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You may have heard about recent suggestions to start colonizing
outer space as soon as possible. If so, you are probably aware of the
benefits that various people hope to derive from a space colonization
program. It is less likely that you are conscious of the dangers which such a program would imply. This article calls attention to those dangers.
The dream of leaving the Earth and reaching the stars is probably as old as the human race. It certainly predates the invention of writing, as attested by ancient legends and mythologies. The dream assumed more realistic dimensions during the days of Galileo. The first scientific calculation along these lines was performed by Newton himself, shortly after the discovery of his law of gravitation. Such thoughts were reflected in fiction writing long before Jules Verne's famous novel, and have become the central theme of innumerable other writings since then. Through the millennia the concept of extra terrestrial life and travel proved to be a rich source of entertainment and inspiration. It was also quite harmless.
That state of affairs has changed in recent years. Largely as a result of the interesting analysis of Gerald K. O'Neill and his coworkers [1-8] in the United States, and other scientists abroad, it has become clear that we could now start large scale colonization of space if we wished to do so. The dream of permanently leaving the Earth could become a reality. And therein lies the danger. A danger serious enough to merit careful consideration.
Before continuing, I wish to make it clear what the purpose of my writing is, by pointing out what it is not.
To begin with, it should be emphasized that I am not against space colonization. I hope that it would be successfully undertaken some day, and I would very much like to live long enough to see that day. But I am against plunging into such an adventure before conditions are ripe for it, and I believe that at the present time they are not.
It is not our technological maturity which I doubt. In fact, I have
high regard for the work of G. K. O'Neill and his collaborators, who have shows that our industrial capacity could cope with the task of colonization.... Whenever I had the opportunity to check their calculations, I found that the statement of their results was realistic, although occasionally on the optimistic side. My objections are of a social and political nature. I claim, and plan to show in this paper, that under the conditions prevailing
today, immediate large scale space colonization is likely to have disastrous
consequences for the human race.
I am neither a historian nor a political scientist, but a physicist. Nevertheless, I feel that it is legitimate for me to address myself to this problem, and to try to predict the likely consequences of the various solutions. Partly because the proven predictive power of the social
(9) sciences is, of course very limited, due to the complex nature of the problems. And partly because even if the predictive power of those sciences were higher, the choices which have to be made would affect the future of
all of us; therefore, in no event should their discussion be restricted
solely to the experts.
METHOD OF PRESENTATION
In the course of my arguments, I will make sweeping generalizations, and do not feel apologetic about it: in an article of this scope it is impossible to fully document every statement.
Many people disagree with my views: All articles which I have seen published so far on this topic, emphasize the beneficial aspects of space colonization. For that reason alone it seems important that an opposite view--mine--be presented. Furthermore, even if in some future debate my opinions are proven wrong (which I do not anticipate), I would be fully justified in having brought up this topic, because the dangers must be thoroughly discussed before space colonization may be undertaken. The burden of proof lies with those who urge us towards a space colonization effort.
I request that you give thoughtful consideration to what I have
Next I will briefly summarize the results of the group led by G. K. O'Neill, and the reasons brought forward by them in support of a full scale space colonization effort to be started immediately, or very soon. Following this I will list my objections, and then I will argue against a colonization program to be undertaken in the near future.
THE PROPOSED PROGRAM FOR SPACE COLONIZATION
How could one commence large scale space colonization today? G. K.
O'Neill suggests a multi-stage process:
in the first stage, a "Model 1"
space colony would be constructed, capable of supporting about 10 000
people inside a space cylinder about a mile long and with a radius of
several hundred feet.
This could then serve as a base to construct a
larger "Model 2" space colony with about 100 000-200 000 people, and a cylindrical volume about thirty times larger than for the previous model. That, in tim, could be used to construct "Model 3" several miles wide
and long, with about a million people. And so on, to possibly even
larger later models.
Various industries would be established in the
successive models. The production costs in some of these industries would be less than in similar industries on the Earth, for example high
strength single crystals might be cheaply manufactured in zero gravity
high-vacuum environment, and solar energy would be more plentiful. In this way Model 1 could partly "pay for itself' starting immediately after it becomes operational, thus reducing the otherwise exorbitant construction
costs of Model 2, etc.
The technology to accomplish this multi-stage con
struction project is only partly available today, the rest would have to
be developed along the way.
We need not concem ourselves with the details
here; suffice it to say that such a development could probably be carried
(1) out within the time scale envisioned. According to O'Neill Model 1 could be operational by 1988, Model 2 by 1996, Model by 2002, and starting
about the year 2014 the work force of a "parent" colony could build a
"daughter" colony within 6 years, relying entirely on its own resources