be launched into space using a mass driver.

The book also has some letters written from the perspective of people living in the various colonies.

The book was written before the space shuttle program and it’s relative failure and is wildly optimistic about what the space shuttle will be capable of.

It’s interesting that the ideas proposed are not physically impossible. It’s not completely implausible. Indeed, given the appropriate economic drivers such structures seem like they would be possible.

The economics described that O’Neil thinks will drive people toward such colonies have been shown to be completely wrong. The 1970s fears of overpopulation have not come to pass. Space has also not been found to have the economic uses that O’Neill envisaged. O’Neill thought that zero gravity manufacturing would have a lot of applications. O’Neil also saw on the reasons for space colonies as being to create Space Solar Power Stations that would beam energy to earth.

The book is a little like the book on Project Orion, the story of the proposed nuclear explosive powered spacecraft. It shows that with real physical constraints space exploration and colonisation is possible.

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