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JERRY BROWN - from Limits on Earth to Possibilities in Space
To celebrate California's leadership in space (51% of NASA's procurements in 1977 went to California - the next state was Alabama with 8%) and the occasion of the first free flight test of the Space Shuttle, Governor Jerry Brown hosted a "Space Day" on August 11, 1977, at the Museum of Science and Industry in Los Angeles.
The event was organized by Russell Schweickart, on loan to the Governor from NASA, and cosponsored by the state and the aero-space industry. It got widespread news coverage because 1) Brown had always been seen as strictly Mr. Era-of-Limits, 2) the Carter administration was giving signs of reducing the NASA budget, 3) it was the summer of the phenomenal success of the film "Star Wars'', and 4) Brown was the first major political figure to offer a national vision of space adventure since President Kennedy.
Speaking at ''Space Day" were all of the major NASA leadership (including the new NASA Adminstrator Robert Frosch) and also Gerard O'Neill, Carl Sagan, Jaques Cousteau, Bruce Murray , head of the JPL and Robert Anderson - head of Rockwell International, which built the space shuttle.
To end the program former ''beat poet'' Michael McClure read a new work, ''Antechamber'', against the silent showing of a film made of the most spectacular NASA footage. Michael, who is a proponent of space exploration but not of space colonies, jotted some poems during the course of the day's talks and gave us permission to print them here.
Next morning, August 12, most of the "Space Day'' participants were at Edwards Air Force Base, along with 68,000 other kibitzers, to see the smoothly successful first atmospheric flight of the space shuttle Enterprise.
JERRY BROWN, 1977:
"Ecology and technology find a unity in Space."
"When the day of manufacturing in Space occurs and extraterrestrial material is added into the economic equation, then the old economic rules no longer apply. Going into Space is an investment. It's not a waste of money, it's not a depleting asset, it's an expanding asset, and through the creation of new wealth we make possible the redistribution of more wealth to those who don't have it."
"Awareness of limits leads to awareness of possibilities."
"As long as there is a safety valve of unexplored frontiers, then the creative, the aggressive, the exploitive urges of human beings can be channeled into long term possibilities and benefits. But if those frontiers close down and people begin to turn in upon themselves, that jeopardizes the democratic fabric."
"As for Space Colonies, it's not a question of whether - only when and how."
Instead of Frictionless Elephants
Talking with GERARD O'NEILL
You should know that all the interviews with O'Neill in this book took place after midnight - the man is a model of grace-despite-fatigue. This time it was after a full day of Governor Brown's Space Day, at which O'Neill spoke, and a night-piloting job to a desert airport. Jane McClure had recently attended the press conference following the third (1977) NASA-Ames Summer Study on space colonies and had some questions.
Jane McClure: What gave you the idea to give that space problem to your students?
Gerard O'Neill: It was the year of the Apollo landing, and I was teaching freshman physics. The course had never had a theme as such so I chose the Apollo project rather than the classical physics problems of pushing frictionless elephants up inclined planes and so on as they always had. To a special seminar of ten or twelve people I suggested the overall question, "Is it possible for a technological civilization to do its natural expansion in space rather than on the surface of the planet?" Or, another way around "Is the planetary surface the right place to be in the long run." As to why I asked that question, I have a feeling that it probably came out of an automatic approach to problem solving based on 15 years or so of having worked in experimental high-energy physics up to that time.
Stewart Brand: You seem to have some habits now of how to approach the right question. What is the structure of that?
O'Neill: Yes, there are a few prejudices that I've built up over time, based on the experience of seeing experiments that seemed to work easily or that had problems. One of them is, I found that if you've got a complicated problem, it always seems to help if you break it in pieces and then solve each piece separately. The tendency of a fairly green designer is to try to take a problem and come up with one grand solution that will do everything at the same time. That's usually a mistake, There's another habit of thought, and that is if you're looking at a very tough problem, it's often useful to try to stand back from it and see if you're locked into some thought pattern.
Brand: Like assuming you're stuck on a planet.
O'Neill: Right: You know the six-match problem? This is the problem where you take six equal matches and without breaking them or bending them or anything, you make four identical triangles out of them. I don't think I'm a particularly good problem solver, but it happens that when I was shown that problem I could solve it very quickly.
McClure: Solve it! He did.
Brand: Jane, I wonder if it'd be interesting to probe a little bit the nature of the younger generation of designers and maniacs that Gerry's attracted. Like the ones who built the mass-driver.
O'Neill: They're nice kids, aren't they? Well, two of the students at least at present are hoping to come to Princeton and graduate school within another year or so.
McClure: Where are they now?
O'Neill: One is at the University of Michigan that's David Kaplan. He's just finishing his fourth year of a five year program in which you get a combined degree in aerospace and computer science. And Jonathan Newman, who has just finished his junior year at Amherst in physics, with a fairly strong law background. At the moment he's hoping to come to Princeton either in aerospace engineering or physics.
McClure: How did they get connected with you in the first place?
O'Neill: Well, David because I gave a lecture at the University of Michigan a little over a year ago and I mentioned that we were having a summer study and asked anybody who was interested to see me. I was terribly impressed by David because he proceeded to skip a meal and by the end of the day handed me a completely typed up, one page, highly condensed resume of his background, experience, interest, and all that. So I hired him for the '76 summer study, at which he did a beautiful job. We stayed in touch after that and then he came back to the '77 study as well.
Kevin Fine came to MIT from a physics background, going into graduate work in aerospace engineering. Professor Miller, who was the head of the department and my host, offered to have some graduate student work with me during my year there and it seemed to us that Kevin was the best candidate.
McClure: Out of curiosity, how many women do you get interested?
McClure: Lots? I didn't see any working with you or on the mass driver.
O'Neill: Well, it's the statistics of small numbers at this point. The work I've been doing this past year is very specialized in the sense that it's largely on this question of the development of these electromagnetic mass drivers, so that tends to mean someone with a fairly strong physics background. There are not many women in that field.
Now, at the NASA-Ames summer study we just finished we had three women professionals who were quite senior and all of them were extremely good. One was in life sciences area - closed cycle agriculture, another was in astronomy - she's an astronomer at Palomar, and the third is a lawyer, who was involved in the international law aspects of the project.
McClure: How would someone in my position get involved in some sort of research or design problem in your line within about two years. I have most of my schooling behind me and all I have to do is specialize. At this point I could go in any direction.
O'Neill: I'd mostly try to find what you feel you yourself are best at. What are the things that you most enjoy doing?
McClure: Biology. And that doesn't really fit in ...
O'Neill: It does. Probably in the long run some of the most interesting and least understood problems associated with all of this are biology problems. For the physics and electrical engineering and rocketry there's no problem finding people who can do those jobs. There's lots and lots of such people.
Brand: What would be your list of biology-type applications?
O'Neill: The biologically-oriented study group was the largest single task group - about 15 people - that we had in this year's summer study. There are obviously going to be space medical questions. The most important being, "What is the range of atmospheres in which it's possible for people to live comfortably without developing respiratory problems?" For example, if most people could exist indefinitely without harm living in a pure oxygen atmosphere with an oxygen partial pressure equivalent to say 5000 foot elevation, that's terribly cheap to provide because the Moon is mostly oxygen, and it's going to be literally a waste product of space manufacturing. On the other hand if it turns out that we have to carry along almost Earth normal air complete with all that nitrogen, it's very expensive because it's not found on the Moon. People have already lived for several days at a time in pure oxygen atmospheres. It was done in the Apollo project. Once the guys on the lunar module finished with their first EVA, they dumped whatever nitrogen there was on board and lived in pure oxygen the rest of the time. In some cases that was a week. So we know that there aren't any drastic effects associated with pure oxygen atmospheres. But we don't know whether there's something that builds up with the passage of a long period of time, whether there's subtle effects. That's pretty much physiology; you almost have to be a doctor to handle that.
Brand: How about microbes and plants? Won't they need atmospheric nitrogen?
O'Neill: That's still a big open area, a tremendous amount of research to be done. In the very beginning I think that we're not going to be using closed cycle agriculture. We'll just carry up the same sort of dehydrated food that people are used to in space programs.
McClure: At the press conference after the NASA-Ames summer study, there was someone on the panel who, in response to a question from the press on the psychological implications of space travel and living, said there are three questions which they found the most often asked by people -"Who's in charge?" "Who's paying for this?" and "Aren't people going to go crazy?" I thought those were three pretty definitive questions.
O'Neill: Well, we have of course, a tremendous amount of data on the issue of isolated groups and their power structure. If you look at the situation of sailing ships in the days when they were out for months or years at a time, it was a very clear-cut situation. It's been found that a dictatorship is what works. The very important difference being that the dictator the ship's captain or the captain of an airplane, is not there for life. He's there for a voyage and he comes back. Whatever the guy does, he knows that he's going to come back, his actions are going to be reviewed and if he has done a bad job he won't be reappointed.
In the very beginning where you're dealing with let's say 100 people who are up there for a tour of duty of 6 months or a year or something like that, they would probably end up with something fairly equivalent to say an Antarctic colony, where there's always a well-defined chain of command.
McClure: Also, I have the strange feeling that probably you would quickly revert to a kind of a natural pecking order. In a situation like that pecking orders are a kind of survival mechanism.
O'Neill: It's a survival mechanism essentially because it reduces conflict. There's nothing that produces conflict more than an ill-defined situation of authority.
Brand: You know I wonder about the uses of all these Earth-based examples and metaphors, such as we heard in the Space Day speeches today. A reporter asked me whether I thought space exploration was like Stonehenge or Queen Isabella and Columbus, or the Nile and the dream of the seven cows. I told him I think we're probably up against the limits of the usefulness of metaphor and those things are going to lead us astray rather than inform us.
O'Neill: That's a good point. We may just have to face up to the fact that here we are doing some things that has new features. It you come back in 100 years there're probably going to be some new words.
Brand: There'll be new things to name different degrees of solar storm, different kinds of cabin fever.
McClure: What do you think of Cousteau's view that space should not be inhabited, just as he thinks the underwater is not to be inhabited, even though he was experimenting at one time with the possibilities of living underwater, and you're experimenting now with the possibilities of getting in space . . .
O'Neill: Well, I think it's an emotional response and you know he's got a complete right to his opinion on that. In the case of the ocean it's a bit different, Jane, because there are real reasons why the ocean is a relatively harsh and unfriendly environment to inhabit. The reasons are, first of all, that the pressure problem under the oceans means that the amount of space that's available is much more sharply limited. Once you go down far enough that you're away from surface storms, you're down so far you're in a region with pressure really way up, pressure vessels are normally unstable under external pressure, you take a sphere deform it a little bit under external pressure and its tendency is to collapse all the way. Whereas in space you're dealing with internal pressure; you take a sphere and deform it a little front spherical shape and it'll return to the spherical shape because that's the stable case, as long as the pressure is on the inside rather than on the outside. And you're dealing with only 5 or 6 pounds per square inch instead of the hundreds of pounds per square inch which you get to very quickly under the oceans. Also, under the oceans you're cut off from your energy source - the sun - even more than you are on land, whereas in space you're opening up your energy source for full-time use at high intensity. It's just a fundamentally different case.
McClure: When I first read your articles I was very excited at the possibilities of space habitation.
O'Neill: I hope you still are.
McClure: I vacillate back and forth - I can't help it. There's an emotional response and then a practical response.
O'Neill: You should, because we are dealing with some potentially explosive issues. Anytime you get into something powerful it always has the capability of good or evil, which is a pomt that I make several times in my book and I'll return to it. That's one reason why I'm so interested in trying to guide it to the best of my ability because I can imagine the whole thing wandering off.
Brand: What are some of your dark visions of how it might go bad?
O'Neill: Maybe I'm too positively oriented to dwell on them a great deal, Stewart, but one possibility would be that the space habitat business might get done under complete military domination. It might be that one country goes out and starts building habitats in space and arms on the Earth at the same time in a threatening way which makes it impossible for any other nation to go out into space. That would certainly be a very dark vision if that were to occur, because it would put a clamp on our human race which is an even harsher clamp than what we've got right now, I really hope that doesn't happen.
I think it's completely unrealistic to expect that space colonies are going to develop in some way which I lay out in a formula. Obviously. If it were going to do that then there's something wrong with it. It's not worth doing. I have a fundamental faith in the good sense of rather ordinary people, and the less the intellectual pretensions of the people, the more faith I have in their good sense. That's just based on my own experience ever since I was 17 years old in the U.S. Navy. I'm thinking of people who were in some cases semi-illiterate but whose basic common sense was far superior to lots of extremely distinguished types that I've known since who have 14 degrees after their names.
Brand: You trust the noncommissioned officers more than the commissioned officers?
O'Neill: Well, I'm biased - I was a noncommissioned officer myself. But I trust the ordinary seaman perhaps even more.
Brand: You know, some of the papers from your conferences are coming out in books now, but they're always a year or two behind. What are you working on currently?
O'Neill: We're beginning to work out a real program scenario in which you look at specific sets of lights and how much goes up on which and all the rest of it. There was just the beginnings of that in '76. In '77 I had a sabbatical year, which was a great help, and with the kindness of MIT I spent it there. This has been a very productive year mainly because of work on two areas - one was the mass driver, the other was to follow-up the '76 study work on program development, trying to really look at the minimum investment ways of getting to a big productive payback. That's in an article which will be coming out in a month or two.
O'Neill: Astronautics and Aeronautics. And the Summer Study felt it made good sense to develop a program for how you eventually realize space manufacturing. That's what John Shettler from GM did. He ended up with a program in which you make the first shuttle flight in 1985, and you're getting the first power satellite on line in 1991 with a very rapid build up after that, with Island One I suppose coming in the mid-to-late 199Os.
Brand: So far you've hung all of your investment payback arguments on the solar satellite energy.
O'Neill: I think if you're honest you really have to conclude that at the present state of our knowledge that's the only big economic driver.
Brand: How about materials collected from asteroids for use on the Earth?
O'Neill: You're up against a much tougher economics there. Apollo had launch costs on the order of $1000 a kilogram even up to low orbit. The shuttle is $20 million a flight, Let's see-$20 million for 30,000 kilograms of metal, so that's like several hundred dollars a kilogram right there. The price on the surface of the Earth is more likely to be $1 or $2 a kilogram. The price of raw materials is always in that range. Now, if you huff and puff and make an enormous launch vehicle which can reduce the launch costs far below what the shuttle can do, maybe you can get down into the range of let's say $50 - $70 a kilogram to geosynchronous orbit. What that means is that if you can build something whose end use is in geosynchronous orbit, no matter how wasteful and inefficient you are building it, you will have an inherent added value of $70 per kilogram because that's what you would have had to pay to bring that material, that equipment, up from the surface of the Earth. Now, if you return material to the Earth's surface, you no longer have that advantage. You don't have that automatic added value. Now you're competing with Anaconda Copper and U.S. Steel, who are selling their things for $1 or $2 a kilogram.
The fact is that although we are working on something which I think has a tremendous amount of potential, from an economic viewpoint it is very dicey in that it's a one-crop economy. Energy. If someone finds a solution to the energy problem which is better, quicker and cheaper than satellite solar power done this way, then we're wiped out.
McClure: At some point there is bound to be a real energy crisis, and I get the feeling that you will get little support until that time. Then all of a sudden you will be launched into space to mine the Moon and asteroids and build solar satellites.
O'Neill: I doubt if it'll be that automatic. For one thing the whole energy problem is one which has enormous vested interests right now. And I'm thinking not of the utilities, investors, and so on. They don't have the technological hangups in that respect. I was very impressed by the utilities people and the investment people when we had a first meeting of our USRA (University Space Research Association) advisory panel last month. Those people said, "Look, we read this article, we see that with some fairly reasonable set of assumptions that you may be talking about energy for $500 a kilowatt or something like that. We don't care whether you're getting it from the antennas or little green men from Mars. If you can get us energy at $500 a kilowatt we'll buy it. No problem. Just show us that it can be done." This is one issue that's very clear. You're not going to get private capital until the technological risk has been reduced almost to zero.
McClure: What kind of implications are private investments going to add to the whole space program?
O'Neill: In fact we discussed that point. One of the men who was on the panel is from an insurance company. He happens to have been very heavily involved over a number of years in the financing of the Quebec Hydro, which is the largest hydroelectric project ever done in the western world. Quebec Hydro has a whole set of horrendous political problems that I won't go into. Basically, Churchill Falls is a source of energy for which the installed cost is around $1600 a kilowatt, but once you have it it's a free source of energy from there on because it's hydroelectric. The financing involved is like 10 billion, 15 billion dollars, not peanuts by comparison with what we're dealing with - it's very similar. But he made the point very strongly that the technical issue of whether if could be done was never raised. There were 20 volumes of study reports written on all of the details, but the fundamental point was that everybody knows that water falls downhill. We are a long way from space manufacturing and satellite solar power being so proven and so taken for granted that they're equivalent to saying that water runs downhill. And it's not going to be until we have that degree of assurance that we're going to get private capital. It's just going to have to be governmental up to that point. Unless by some incredible magic one can get an enormous broadly based consortium of people all over the world to do it, which is probably completely ridiculous but it every now and then crosses my mind in a wistful kind of way.
I don't feel that in the long run the details of how this all gets started is going to be as important as the fact that it's getting started. I think I could even adjust to the possibility that it would be done and the United States might have no part in it. Even if it meant the beginning of a decline or acceleration of a decline of the United States, because I'm sure that whatever nation or group of nations first makes really vigorous use of non-terrestrial resources almost certainly has got a lease on the next 100 years.
Brand: Japan has I'm told something like $2.8 billion a year now in space, compared to our $4 billion.
O'Neill: I don't know what they're doing. I was told that there had been a Japanese delegation which made an approach to NASA to take part in exploration of satellite solar power, but that they had been rebuffed. That's all I know.
Brand: Any indication of Russian interest?
O'Neill: They soak up everything that they can find out on the subject. Articles of mine have been translated without my knowledge into Russian newspapers. Then some academician of the USSR gives an answer with the classical and expected statements - first of all that, yes, these things will happen but not at all in detail in the way that this guy from the West says, and besides it was all done first by the Russians. I'd certainly point out that Tsiolkovsky did in fact have most of these ideas many, many years ago.
Brand: The High Frontier has been translated now into what? . . .
O'Neill: Japanese, German, Dutch, French. I think Italian's the last one I've heard about.
Brand: What's the increase in public awareness ? Linear growth ?
O'Neill: I think much more than that. I think we're seeing an acceleration of the acceleration. It's getting completely out of hand as something which can be coped with without some sort of organization.
Brand: Pure nuisance for you, I imagine.
O'Neill: I wouldn't say that about something that I basically love, but yeah it can absorb 100 hours of every day, and 100 becomes 200 hours if you wait two months. It's one reason that we started the Institute for Space Studies at Princeton.
Brand: Say more about that.
O'Neill: At the moment it's not a great deal more than a gleam in the eye, but it Is a nonprofit, tax-deductible corporation in the state of New Jersey and it's now getting federal incorporation also. It is also probably going to become a so-called Nongovernmental Organization of the United Nations, which is important because we want to be able to make an input to the U N deliberations on such things as treaties about the Moon. We don't want things to be bargained away which we may very much want to be able to use later on, We have very good connections within the United Nations and our friends there assure us that it will be a real value to have that kind of status, and that it would be quite easy to get.
The corporation has as officers people like myself, Tasha, Brian, O'Leary, Steve Cheston . . .
O'Neill: Family. All the officers work with no compensation. The organization has no overhead because it has no staff and one fundamental article of faith of my own is that, whatever happens to the institute, we will live within whatever budget we have at the moment. If we have no money, we will spend no money, so we are not going out and hiring permanent paid staff at this stage of the game at all. If we can afford to bring in a Kelly Girl occasionally to help with the typing that's about as far as we go.
McClure: What are the issues that are being discussed in the UN? Wasn't something mentioned about control of geosynchronous orbits between nations?
O'Neill: Well, that's an example of one of these dark prospects that you were asking about, Stewart - if there were to be a binding set of treaties that were to go into effect that would for example make it impossible for satellite solar power to exist at all. It could happen.
Brand: Because of synchronous orbit being already full of satellite at some time?
O'Neill: Well, legally full. From the technical viewpoint I don't think there is a serious issue, because I can see all kinds of ways around the problems of filling up geosynchronous orbits. But it could be a very real issue from a legal viewpoint.
McClure: But you're afraid that if we start signing treaties now before we know the possibilities of space and space technology that we're going to end up limiting ourselves while trying to keep that peace.
Brand: Like the Law of the Sea meetings. It's just endless argument. Nobody's mining the sea because of the arguments.
O'Neill: That could happen. Or, it could be that we in the United States would give away in a Moon treaty any possibility of our taking part in a consortium which would make use of the lunar resources in the future. That would be enough to delay the whole thing by 20 or 30 years. Ultimately I'm sure that there would be some nation or group of nations who would go out there and do it whatever the treaties said, but it might not be us.
Brand: Gerry, of all the designing that's gone on so far it seems to me that the most demonstrably exciting thing is the mass driver. it's new, it works, and it's ingenious as hell, What was the genesis of that?
O'Neill: The first notions that I had about taking material off the surface of the Moon involved these centrifugal launching machines, which as far as we can tell could probably be made to work, it's just that we think we have a better way. Toward the end of 1973 there was an article which appeared in Scientific American by Henry Kolm and Artie Thornton on the subject of magnetic flight in connection with urban transit systems which they had been working on. Henry had built a model of an urban transit device which operated over a 300 foot track. It was a joint project of MIT and Raytheon. It involved a superconducting set of coils and demonstrated honest magnetic flight.
When I saw that, it filled in a third place where there were two places already full and I was looking for a way to fill the third. If you want to have an efficient launching machine it's got to have several characteristics. First of all you don't want to throw away anything expensive. In all the old-fashioned magnetic guns you threw away the moving coil in the course of a shot and that obviously wouldn't do. The second thing is that the acceleration by magnetic fields is pretty easy. Germans even as far back as World War I tried to make magnetic guns. The idea that you could accelerate something by having a coil with a current in it is a very old-fashioned idea. However, the stumbling block was that as soon as you bring something up to high speed, how the heck do you hold on to it? You can do the calculations, and you find that wheels fly apart a tiny fraction of the speeds which you want on a mass driver. You can't tolerate friction which speeds like a mile per second.
Henry Kolm's and Artie Thornton's article filled in that big gap by pointing out to me something I had simply never known before, which was the existence of the phenomenon called magnetic flight. It turned out it had been around for 60 years and was demonstrated to Winston Churchill in 1914 at the Paris Exposition.
Brand: As a possible what?
O'Neill: As a system for moving packages rapidly around the city of Paris. So, I did the initial calculations for a mass driver, probably 20 or 30 pages of calculations, just to convince myself that it did make sense and that the numbers worked out in a reasonable way. I described it at the 1974 Princeton conference.
Brand: Does this qualify as an invention?
O'Neill: Probably, from a legal point of view. I did inquire of the research corporation which thinks about patents for Princeton University as to whether it would be patentable. They said yes it would be patentable, it qualified as an invention. However they were not interested in patenting it because it was obvious that if it had application it would be either implemented by a government or a consortium of utilities.
Brand: Say a little about what's new about the device.
O'Neill: In a synchronous motor like this the information is fed back from the moving object. The critical thing about the mass driver is that it's selftiming. What happens is that as the bucket goes careening down the track it crosses microswitches, and every time it crosses a microswitch for one particular coil, it triggers that coil, and that gives the push at the right time to keep it going. in the case of the real mass driver, that would be the interrupting of a light beam rather than a microswitch. You're not dealing with an unstable situation of riding a sort of magnetic wave which is remorselessly going to move ahead whether the bucket is there or not. The bucket does its own timing as it moves.
Brand: Do you know yet whether there is an optimum mass for the mass driver?
O'Neill: We know that there isn't.
Brand: Infinity has just entered the discussion here.
O'Neill: Not really, no, it's just that particularly as a result of this very intensive work during the last year we have now all the sets of optimization formulas so we can work out masses. There are now computer programs in which you plug in the conditions that you want, the velocity that you want, how many kilograms per second that you want to pump out, what's the diameter of the coils, and one or two other things. You can punch all of those parameters into an HB 67 program and it churns away and comes out and tells you all the parameters of the mass driver, including the masses of all the components involved, how much tonnage of coils, how much tonnage of capacitors, all the rest. You can go down and practically order it off the shelf. One of the things that we investigated was the question of how sensitive this optimization is to the diameter of the machine because if we change the diameter by a factor of ten we change the mass of the payload by a factor of 1000. So we went over a factor of 1000 range of payload mass and asked how much did the mass of the machine change. And it turned out it only changed by 50% over that very large factor.
Brand: How about the energy requirement?
O'Neill: Very little change because it's extremely efficient. On the lunar mass driver, our latest calculations show it should be 97% efficient. The lunar machine has, as I recall, about 100 megawatts of power input. Of that, 97 megawatts appears as the kinetic energy of the payloads that are going off the surface of the Moon. Only 3 megawatts go into radiator panels that are having to radiate away the heat from the coils.
Brand: That's awesome.
O'Neill: The machine that we hope to use as the shuttle upper stage to get from low Earth orbit to lunar orbit, the one that would make use of the shuttle tankage's reaction mass, that is about 75% efficient. It's less efficient because it's being stressed a lot more We're running it at 1000 gravities acceleration instead of 100 and it's going up to a much higher speed. It has to go up to 10,000 meters per second.
Brand: How about this little one you've been demonstrating?
O'Neill: Surprisingly enough it's about 50% efficient. I like to go back and recall that in my old Physics Today article where I expressed the concept of the mass driver, I was estimating 29 gravities acceleration. This model that you saw operate today runs - if you dunk it in liquid nitrogen to make the core really cold - it runs at 35g's. And that's built from scrap.
Brand: Is the space environment conducive to a very effective mass driver?
O'Neill: It's far easier to make one in space than it is anywhere else. For many reasons.
Brand: You mentioned the need for chilling it. You get that naturally in space?
O'Neill: No. The average temperature in space is about what it is on the Earth. It's the same equilibrium temperature that you get if you toast one side and let it cool and toast the other side. An artificial satellite is a small planet; therefore it heats and cools like a planet. In the old days before light meters people with cameras used to take pictures of the Moon and wanted to know how to set their cameras, and everybody said, "It's very simple, it's an object in bright sunlight."
McClure: Gerry, in my thoughts about space settlements I get excited and then I get disturbed at the thought that 10,000 people are up there and what if there's a slip in some sort of mechanics . .. I see everyone falling out into space.
O'Neill: Oh gosh!
McClure: It's just a visual image I get - how vulnerable you are in space?
O'Neill: It's probably the same way that Columbus's sailors felt.
McClure: Well, you gotta start doing it. It's the only way to find out. You're not gonna go build this huge satellite first and then put the people in it to see how it works.
O'Neill: You build up step by step.
McClure: I wanted to tell you one thing that a reporter said right after your conference at NASA-Ames. I saw a reporter in a phone booth. He was writing away frantically and speaking into the phone giving directions for a typist on the other end. Obviously it was going to be a big news story. He got ahold of his editor and said, " Either this guy is just totally out of his mind or he's really on to something!"
O'Neill: That's about as charitable a view as I'm asking for at this point.
The Long View
The shocks of this Age are the shocks of pace. Change accelerates around us so rapidly that we are strangers to our own pasts and even more to our futures. Gregory Bateson comments, ''I think we could have handled the industrial revolution, given 500 years.''
In 100 years we have assuredly not handled it. We manufactured an "Age of Discontmuity" (Peter Drucker) whose time horizon forward is terrifyingly close - 4 years in politics, 10 years in major corporations. I feel serene when I can comfortably encompass two weeks ahead.
That's a pathological condition.
But I think it will pass, partly from its pure unworkability, partly from the move of some of humanity into space. The project of space exploration, industrialization, colonization, and migration is so big and so slow and so engrossing that I think it will bring the rest of human activity into its pace. If you want to inhabit a moon of Jupiter - that's a reasonable want now - one of the skills you must cultivate is patience. It's not like a TV set or a better job - apparently cajolable from a quick politician. Your access to Jupiter has to be won - at its pace - from a difficult solar system.
With the first color photograph of the Earth from its Moon, the whole Earth became a political idea and ecology a political movement which has continued to strengthen in its 11 years so far. Though I have thought at times that the health of space perspective on Earthly activities has gone as far as it can, recently I'm not so sure.
The reach of human intelligence to the stars is an enormous undertaking. When I grasp the reality of that, not just the words, but the actual project, a religious scale of presence that spans centuries comforts me. Feeling comfortable and curious that far forward, and therefore that far backward, I begin to feel at home again. Interested in events longer than the ego's prison of ''my lifetime", I'm free to care for other large continuities such as the life of the Earth and the drama of human culture. Previously overwhelming urgencies, like the deadline on this book for me, fall into microcosmic place - worth doing, connected, but not urgent.
Religious-scale projects - and their comforts - have often scourged humankind. I'm thinking of Egyptian pyramids, Moslem jihads, Mongol hordes, Christian crusades, the Third Reich, world Communism, maybe science itself. Part of their hazard is that they become their own universe - an infinite regress of self-reference grounded nowhere.
Space exploration is grounded firmly on the abyss. Space is so impossible an environment for us soft, moist creatures that even with our vaulting abstractions we will have to move carefufly, ponderously into that dazzling vacuum.
The stars can't be rushed. Whew, that's a relief.
By way of thanks. to Gerry O'Neill and Rusty Schweickart, who are essentially co-authors of this book, let me leave you with the two images of them that abide with me. Both are flying.
Gerry is in the left front seat, his wife Tasha in the right, of a Piper Cherokee. It's night. We're at about 6,000 feet. The two of them are navigating like mad - twitching dials, jotting figures, muttering into the transceiver which is shrieking back, glancing down at the town-lit coastal fog that has slightly complicated this flight of ninety miles from Los Angeles to Mohave. All of us (there's Jane McClure as well, wide-eyed on her first small plane flight) are grey with fatigue from Governor Brown's "Space Day", facing still the small-hours interview you just read, a wink of sleep, and a dawn drive to Edwards Air Force Base for the space shuttle free flight test.
Here at 6,000 feet we're in dreamtime. Gerry opines where we are. Tasha checks a map, gently corrects him. He thanks her, queries the radio, jots the response on his kneepad, confirms with Tasha, takes a new heading, she switches maps, and they discuss whether the Mojave airport might have its lights on. They've done this for several hundred thousand miles, clear to Venezuela one time. From the back seat it's ballet to watch them, pas de deux.
In Rusty's case he and his wife Clare and I and a lady were camping on a desert island off Nova Scotia, devouring in the late twilight sweet mackerel that Rusty had just caught. Rusty and Clare were drifting easy, free for a couple of days from their five kids who were camping elsewhere. Rusty glanced at the sky - "There goes the first one."
Sure enough, a satellite glowed north in polar orbit among stars that Rusty knows by name from years of celestial navigation and keeps an eye on. While Clare asked how many satellites you're likely to see of an evening any more, and Rusty opined a calculation, I began to watch him funny, a personal sense of his Apollo experience at last forming in me. Clare knocked a gold spike in it a moment later.
''You know, Rusty, I never did get out at night to see you when you were a star.''
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