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It is essential to realize that all three of these can be solved
with more hope of success here and now than after large scale colonization has started. Indeed, the number of possible binary conflicts between N entities grows approximately as N2. Reaching a consensus is much easier
if the number of participants (i.e. independent states or space communities) is small: This is illustrated by our experience that assemblies of more than a few hundred participants cannot be grasped by an average human being, therefore they are quite ineffective
Furthermore, it would be dangerous to assume that large scale space colonization would contribute to the solution of these problems. Partly, because a hope of such solution may mislead some and precipitate a premature decision in favor of colonization. And more importantly, because by dividing our attention and financial resources into a colonization adventure, it could raise false hopes and prevent us from concentrating on the three important problems just mentioned. The damage done by such a misdirection of effort would be irreparable.
If, and when these problems have been solved, we may, if we wish, safely commence full scale space colonization. We would then be expanding an orderly concerned, nonviolent society into the vast spaces of our solar system. By contrast, premature large scale space colonization would amount to exportation on a cosmic scale of oppression, suffering and disorder, the very qualities which characterize most human behavior today.
In the meanwhile, we could of a small "colonization" program:
explore the possibility
a program to put into space a few
observation posts, manufacturing plants, power stations, etc. Let us refer to these in the following as "space installations." (Such research is now
 carried out under auspices of NASA; at Boeing; etc.) But we must insist
that none of the space installations be "space habitats" in the sense in
which that expression is used in the literature: That is, we must make
sure that none of them can become economically self-sufficient, and that
all of them permanently remain under firm control from Earth. The space installations must not be allowed to become the first step in a self-generating, escalating space colonization program in the near future.
At the present time, both the United States and the Soviet Union do
have the capability to start a full scale space colonization program should
they wish to do so.
Once a great power makes the necessary preparations and
investment to start such a program, it will be almost impossible to prevent
its realization short of war.
To forestall such a turn of events, I suggest that a moratorium on
large scale space colonization should be negotiated with all major powers.
The sooner this is done, the better.
In a few years, one of the powers may
feel that it is in a better position than its rivals to initiate space
colonization, and would then be reluctant to sign a moratoriun. Any viola
tion of the agreement should be cause for great concern and should be dealt
Less crucial than such a moratorium, but nevertheless important, would
be to insure that all space installations are built under international, or at least, multinational auspices, to prevent them from simply becoming space extensions of the industrially developed nations on Earth. This would decrease the probability of conflict, and may provide experience in how to embark on a large project cooperatively, rather than competively.
There is no hope to realize either of the above two suggestions, until the general public as well as governments understand the destructive potential of a full scale space colonization program. Unfortunately, it
may be too late when that finally happens.
(In my view, the chances for
realizing the second suggestion above, are already negligible.) The
appealing aspects of space colonization are immediately obvious. A growing number of diverse space habitats, flourishing and multiplying in harmony, aiding each other economically and culturally is, of course, a worthy goal to strive for. Viewed superficially, space colonization appears to be a noble venture an the road to an expanding, happy human race. contrast, to recognize its danger-potential requires more careful thinking.
Indeed, as mentioned earlier, all articles I have seen on the subject have
tended to emphasize its glamorous qualities, restricted themselves to the description of the benefits one might hope to derive from space colonization.
The hazards were left unmentioned. It is important to redress this unbalance.
This article should be a step in that direction.
One lesson we have learned from the mistakes of recent decades is
that technical feasibility of something does not, in itself, prove its
desirability. This goes for babies as well as nuclear reactors. After
technical feasibility has been demonstrated, the potential benefits and
drawbacks have to be carefully evaluated. No agency, no pressure group
can be allowed to proceed selfishly, overriding the common good. Foresight and timely dialogue are of essence, especially when the project in question is of the size here contemplated. This article is an attempt to
encourage such a dialogue.
The purpose of this article is to show the following: Full scale
space colonization now would lead to insurmountable social difficulties, almost certainly resulting in widespread oppression, violence and global disaster. A small scale colonization program could be undertaken without haste. The benefits of such a small scale program would be genuine but Limited compared to what is frequently mentioned; in particular there is
no way in which it could help us solve the three great problems of our
age: the threat of war, order without oppression within social units,
and the limitation of population growth. There is more hope to solve these three problems now on Earth than there would be after full scale
(1) space colonization has started. If and when the three problems just
mentioned have been solved, large scale space colonization may be under
taken. But that is still far in the future.
A moratorium on large scale space colonization should soon be negotiated and then enforced. In preparation for it, the public and
governments should be made aware of the dangers of premature space colonization. Furthermore, efforts should be made to build all "space
installations" of even a limited program under international, or at
least multinational auspices.
6. K. O'Neill, Physics Today, September 1974, p. 31. 2. G. K. O'Neill, Nature, 250 636 (1974).
G. Chedd, New Scientist, October 1974, p. 247.
4. G. K. O'Neill, Testimony before the Subcommittee on Space Science
and Applications, Committee on Science and Technology, U. S. House of Representatives, July 23, 1975.
5. G. K. O'Neill, Science, 190, p. 943, December 1975.
6. G. K. O'Neill, in Hearings before the Subcommittee on Aerospace
Technology and National Needs, Committee on Aeronautical and
G. K. O'Neill, Astronautics and Aeronautics, p. 20, October 1976.
8. Ron Chernow, The Smithsonian Magazine, Volume 6, No. 11, p. 62 (1976). 9. This does not necessarily indicate a lack of sophistication. It is
largely due to the complex nature of these problems. Furthermore, predictive power is, of course, not the only measure of usefulness
in the social sciences.
bridge without adequate design work, pointing out that the
what it would do without trying it.
12. Possibly because during our evolution we seldom needed to keep
track of more than a few hundred friends, relatives and enemies.