Space Settlements | Utopias in Space

Space racing and the conquer of outer space has been in humanity mind for several decades until now. We think that we have the power to fill outer space with life, and the 1969 moon landing radically changed architects and engineers vision of planet earth, leading them to develop new ideas of geography. Many works and designs were conceived as architecture for outer space and had been developed by different forward-thinkers, most of them from the avant-garde movement, such as Paolo Soleri’s Space Archology or Superstudio’s Interplanetary Architecture. Scientists had been researching through this path with the idea that we have several reasons to inhabitat space.

As we can read at the article Top Ten Reasons to Inhabit Outer Space:

The possibility of water on Mars and the moon has fueled speculation about if and when humans will colonize space. With the growing commercialization of space, and the possibility of people spending longer periods of time off Earth, questions arise as to why we should seek to inhabit space.

Today our solar system is filled with plasma, gas, dust, rock, and radiation, but very little life; just a thin film around the third rock from the Sun. The NASA Astrobiology Mission says that we can change that. In the 1970’s Princeton physicist Gerard O’Neill with the help of NASA Ames Research Center and Stanford University showed that we can build giant orbiting spaceships and live in them.


Interplanetary Architecture. Supersutio. Alessandro Poli’s sketch


Space Arcology. Paolo Soleri

Another interesting project that we have published before is the Mars Homestead™ Project, that has the goal to design, fund, build and operate the first permanent settlement on Mars. Some NASA’s researches keep talking about unpromising places from a habitability standpoint, as the solar system’s moons, some with planetlike features such as atmospheres, magnetic fields or active volcanoes.

Described as wonderful places to live, mostly all of these colonies had been designen about the size of any California beach town and endowed with weightless recreation, fantastic views, freedom, elbow-room in spades, and great wealth. Building these settlements may be an evolutionary event, born from science and sci-fi forward thinkers that imagined a form for architecture at an interplanetary scale, including such utopic projects as Superstudio‘s highway from the earth to the moon.


A lunar shuttle soft-lands cargo for the moon base onto the surface. Source: Space Settlement Art Gallery


Toroidal Colonies. Source: Space Settlement Art from the 1970s

While most thinking regarding the expansion of the human race outward into space has focused on the colonization of the surfaces of other planets, like the mentioned above Mars Homestead™ Project, the space settlement concept suggests that planetary surfaces may not be the best location for extraterrestrial colonies. Avoiding the concepts of terraforming, that is is the hypothetical process of deliberately modifying other planets atmosphere, temperature, surface topography or ecology to be similar to those of Earth and make it habitable; some researchers think that artificial, closed-ecology habitats in free orbit would seem to have many advantages over any planetary home.

So, the question at this point is terraforming or space colonization?


Terraforming: Colonization of the Moon [1995]. Source: Colonization of the Moon


Space Colonization: Bernal Spheres. Source: Space Settlement Art from the 1970s

Gerard K. O’Neill wrote on his essay “The Colonization of Space“:

It is important to realize the enormous power of the space-colonization technique. If we begin to use it soon enough, and if we employ it wisely, at least five of the most serious problems now facing the world can be solved without recourse to repression: bringing every human being up to a living standard now enjoyed only by the most fortunate; protecting the biosphere from damage caused by transportation and industrial pollution; finding high quality living space for a world population that is doubling every 35 years; finding clean, practical energy sources; preventing overload of Earth’s heat balance.

But also there had been written many objections to space colonization ideas. Colonizing space would require massive amounts of financial, physical and human capital devoted to research, development, production, and deployment. As we can read at Space and Survival, “If the objective of space colonization is to provide a “backup” in case everyone on Earth is killed, then why should someone on Earth pay for something that is only useful after they’re dead? This assumes that space colonization is not widely acknowledged as a sufficiently valuable social goal.”

Maybe the answer is just to be aware that our presence on Earth is just part of a cycle, having a beginning and, eventually, an end; and just take a breath and follow Koolhaas ideas when he said: “Is there a virtue in neglect; does authenticity flourish in what remains untouched?”

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