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Why the World’s Richest Man Wants Humans To Live on Floating Space Cities

General Ideas

In a Washington D.C. ballroom, bathed in dark royal blue and twinkling star-like lights with a space-themed soundtrack playing, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos revealed the hydrogen-fueled Blue Moon lunar lander, the spacecraft destined to deliver human cargo to the moon’s surface by 2024.

But to preface this ambitious moonshot, Bezos also laid out a convincing argument as to why humanity’s future may no longer be on Earth or any other planetary surface. Citing energy consumption, increasing population, resource depletion, and climate change, the richest man in the world believes we will eventually need to leave this planet.

So with bucolic, futuristic illustrations, Bezos publicly broadcasted his affinity for O’Neill colonies, a hypothetical megaproject, first theorized by physicist Gerard O’Neill, that envisions enormous manufactured worlds inside of a rotating cylinder in space.

“These are very large structures, miles on end. They would hold a million people or more each,” explained Bezos to a quiet audience made up of supporters, media, and elementary school robotic students.

He went on to show images of cities, parks, mountains, and waterfalls all in a self-contained rotating space cylinder. He talked about how they could differ in gravity, perhaps affording humans an opportunity to become birds.

“You could have a recreational [colony] that has zero Gs so that you can go flying,” Bezos said dramatically pausing, “With your own wings.”

While acknowledging that this reality is extremely far off, Bezos set out his utopian vision. Humans will live peacefully together among the stars in these contained O’Neill colonies rather than spreading to inhospitable worlds like Mars.

“This is Maui on its best day all year long; no rain, no storms, no earthquakes,” he said, “People are going to want to live here.”

What Are O’Neill Colonies?

Physicist Gerard O'Neill
Physicist Gerard O’Neill, 1977.

Santi VisalliGetty Images

In 1974, Princeton physicist Gerard K. O’Neill proposed the idea of rotating pairs of cylinders mimicking Earth conditions while orbiting in space. While the idea may have seemed a bit far-fetched, O’Neill himself was certainly well-known and respected.

A leading expert in high-energy particle physics, it was in 1956 when he invented the storage-ring technique for colliding particle beams. It’s a method that’s still the basis for most high-energy particle accelerators. In the 1970s, O’Neill had enough goodwill that he convinced NASA to actually fund his studies into space colonies and settlements. In 1985, the physicist was appointed to the National Commission on Space by President Reagan and his papers are now at the National Air and Space Museum Archives.

image
Physics Today, September 1974

Physics Today

But in the 1974 landmark paper for Physics Today, O’Neill laid out the science and calculations for building habitats “far more comfortable, productive and attractive” than Earth. Initially, described O’Neill, his dive into the world of space habitats was “almost as a joke… but had to be taken more seriously when the numbers began to come out right.” He also prefaces that all of calculations are based on known 1970s technology and predicts that they could be conservative based on a century’s worth of technological and engineering advancement.

In the study, O’Neill theorizes that the colonies would be about four miles in diameter and 16 miles in length and construction would be done with steel cables, aluminum, and titanium with the moon being mined for these resources. The two cylinders would rotate opposite directions with a rotation every two minutes, making gravity inside of the settlement “earth-normal.” The opening and closing of mirrors would simulate night and day.

The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space
$84.99

Three years later, he expounded on these ideas in his book The High Frontier. O’Neill writes in the opening pages that, even using available 1970s tech, construction could start in the next decade and it could be completed in 15 to 25 years. More than 40 years later, we are still waiting for that colony in space.

There’s a much more personal reason to why Bezos knows O’Neill’s work so well. Last year, the Amazon founder was given the Gerard K. O’Neill Memorial Award for Space Settlement Advocacy by the National Space Society, an organization founded in 1987 due to a merger between O’Neill’s L5 Society and Wernher von Braun’s National Space Institute.

Upon receiving the award, Bezos spoke about reading The High Frontier in high school multiple times and how formative it was for him. He also attended Princeton while O’Neill was still a professor there. It’s unclear if Bezos ever took the physic professor’s classes, but seeing as Bezos was the chapter leader of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, there’s a strong chance that their paths crossed.

Are These Worlds Actually Possible?

image
Rick Guidice / NASAGetty Images

It’s one thing to wax poetic about humanity’s need to expand beyond the Earth, it’s quite another to actually build that future. So, are worlds like O’Neill and Bezos’ vision even possible?

Al Globus is on the board of directors for the National Space Society. He’s also worked with NASA to revive the study of space colonies in the 1990s (granted, much smaller in size than O’Neill’s original iterations) and has his own book that explores easier ways of building them.

“The whole solar system will keep us busy for a few thousand years. Then, there’s the whole galaxy.”

Globus, like O’Neill and Bezos, also firmly believes that humanity’s destiny doesn’t lie on Earth or any other planetary surface. “If you want an ever expanding industrial civilization,” Globus told Popular Mechanics, “I don’t think you can stay on Earth forever.”

Instead, Globus envisions “hundreds of thousands, if not millions” of these settlements in space allowing for the exponential growth of the human species while taking the load off planet Earth.

“This would allow us to have an expanding population with enormous reach,” says Globus, “The whole solar system will keep us busy for a few thousand years. Then, there’s the whole galaxy.”

A Sci-Fi Reality Check

image
The world of Elysium

TriStar Pictures

Of course, floating space colonies is great science-fiction fodder, and for decades authors and directors have recreated these worlds as fabulous utopias—and sinister machines.

Arthur C. Clarke’s novel Rendezvous with Rama depicts an advanced cylindrical alien spaceship holding an entire world inside. The famed writer Isaac Asimov expressed his enthusiasm for it while on a 1975 PBS roundtable discussion with O’Neill.

“We’ve all been planet chauvinists,” says Asimov. “We’ve all believed people should live on the surface of a planet, on a world.”

More recently, 2013’s Elysium starring Matt Damon and directed by Neill Blomkamp is a film which depicts the “haves” living in a paradise-like space colony and the “have-nots” stuck on Earth dealing with a planet ravaged by climate change and centuries of pollution. While O’Neill colonies sound positively utopian, are we missing the downside?

In response to O’Neill’s 1975 article in CoEvolution Quarterly about space colonies, poet Wendell Berry wrote that thousands of years of human history was being ignored.

“Humans are destructive in proportion to their supposition of abundance; if they are faced with an infinite abundance, then they will become infinitely destructive.”

Bezos didn’t make any mention of the destructive power of humanity but Globus concedes that this is an honest sentiment. “We only know of one space-faring species. That’s us,” says Globus, “And we are nasty motherf*****rs.”

While we could one day change where we live, there’s one thing that cannot be changed—and that’s human nature.

Popular Mechanics



42 Comments on "Why the World’s Richest Man Wants Humans To Live on Floating Space Cities"

  1. Robert Inget on Sat, 11th May 2019 9:57 am 

    Climate Change may rank as # 3 importance for
    human survival.

    #1 (IMO) The Oceans; over-fished, over-dumped,
    over-heated, over-flowing.
    #2 (IMO) Nationalism. Rise of authoritarianism,
    over-simplified answers to complex problems.

  2. Davy on Sat, 11th May 2019 10:03 am 

    “#2 (IMO) Nationalism. Rise of authoritarianism,
    over-simplified answers to complex problems.”

    LMFAO at bob and his lack of honesty. BOB the finger is pointing squarely back at you the corrupted blind lying liberal. BTW, cloggo, bob just point a finger at you saying you are #2 danger to human survival. double LMFAO. bob, do you realize cloggo is a racist white nationalist?

  3. Davy on Sat, 11th May 2019 10:16 am 

    Did I mention I plan on voting for Tulsi, BOB?

    Tulsi isn’t a liberal. She’s a socialist. Do you realize that makes me a hypocrite bob?

  4. Sissyfuss on Sat, 11th May 2019 10:24 am 

    Rob I, you forgot ocean acidification which will destroy the oceans ability to furnish oxygen. Bezos promotes space living while his companies further Earth dying. He has no soul, only a petty ego that lusts for power and notoriety. When will Amazon start delivering Soylent Green?

  5. Davy on Sat, 11th May 2019 10:33 am 

    JuanP said:

    “Did I mention I plan on voting for Tulsi, BOB?” “Tulsi isn’t a liberal. She’s a socialist. Do you realize that makes me a hypocrite bob?”

    juanpee, Tulsi is anti-war. Show evidence she is a socialist, dumbass. This just shows why your comments are so low IQ. All you have is a GED so you make shit up to appear smart. The reality is you are an arrogant idiot which is the worst kind of personality.

  6. Davy on Sat, 11th May 2019 10:37 am 

    “Rob I, you forgot ocean acidification which will destroy the oceans ability to furnish oxygen. Bezos promotes space living while his companies further Earth dying.”

    LOL, yea sis, Bezos is a fake green techno optimist. In his mind he likely thinks Amazon is green because he spit some money at it somewhere on his income statement. He can’t find it but he believes it is there. Besides he thinks Amazons efficiency makes it green….on and on

  7. Davy on Sat, 11th May 2019 10:41 am 

    Oops, sorry. I forgot. Tulsi is also a volunteer combat vet.

    People that are anti-war don’t usually volunteer to go into wars to kill other people. Or do they? I’m so confussed.

  8. Davy on Sat, 11th May 2019 11:00 am 

    JuanP, being a soldier and anti-war is not exclusive, dumbass. Tulsi is against illegitimate wars. I have to explain so many things to your dumbass.

  9. Davy on Sat, 11th May 2019 11:02 am 

    JuanP, just go back to school instead of stalking and pricking an obscure unmoderated forum. What a waste of grey matter.

  10. Davy on Sat, 11th May 2019 11:08 am 

    I on the other hand love stalking and pricking an obscure unmoderated forum. It gives me meaning in my life and I can’t think of a better use for my grey matter. Besides, I have no friends. Everyone hates me cause I’m such a dickhead.

  11. Davy on Sat, 11th May 2019 11:12 am 

    JuanP, I debate on topic when possible. I moderate lies that are on and off topic. You and annoy stalk and prick. There is nothing informative about you. You have destroyed this forum. Please leave and try to show some manhood.

  12. Davy on Sat, 11th May 2019 11:14 am 

    Oops, Tulsi is a volunteer Iraq war veteran. Iraq was an illegitimate war. I’m such a dumbass.

  13. Davy on Sat, 11th May 2019 11:16 am 

    I pretend to moderate other opinions that I don’t agree with. Thats why everyone hear knows I’m delusional, and a hypocrite.

  14. JuanP on Sat, 11th May 2019 11:32 am 

    “Oops, Tulsi is a volunteer Iraq war veteran. Iraq was an illegitimate war. I’m such a dumbass.”

    JuanP, it’s called learned experience something you would not understand

    Davy on Sat, 11th May 2019 11:14 am

  15. JuanP stalking templet on Sat, 11th May 2019 11:36 am 

    JuanP said
    “I pretend to moderate other opinions that I don’t agree with.”

    Davy said
    I moderated you into irrelevance that is why you play these games of identity theft and sock puppeteering ruining a Saturday morning on the forum. You are defeated. IP ban the idiot JuanP

  16. George Straight on Sat, 11th May 2019 12:13 pm 

    Bezos be smoking same zhit as Elon….
    Or Doctor Evil

  17. Cloggie on Sat, 11th May 2019 12:34 pm 

    But to preface this ambitious moonshot, Bezos also laid out a convincing argument as to why humanity’s future may no longer be on Earth or any other planetary surface. Citing energy consumption, increasing population, resource depletion, and climate change, the richest man in the world believes we will eventually need to leave this planet.

    That’s rubbish, Earth will remain the home of humanity for millennia to come, provided we have that much of a future to being with.

    There are no habitable locations in the solar system, other than the artificial hyper-tech mega-constructs, we perhaps one day will build, mostly because all possibilities to explore on earth will have been exhausted. You gotta do something with your life.

    Individual life is limited, but “the fame of the dead man’s deeds” is eternal and will always be stored in some form, somewhere in the universe… and serve as a vague memory, when inevitably life will return to plankton status, in order to start the eternal wheel of evolution spinning again.

    https://www.authorhouse.com/BookStore/BookDetails/224892-The-Fame-of-a-Dead-Man-s-Deeds

    https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ewige_Wiederkunft

  18. Davy on Sat, 11th May 2019 12:35 pm 

    Oops, sorry for being so illiterate again. I meant to say ‘template’, big wurds illude me.

  19. A JuanP conversation on Sat, 11th May 2019 12:46 pm 

    JuanP said:
    Oops, sorry for being so illiterate again. I meant to say ‘template’, big wurds illude me.

    Davy said:
    JuanPee you are a scumbag piece of shit that needs an IP ban

  20. Davy on Sat, 11th May 2019 12:49 pm 

    “That’s rubbish, Earth will remain the home of humanity for millennia to come, provided we have that much of a future to being with.”

    How do you know cloggo? Do you have a crystal ball?

  21. Anonymouse on Sat, 11th May 2019 4:59 pm 

    Delusional Davy is a scumbag piece of shit that needs a mental-health plan.

    All fixed.

  22. Cloggie on Sat, 11th May 2019 5:38 pm 

    “How do you know cloggo? Do you have a crystal ball?”

    No, high school knowledge of Moon, Mars and Europa suffice to know that humans will not live in these places like they do on Earth, any time soon, not in thousands of years.

    Only in artificial structures.

  23. Anonymouse on Sat, 11th May 2019 5:46 pm 

    I adore you JuanP

  24. Famlin on Sat, 11th May 2019 6:07 pm 

    Its lot more easier to build islands in Ocean like what Dubai did and enjoying the earthly resources (water & air) rather than building a colony on Mars.

    All these are fascinating stories for publicity rather than reality. I am sure countries will slowly extend the construction into sea sometime later as land shortage occurs.

    At this rate of population growth of 80 million / year, this will happen.

  25. Davy on Sat, 11th May 2019 6:24 pm 

    “No, high school knowledge of Moon, Mars and Europa suffice to know that humans will not live in these places like they do on Earth, any time soon, not in thousands of years.”

    cloggo, I was thinking more about collapse possibilities than the unlikely nature of space travel.

  26. nostradamus on Sat, 11th May 2019 8:34 pm 

    Billions are completely out of touch with Reality.

  27. nostradamus on Sat, 11th May 2019 8:36 pm 

    sorry… Billionaires are completely out of touch with Reality.

  28. Davy on Sat, 11th May 2019 8:40 pm 

    Oops, sorry Cloggmeister Sir. Space travel has been a reality since the 70s. Only in artificial structures.

    Fuck am I ever a stupid dumbass.

  29. nostradamus on Sat, 11th May 2019 8:54 pm 

    Sorry…Davy prickface is completely out of touch with reality.

  30. Cloggie on Sat, 11th May 2019 9:46 pm 

    “cloggo, I was thinking more about collapse possibilities than the unlikely nature of space travel.”

    Collapse is all you ever think about, it has become your personal obsession. You should see a zieleknijper (soul-pincher, shrink) about it.

  31. makati1 on Sat, 11th May 2019 10:48 pm 

    Cloggie, collapse is the process we are ALL currently in. Denial is not going to change reality. You can have techie dreams all you want but they don’t change anything.

    We decided to spend our resources on throwaway junk and wars, not advancement, other than that needed for bigger weapons. Most techie inventions/improvements first began in weapons labs, then made into commercial things where possible and profitable. We are a suicidal species, not an intelligent one.

  32. Cloggie on Sun, 12th May 2019 2:27 am 

    That’s our major difference, makati. I’m a professional techie and have a pretty good idea of what is still possible. You are projecting your sense of decline, related to the empire and US society, onto the rest of the world. The US-lead West is indeed about to be downsized, whitey will need to step down from planetary pole position 1492-202x, and within the emerging identitarian world order a la Samuel Huntington, the new emerging North (PBM + Heartland) will need to share power with China. 2 centuries of Anglo supremacy will be history and so will be the Jews.

    But the future will be hyper-tech, not the cave.

  33. makati1 on Sun, 12th May 2019 3:22 am 

    No you don’t Cloggie, you see tech thru rose colored glasses and your pocketbook. I see it thru real world facts. Your future requires BAU to come about. BAU is fast evaporating in case you have not noticed.

    Your world requires more and more energy in a world where there is less and less. Solar and wind are never going to be more than a blip. No subsidies = No renewables. Nuclear is coming back. Oil and NG will be the main energy for as long as humans exist. I don’t see that much past 2100.

    You have your life anchored to tech. About like the buggy makers of old. A few still exist to make a few carriages but… When the SHTF and the whole system collapse’ and has to reboot, it will not be a techie world. It will be a world of survival of the fittest. The JIT delivery will be over. It will be a world unlike anyone alive has seen and not in a good way.

    Keep in mind that one solar flare will end all tech forever. Or a deliberate man made one. We narrowly missed the last one. I hope you have some skills to fall back on. You will likely need them.

  34. makati1 on Sun, 12th May 2019 3:28 am 

    BTW: The East is still rising, but they too will hit their limits soon. Already, the growth is slowing to Western levels and all will go into contraction soon.

    Your tech relies on too many sources and countries to exist after the SHTF. Without scale, most companies will shut down. How long would Apple last if their sales dropped into the 4 digits? Six months? Less?

    The real world is scary but it is all we have. Adjust.

  35. Cloggie on Sun, 12th May 2019 3:43 am 

    Let’s agree to disagree, makati.
    Time will tell.

  36. JuanP on Sun, 12th May 2019 5:00 am 

    More of the juanpee triggering:
    nostradamus on Sat, 11th May 2019 8:34 pm
    nostradamus on Sat, 11th May 2019 8:36 pm
    Davy on Sat, 11th May 2019 8:40 pm
    nostradamus on Sat, 11th May 2019 8:54 pm

  37. boney joe on Sun, 12th May 2019 5:03 am 

    Stop making spurious aspersions or you will be reported to the Peak Oil Ombudsman.

    Your choice, pal.

  38. Davy on Sun, 12th May 2019 6:49 am 

    This collapse process is systematic with multiple variables from planetary systems to human networks. It is global and local. It is a process and it will be exhibited everywhere without concern to agenda. Science can tell us some of the details but now we are entering the unknown territory of a decline of a civilization never experienced by humans. A civilization that is completely planetary including “All” cultures but also a digital nonhuman web. Our false god, tech, is part of the answer but not a salvation. Properly used tech will make the gradient less steep. Tech can also make it worse if we are not careful. We have to spend the remaining resources and the remaining global economy properly. Unfortunately we as a global people are malinvesting the future as we approach the cliff. We likely have some years left because this globalism is so robust. We have some very potent tech with ambitious people. There are still plenty of planetary resources to pillage. What we do not have is wise and awakened people. Behavior is the key but that is where we are making the least headway. What we are doing is digging the hole deeper in regards to meaning with corrupted science and human narrative of increasing affluence.

    This is why I promote a Real Green Deep Adaptation. This is an honest individual response to a force greater than human management. Stop fighting this process and join it. Join it means acknowledging decline and beating the rush. Downsize with dignity which means lowering your footprint through meaning. Practice relative sacrifice by accepting your place in all this. Leveraging the power of the status quo to leave it. Restore personal honesty as you try to restore a healthy nature to your local. Relinquish the bad of consumerism and except lower affluence. A natural resilience that comes with localization is the result of these actions. Add to these actions relative sacrifice which is doing what you can per your unique situation. This is a key because realistic actions are your best actions. Ending the bargaining and dishonesty is the very first step. Modest doom and prep is requires to avoid alienating those in your local. Extremism of action and proselytizing doom is counterproductive. Real Green Deep Adaptation calls for honesty of action with modest changes leading to relative change focused on the local level.

    Science is a method to meaning but not the only human way to meaning. This modern method and message are now so corrupted meaning is hidden in the haze. Real Green science acknowledges the good and bad with honesty. Leave existential guilt behind and stop pointing fingers in a hypocritical way. Finger pointing is fine as long as you look in the mirror to what part you are playing in all this in humility and empathy for the bad actions of others. Relative sacrifice also means relative judgement. You can’t expect others to change. This is about personal change. You can’t blame others and expect that to make it better. You can look around and point out what is wrong and which parties are dishonest as a map for your life but you can’t take that and play the justified and righteous. Harness your surroundings and avoid being offended. Get what you can from what is around you by avoiding the traps of the ego. If you practice this way of life the planet will give you power. This power comes directly from meaning. You cannot use this power for personal means in regards to selfish and egotistical ends. If you do this you will lose this planetary power. What is called for is stoic Spartan action for the pain and suffering ahead that is the planetary reality of ecosystems in decline and localized failure.

    This is about adding on to your existing higher power and way of life not discarding them. You can’t completely rewire your basic meaning given you from nature and nurture. The add-on is adapting what you have with existential honesty of the science of collapse. The other add on is Real Green action which is a lower foot print by triage. It is about making something through hybrid action of the old ways combined with current knowledge. Most of all it is about going local. The key to a local is finding a local worth making your last stand in. The ultimate local is your life system so if you can’t leave your failed local then find your strength from within to create a hospice. Some locals are immediately on the list of failure. This last stand hints at the last add on and that is the spiritual one. This spiritual add-on is the honesty of knowing there are no refuges from the coming planetary and human calamities. This honesty will purify your existing higher power position. No amount of physical or mental prep will save you. This acknowledgment of death on its different planes is the final key.

    Not everyone can be awakened and those who are awakened accept the requirement of action. This awakened state is beyond most humans and it cannot be faulted. Nature calls on a few that have found a micro climate for growth within the dead zone of modernism. Real Green Deep Adaptation is for the awakened ones who choose the path to meaning. Once you have taken this path then you will go forth on the behalf of the planet and others locally. You will create monasteries of meaning with knowledge and tools for those who come after. These action create positive organic changes in your immediate natural ecosystem. This coming global bifurcation could be an extinction event but it might be a new people that negotiate the bottleneck. Plant the seeds that may lead them to wisdom and a chance for survival.

  39. Anonymouse on Sun, 12th May 2019 9:18 am 

    Holy fooking turd salads dumbass. Dont you have anything better to do on that horror-show make-believe doomturd-stead of yours? If you spent even a fraction of the effort on that fake shit-show ‘farm’ of yours, as you do cranking out endless endless unread turd-salads here and flinging your digital feces all over this corner of the internet, you, you might have actually grown something beyond moss and weeds on that ‘farm’ of yours.

    But no, you prefer to spend pretty much every waking hour you have, reminding everyone here, what a hard-wurk’n merikan hero you are, tasked with keeping amuirka safe from all the ‘extremists’. What a joke. Your only ‘friend’ here, is a spammy jobless jew fraud that likes to pretend he is some sort of eco-friendly aryan Übermensch. And you;ve been lapping it up like so much goat-urine for years.

    But, yes, keep flinging your feces here, and staying up 20 hours a day, cranking out goat-shit no one will ever read, or cares about dumbass, since you wont seek out the mental health care so you clearly need.

  40. Anonymouse on Sun, 12th May 2019 1:21 pm 

    I love you JuanP with all might heart and soul. Kisses

  41. Antius on Sun, 12th May 2019 5:45 pm 

    “Earth will remain the home of humanity for millennia to come, provided we have that much of a future to being with.”

    It is far from certain that humanity will make the step to space colonisation before the resource depletion trap closes that option for us. Assuming that we do, it will be a very long time before the population outside of the Earth outweighs the population on it.

    “There are no habitable locations in the solar system, other than the artificial hyper-tech mega-constructs, we perhaps one day will build, mostly because all possibilities to explore on earth will have been exhausted. You gotta do something with your life.”

    Quite true. There is nowhere else in the solar system that is habitable in the way that the Earth is. As man reaches into space, he will need to make his living space; and we are talking about artificial structures, enclosing breathable atmosphere.

    But we live in artificial structures anyway. Most places on Earth, life outside of some kind of shelter, would be as impossible as it would be on the moon. Most people alive today, would not exist without the benefits of high technology in the provision of food, water and shelter. In Holland, you would freeze to death without housing for much of the year.

    So far as living in space itself is concerned, we will be living inside pressure vessels. In the early days of space colonisation, these will be relatively small and crowded. On the surface of other planets, moons and large asteroids; it is a little easier, because one can use gravity to balance the internal pressure of the habitat. It is possible to create quite large pressurised spaces relatively easily.

  42. Paul on Mon, 13th May 2019 5:11 am 

    Now what is it? Some articles say birth rates are too low and then this one says the earth will continue to be overpopulated with humans. Time for these talking heads to choose a side.

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