You may have seen images of NASA’s 1970s space colony artwork. But you’ve never seen them like this, in full size, high resolution scans.
Note: These are fairly large images, they may take a moment to load. So read through the text, or grab a cup of coffee, and they should be ready for you.
In the 1970s, NASA Ames Research Center (ARC) conducted space colony summer studies on Toroidal Colonies and Bernal Spheres which could hold population of up to 10,000 humans living in space, and on Cylindrical Colonies which could hold a population of 1,000,000.
These are the artistic renderings of those concepts. Grouped together into the three kinds of space settlement concepts they illustrate:
I. Torus Colony — II. Bernal Sphere — III. Cylindrical Colony
“Imagination will often carry us to worlds that never were, but without it we go nowhere.”
-Carl Sagan (Cosmos)
I. The Torus Colony
This colony is a torus, or doughnut-shaped ring, that is 1.8 km in diameter and rotates once per minute to provide artificial gravity on the inside of the outer ring via centrifugal force.
Sunlight is provided to the interior of the torus by a system of mirrors. The ring is connected to a hub via a number of “spokes”, which serve as conduits for people and materials travelling to and from the hub.
Since the hub is at the rotational axis of the station, it experiences the least artificial gravity and is the easiest location for spacecraft to dock.
The interior space of the torus itself is used as living space, and is large enough that a “natural” environment can be simulated; the torus appears similar to a long, narrow, straight glacial valley whose ends curve upward and eventually meet overhead to form a complete circle.
The population density is similar to a dense suburb, with part of the ring dedicated to agriculture and part to housing.
II. The Bernal Sphere
In a series of studies at Stanford University in 1975 and 1976 with the purpose of speculating on designs for future space colonies, Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill proposed Island One, a modified Bernal sphere with a diameter of 500m rotating at 1.9 RPM to produce a full Earth artificial gravity at the sphere’s equator.
The interior landscape that would resemble a large valley running all the way around the equator of the sphere.
A Bernal Sphere would be capable of providing living and recreation space for a population of approximately ten thousand people.
A “Crystal Palace” habitat would be used for agriculture.
Sunlight was to be provided to the interior of the sphere using external mirrors to direct it in through large windows near the poles.
The form of a sphere was chosen for its optimum ability to contain air pressure and its optimum mass-efficiency at providing radiation shielding.
III. The Cylindrical Colony
This double cylinder colony is the most ambitious and awe inspiring vision of human futures in space.
Contained within each cylinder is an entire world built for human habitation. Each one is a planet in a bottle.
The Cylindrical Colony has forests, rivers, seas, the entire ecosystem of Earth.
The scale of this project is such that a million people could live in one cylinder. Multiple cylinders could house millions and millions.
Aimed at the sun, generations of humans could live out their lives in collections of colonies, all their hopes and dreams, in a world where the clouds float across the backdrop of space.
Imagine, the sun eclipsed by the Earth.
Please Cite as: Oman-Reagan, Michael P. 2015. “Three Visions of Human Space Settlement.” Space+Anthropology, March 22.
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Michael Oman-Reagan is an anthropologist and PhD candidate. His doctoral research looks at exploration beyond our solar system, science, interstellar space, SETI, imagination, futures, and science fiction.