Gerard K. O’Neill On Space Colonies

Gerard K. O’Neill Pioneered The Idea Of Human Colonies In Space. He Conceived Of Human Civilization Throughout The Solar System And Said That By 2050, 200 Million People Could Be Living In Habitats Beyond The Earth, Offering Humanity A Viable Plan B.

O’Neill discussed space colonization and industrialization with OMNI contributing editor Monte Davis in 1979, delivering a playbook for the future we dream of still.

OMNI
Why did you start advocating the colonization of space?

O’Neill
My motives were largely humanistic. The Club of Rome concluded that as population continues to expand, we’ll have to abandon the development of greater individual freedom and accept a much more regulated life with diminished options — not just for us, but for our children and their children and so on forever. I reacted to that with dismay and shock. It sounded like a hell of a world to leave to my kids.

OMNI
Do you think that space colonies might affect even those people who decided to remain on Earth?

O’Neill
Absolutely. The earth, of course, would eventually become far less crowded. Beyond that, important psychological effects would occur almost immediately. If you go back and consider, for example, Shakespeare’s plays, you’ll realize that they were being written at just the time when settlement of the New World was a very big issue. In Shakespeare’s day, relatively few people had actually gone to the New World, but the opening up of that window of opportunity had already had an important effect on the lives, and literature, of the people in Europe. There were products coming back from the New World to the Old; there was always the possibility of people picking up stakes and moving. The very existence of the New World expanded options, enhanced freedoms, and even helped produce a man with the vision of Shakespeare. Space colonies would clearly produce that spirit once again. Furthermore, we’ll see a great deal of two-way travel to the space colonies. A lot of people who continue to make their homes on the earth will find a trip to the space colonies and back as economical as a long-distance trip in a jetliner. By 2050, some two hundred million people may be making annual trips out into space and back again. People will be going on business, on vacation, for all sorts of reasons. There are going to be people who will maintain two homes, one in space and one on the earth.

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