I recently dusted off Gerard K. O'Neill's "2081: A Hopeful View of the
Human Future which hopefully will still happen one we get though the
crisis era we are in now.
O'Neill for those of you who never heard of him was the "guru" of the
space colony movement that Moonman and I still carry a torch for. He was
also a physicist from Princeton who came up with the idea of building
self-sustaining colonies in space as a means of solving our energy and
The energy part of the equation involves beamed power from space to
replace fossil fuels. That would mean cheep electricity which could also
be used to electrolyse hydrogen fuel out of water which would be
continuously recycled back into water again every time you burn it. The
rationale of putting solar collectors above the atmosphere is that solar
power is a very dilute source and you need a huge area to collect it.
Also down here in the "well" performance is hindered by weather.
Out there- in geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles from the planet you can
build thousands of these things- each about the size of Manhattan. One
powersat provides the energy needs of a modern metropolis. Power is
converted to microwaves and beamed to earth-based rectenna farms each a
mile or so across- still much smaller than the areas of desert lands
that we would have to covered with photo-voltic collectors- you can
imagine the environmental protests over that one. The receving antenne
collect the microwaves and convert them to electricity for the local
grid. They are also cheep and could be easily erected even in
underdeveloped nations. A nice alternative to stripping forests for
firewood or burning cow dung.
The population part of the equation is more complex.
The anti-population growth crowd was quick to argue that emigration off
planet could not put a dent in human numbers on Earth and even space
colony advocates agree that the most significant contribution to
stablizing and eventual reduction of human numbers will come about as a
result of the wealth generated by those who invested in or migrated to
Increasing wealth generally leads to lower birth rates. Even without
space colonies the trend will be in that direction because when people
have the opportunity to choose between large family size and having more
personal wealth they usually choose the later.
Our reach into space unfortunately proceeds with frustrating fits,
starts and stalls. The reason we are not as far along as we ought to be
is that space flight is mostly a government enterprise. But you can bet
your bottom dollar once it gets privatized the trajectory will spike
upward with a vengence- just like the development of private aviation or
Look how this internet culture we're emersed in- email and e-bay were
hardly known to anyone 10 years ago!
Not even a blip on O'Neill's radar screen when he penned "2081" in the
early 1980s- though he did mention "electronic mail".