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O'Neill Cylinder Colonies of the Future


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#1
star0

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I thought I would reproduce here something I wrote once about how rich O'Neill Cylinder colonies could make our lives. Depending on how quickly robotic space construction develops, we could see them in a few decades. Long before then, maybe in the next few years, we will have the chance to see what they look like using advanced virtual reality simulations; and once full-immersion VR arrives, we will then have the full range of experience of living in outer space. Still, the real thing will be hard to beat:

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Mars and the moon have wimpy gravity, little to no atmosphere, and are susceptible to cosmic and solar (from flares) radiation; in other words, not good for long-term human habitation. Where, then, will future generations of adventurous humans go? Are we stuck with Earth?

If you are like me, you grew up with all sorts of tales of warp drive travels to distant worlds. Trouble is, faster than light (FTL) travel seems unlikely based on our current understanding of physics. It turns out, however, that we don't need FTL to fulfill our longings for adventure and exploration and to colonize space; our solar system is plenty big enough to house practically a mini-galaxy of worlds that we will one day create ourselves. I am referring here to the Bernal Sphere, the Dyson sphere, the O'Neill Cylinder, the Stanford Torus, and related structures:

O'Neill Cylinder colony video


Basically, an O'Neill Cylinder is a very, very large cylindrical or spherical space station with artificial gravity -- virtually indistinguishable from Earth gravity -- produced by centrifugal force from spinning. Perhaps surprisingly, the space colony in that video is well within reach of our current technology, and it would not require any exotic materials to build it. Personally, though, i wouldn't get in one until it had been coated with 2 ft thick, layered graphene sheets, to make it virtually impervious to tiny meteor strikes.

Even though we could put one of these cylinders up there in space, it would probably bankrupt us; for it would take thousands of flights to haul the material into space to build it; and we just can't afford to do that yet. But one day, maybe 20 to 100 years from now, when artificial intelligence is much further along, we will launch small fleets of robots to the moon and have them autonomously mine the raw materials, and then have them assemble the colonies for us before we even set foot in space.

I hope you'll agree with me that these structures are a very elegant idea for how to colonize space, especially since, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn't really take that much material to build them: you see... in order for gravity to hold us down to a surface with the same force we feel on Earth, we would need a massive amount of matter -- an Earth's worth, basically. But we can get more-or-less the same effect using only a thin shell of matter if we substitute centrifugal force for gravity. By seemingly going down one dimension in the amount of building materials needed -- from a 3D solid (Earth) to a 2D surface (O'Neill Cylinder; not exactly 2D, of course) -- one sees there is easily enough material in our solar system to build millions of colonies just like the one in the above video; and there's ample space for where to put them, too.

Think of it: in perhaps 100 to 500 years, assuming we humans haven't been so profoundly altered by biotech and nanotech that we can live in the cold vacuum of space, or uploaded into a computer, our solar system will be littered with millions of tiny worlds just like the one in the above video.

Imagine, if you will, a human grows up in any of thousands of colonies near Venus (situated near a Lagrange point). Let's call him Veni. A dreamer and explorer, Veni decides one day to go on a quest to see the outer solar system. Deciding where to travel poses a challenge, for there are hundreds of thousands of colonies to choose from out beyond the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn; he must therefore be selective.

He begins his journey by traveling to Earth, to explore the mother world of our species, a world that until now Veni had never seen with his naked eyes. After his arrival, and after seeing the majesty of the Grand Canyon, the vastness of the Amazon, and the monstrous heights of Mt. Everest, he enjoys a long and luxurious Earth-side rest. Once some months have passed, adventure beckons again, and he resumes his quest by taking a space elevator up to Low Earth Orbit, where he boards a ship destined for New Eden, the largest of thousands of colonies in orbit around Saturn.

New Eden is a spiritual mecca -- a land of glistening waterfalls, jungles, rivers, mountains, and temples shrouded in mist. As big as the entire state of California, it takes Veni a whole year even to glimpse all the wonders that it offers -- all the people; their history; their customs. Life there is so idyllic that he almost convinces himself to remain there for the rest of his life; but he at last regains the gumption to travel to the worlds beyond.

He hops from colony to colony, though none are quite as wondrous as Earth or New Eden; and on occasion, during moments of quiet reflection, he thinks on all that he has seen and may yet see, but even his brain-chip-enhanced mind has difficulty grasping the enormity of worlds on offer, with their collective hundreds of trillions of inhabitants.

At last, he makes his way to the outer-Neptune colonies. Save for a few intrepid explorers who have established micro-settlements in the Oort cloud beyond, these constitute the most distant human presence in the universe.

Even though the inhabitants of Neptune's colonies, like all those from Sol's colonies, are connected to the interstellar ultra-high-density internet, their language and customs are noticeably Neptunian in outlook. Veni marvels at their strange thoughts and concerns, which tend to be directed more towards deep space than the politics of inner-Sol.

After spending another year there, and after promising his new friends that he will remember them and return one day to see the outer planets again, he boards a fusion-powered starship, and heads towards the Venus colonies once more, the only home he'd ever known before this journey began.

In less than a year, he is back home, and the drive for adventure is sated... for now.

As you can see, all these worlds -- colonies -- are reachable within a fraction of a single human lifespan -- more civilizations than have ever been written about in all the sci-fi novels printed to date; more numerous than all the worlds in all the Star Trek and Star Wars and Doctor Who movies and television programs combined. And again, reaching them would not require FTL. This future is as possible as the great pyramids were to the ancients. In fact, assuming a technological singularity doesn't brush all else aside in the next few decades, this future is not only possible, but likely.

Want to see more? then check out this image of what it would be like to actually live in an O'Neill cylinder paradise:
 
Posted Image

http://digital-art-g...com/picture/212

Could you image yourself being that child? Can you picture the contrast of a rural land against the cosmic ocean?

====


As I said, it doesn't take much material to build these O'Neill cylinders, and furthermore they are not so massive that they would significantly disrupt the orbits of planets and asteroids... perhaps even if they were the size of the Earth (depending on how thick they were).

One would have to work out the needed thickness and mass requirements, but perhaps something like the following is possible: in principle (say in a few hundred years), one could produce an O'Neill Cylinder whose inner surface area is as large as the Earth's, on which one could put a replica of all Earth's continents and islands. One would not be able to wrap around the North and South poles as on a sphere (i.e. Earth)... and perhaps weather patterns would be a little a strange, given that the Coriolis forces would be non-existent for a cylinder (perhaps this can be fixed?)... but probably overall it could be made virtually indistinguishable from Earth. Using genetic engineering, one could even produce a replica of Earth circa 100 million years ago, during the time of the dinosaurs. It would be the ultimate Jurassic (Cretaceous) Park!

And now where could one put it? Practically anywhere in the solar system: the big issue is whether it would screw up the orbits of the planets if one were to put it in the wrong place. But remember... an O'Neill cylinder doesn't need that much mass; maybe the top mile of matter of the Earth's crust would be all one would need -- that top mile is less than 1 tenth of 1 percent of the total mass of the earth.
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#2
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It's my dream to stand and look at this view. I had this view since I was 8. In my dreams, visions, imagination. I felt it was my destiny or my life's meaning to stand, look up and look at this,

 

 

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It is truly an amazing feeling to look at space habitats. You make your own planet.


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#3
Zeitgeist123

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i imagine the culture's AI ship would look something like O'neill''s cylinder except it is also a ship which you can maneuver. also, this one is interesting. not only is an atmosphere being inside an asteroid a much more secure and a better idea, it also removes you out of a hostile alien detection.

 


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“Philosophy is a pretty toy if one indulges in it with moderation at the right time of life. But if one pursues it further than one should, it is absolute ruin." - Callicles to Socrates


#4
Ru1138

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These are good ideas. But we should make them bigger...

 

http://en.wikipedia....endree_cylinder


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What difference does it make?


#5
Brohanne Jahms

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These are good ideas. But we should make them bigger...

 

http://en.wikipedia....endree_cylinder

 

Where would we get all the carbon to make the carbon nanotubes? Seems more practical to colonize another planet than to dismantle one for resources to create a giant space faring tube.



#6
Ru1138

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Where would we get all the carbon to make the carbon nanotubes? Seems more practical to colonize another planet than to dismantle one for resources to create a giant space faring tube.

Asteroids, comets and the atmosphere of Venus could suffice for one of such a size. But we don't have to build them that big, just bigger than Gerard's initial design.


What difference does it make?


#7
starspawn0

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Just thought I would comment on this old posting of mine (under my old name, star0):

The main problem is: why build them in the first place?

The idea for O’Neill Cylinder colonies dates back to a time when there were fears of a population explosion. The fears were overblown, as technology has allowed us to accommodate more people.

So what purpose do colonies serve? Grand adventure? A chance to experiment with new models of government? Amusement parks?

Perhaps. You could, for example, build a planet-sized Jurassic Park inside an O’Neill cylinder. You could build a WestWorld colony that simulates the Old West in exquisite detail. You could even build colonies that resemble planets from your favorite sci-fi books and films.

But it might all seem a little too fake — consumerism gone off the rails.

I suppose, though, with greatly expanded technological means, and a closing horizon of scientific discovery, we will have to find something to do to keep from becoming bored.

#8
Jakob

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If our population growth becomes so slow that we cannot even colonize a few O'Neill Cylinders, human civilization will stagnate and decline. To become truly great there must be trillions and quadrillions of sophonts at every toposophic level, creating, innovating, consuming, and competing.


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#9
TranscendingGod

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If our population growth becomes so slow that we cannot even colonize a few O'Neill Cylinders, human civilization will stagnate and decline. To become truly great there must be trillions and quadrillions of sophonts at every toposophic level, creating, innovating, consuming, and competing.

It is not a question of if at the moment but rather one of when. As you are well aware population growth rates are steadily on the decline and with Africa and Asia rapidly industrializing this trend appears to be long term. 


The growth of computation is doubly exponential growth. 


#10
Jakob

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If our population growth becomes so slow that we cannot even colonize a few O'Neill Cylinders, human civilization will stagnate and decline. To become truly great there must be trillions and quadrillions of sophonts at every toposophic level, creating, innovating, consuming, and competing.

It is not a question of if at the moment but rather one of when. As you are well aware population growth rates are steadily on the decline and with Africa and Asia rapidly industrializing this trend appears to be long term. 

 

Then we need to change that.


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#11
TranscendingGod

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If our population growth becomes so slow that we cannot even colonize a few O'Neill Cylinders, human civilization will stagnate and decline. To become truly great there must be trillions and quadrillions of sophonts at every toposophic level, creating, innovating, consuming, and competing.

It is not a question of if at the moment but rather one of when. As you are well aware population growth rates are steadily on the decline and with Africa and Asia rapidly industrializing this trend appears to be long term. 

 

Then we need to change that.

 

Better get that girlfriend soon and ready your hip flexors... for the sake of humanity of course. 


The growth of computation is doubly exponential growth. 





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