Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Space Settlements of Tomorrow

Magazine article UNESCO Courier

Space Settlements of Tomorrow

Article excerpt

SETTLEMENT of our sister planets and planetary systems of stars outside our solar system is one of the recurring themes of science fiction. However, we now know that planets such as Mars and Venus are not capable of supporting life, and the technical problems of achieving the velocity necessary to reach even the nearest star within one person's lifetime seem today to be insuperable.

Undeterred, science fiction writers came up with the idea of the "generation starship", a kind of Noah's Ark in space in which the crew completing the mission would be the descendants of the original crew several generations removed. In other words, the starship would, in effect, be a miniature, self-contained "travelling world".

When high-energy physics professor Gerard O'Neill considered the problem, he asked himself "If several generations can survive in a starship, why send it to the possibly hostile environment of another planetary system? Why not create the desired environment in the starship itself and simply place it within easy reach of the Earth?"

Why should we want to create colonies in space? There are many good reasons for doing so. With the world population doubling every thirty-five years, our own planet is becoming over-crowded and suffering increasingly from the effects of pollution and its renewable energy resources will eventually run out. It makes sense to move some of our polluting industries out of the Eart's atmosphere and to construct solar power stations in space where radiation from the Sun is available twenty four hours a day, at full strength. (1) Artist's impression of the scene during the construction of a space power station.

It would also be possible to develop entirely new industries. Alloys can be made under the weightless conditions of space from metals which do not mix successfully under the pull of gravity on Earth. Experiments conducted in Skylab and the Salyut space station have already resulted in the production of new alloys and special types of glass that are unobtainable on Earth. (2) Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Saritskaya, the first woman to walk in space, conducts an experiment in welding, soldering and cutting metal in space.

Skylab and Salyut are, in fact, the first existing space habitats, and three Soviet cosmonauts, Leonid Kizim, Vladimir Solovyev and Dr. …

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