Space Colonization | From the NASA Archives

Everybody who knows us and follow this blog, may be familiarized with our interest in space, space colonization and the architecture of space stations. So it will be easy to understand our surprise when we found a flickr photo-set with more than a thousand of images from the NASA Archives, uploaded by Parker Mason. The only description we found there says:

A few years ago, Jens gave me a CD with a folder on it titled “NASA – 1172 Pictures.” These pictures are the contents of that folder, and they’re awesome.

We discovered that Jens could be Jens Schroeder, but we’re not really sure about that. So, let’s focus on the images. Space colonization ideas started in the early 1900s as a science-fiction topic, but now is a scientific and serious research. In 2005 NASA Administrator Michael Griffin identified space colonization as the ultimate goal of current spaceflight programs, saying:

The goal isn’t just scientific exploration, it’s also about extending the range of human habitat out from Earth into the solar system as we go forward in time […] I’m talking about that one day, I don’t know when that day is, but there will be more human beings who live off the Earth than on it. We may well have people living on the moon. We may have people living on the moons of Jupiter and other planets. I know that humans will colonize the solar system and one day go beyond.

Artist rendition by NA Rockwell showing Apollo 9 CSM docking with LEM. Source: ParkerNow

Source: ParkerNow

With the sense that we’re in the middle of a space opera story, the projects for space colonization are growing and taking much more intensity as part of the NASA programme. Now that cities are growing so disproportionately here at Earth, that scientists seek new places for human inhabitation in space. Some of these explorations are similar to the ones started in the 60s, e.g. with the Mariner 2, that was the world’s first successful interplanetary spacecraft. Launched in 1962, on an Atlas-Agena rocket, Mariner 2 passed within about 34,000 kilometers of Venus, sending back valuable new information about interplanetary space and the Venusian atmosphere. Mariner 2 recorded the planet’s temperature for the first time, revealing the its very hot atmosphere of about 500 degrees Celsius. The spacecraft’s solar wind experiment was the first to measure the density, velocity, composition and variation over time of the solar wind.

Mariner 2. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

In 1977, Gerard K. O’Neill also founded the quieter, and more targeted Space Studies Institute, which initially funded and constructed prototypes of much of the radically new hardware needed for a space colonization effort, as well as number of paper studies of feasibility. One of the early projects, for instance, was a series of functional prototypes of a mass driver, the essential technology to be used to economically move ores from the moon to space colony orbits.

One of SSI’s first grants funded the development of the mass driver, a device first proposed by O’Neill in 1974. We can read:

One application O’Neill proposed for mass drivers was to throw baseball-sized chunks of ore mined from the surface of the Moon into space. Once in space, the ore could be used as raw material for building space colonies and solar power satellites. He took a sabbatical from Princeton to work on mass drivers at MIT. There he served as the Hunsaker Visiting Professor of Aerospace during the 1976–77 academic year. At MIT, he, Henry H. Kolm, and a group of student volunteers built their first mass driver prototype. With financial assistance from SSI, later prototypes improved this to 1,800 g (18,000 m/s2), enough acceleration that a mass driver only 160m long could launch material off the surface of the Moon.

Low Earth Orbit Spaceport. Source: SSI

Mass Drivers Deliver. Electromagnetic mass drivers using solar power provide low cost transportation of materials to space construction sites. Source: ParkerNow

As an approach to the NASA future plans for space colonization, we can point that they wrote recently, in March 2010, that one of the major environmental concerns of our time is the increasing consumption of Earth’s resources to sustain our way of life. As more and more nations make the climb up from agricultural to industrial nations, their standard of life will improve, which will mean that more and more people will be competing for the same resources. And they propose that space colonies could be the answer to the limitations of using the resources of just one world out of the many that orbit the Sun.

We’re still speculating and discussing about the need of going to outher space to inhabitat it. It takes time to read all the interesting resources we found, as the bibliography recommended by the NASA or the SSI’s archives and even if we’re skeptical about the idea of touching the untouched, we highly recommend to take your time to see the NASA – 1172 Pictures photo-set and start dreaming and speculating by yourselves and share your thoughts with us.

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