Feeling nostalgic today, thanks to this post from The Atlantic’s Alex Madrigal about the big movement in the ’70s to build space colonies. I had a set of Disney-produced books about science and history, and one of them had an essay about space colonies, moon colonies, and undersea colonies — complete with artists’ renderings of what these imagined facilities might look like, inside and out. I used to study these illustrations and dream about someday living in space or at the bottom of an ocean.

The fact that I was reading these in the late 1970s — around the time I became immersed in the giant ships and stations of Star Wars — definitely fueled this fascination.

From Madrigal’s post, “The Lost Dream of Trippy ’70s Space Colonies“:

“We have put men on the Moon. Can people live in space? Can permanent communities be built and inhabited off the Earth? Not long ago these questions would have been dismissed as science fiction, as fantasy or, at best as the wishful thinking of men ahead of their times,” a 1975 NASA design study begins. “Now they are asked seriously not only out of human curiosity, but also because circumstances of the times stimulate the thought that space colonization offers large potential benefits and hopes to an increasingly enclosed and circumscribed humanity.”

In the wake of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, the dwindling resources of the Earth were on the minds of many. The solution, for a particular kind of Big Engineering adherent, wasn’t to reduce the human footprint on this planet, but to extend it beyond the blue marble.

The space colony (a.k.a. space city for those who didn’t like the baggage of the word ‘colony’) movement probably marks the apex of nominally realistic ambitious thinking about off-world living. The goal was to build a 10,000-person orbiting community with materials and technologies available to people in the 1970s. The wildly ambitious effort was centered at NASA Ames Research Center, a neighbor of Stanford University, which had to be the coolest place in the world during the third quarter of the 20th century.

Now that the Space Shuttle program has ended, I hope something just as ambitious eventually takes its place. Space flight, maybe. Missions to Mars. Anything. Whether these big-thinking human predictions and projections ever actually happen, the “mental flexibility” they lead to is a good thing. These new frontiers are wonderful to dream about, especially if you’re a kid. I hope my own kids find an awesome place to go in their imaginations — somewhere new and unknown and full of brilliant ideas.


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