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Authors: Jerry Pournelle

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In the December 5, 1975
(the prestigious publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science) Dr. O'Neill presents an economic analysis of satellite solar power stations (SSPS's) and Space Manufacturing Facilities. He comes up with total costs ranging from a low of $31 billion—about the proportion of GNP that Apollo cost—to a high of $185 billion. He also discusses benefits from the electric power produced by SSPS's, and concludes that over a 40 year period the facilities would show actual profits from sales of power alone.

As a co-discoverer (with Poul Anderson) of
was once known in the aerospace industry as Pournelle's Law of Costs and Schedules ("Everything takes longer and costs more"), I tend to distrust Dr. O'Neill's numbers. It hardly makes any difference. The important point is that the program is feasible. We could afford it. Take a worst-case. Suppose it takes 25 years, and the total cost is 50 Apollo programs, that is, a round one trillion bucks. The money must be spent at $40 billion a year for the next 25 years, which comes to $200 a year for every man, woman, and child in the US. In my own family it would be about $1000 a year.

That's a lot of money. Worth it, I think; the benefits are literally incalculable. For example, by the year 2000 the US will need 2 billion tons of coal annually simply to operate our electric power system. Nuclear power plants could reduce that substantially, but the nuclear industry is in deep legal—not technological—trouble. It would be worth a lot to me simply to avoid the strip mines that 2 billion tons a year will require.

Moreover, the space budget isn't going to be simply tacked onto the national budget. All of the money will be spent here on Earth—people living in Lunar and space colonies have no need for Earth dollars, and what they physically import is tiny compared to the salaries that will be paid to Earth workers manufacturing products for the colony program. With $40 billion a year in high-technology industries, we can eliminate a number of "pump-priming" expenditures and dismantle several welfare and unemployment compensation schemes as well.


Figure 9

Assume each colony can build one new colony in ten years. Assume there are only 50,000 people in each colony. Assume we don't get started until 2020 AD. . .
By 2283 AD (Standing Room Only at 4% population growth),
There will be
3.85 x 10
people living in O'Neill Colonies.
Comparing favorably to the 6.8 x 10
people required to cover the Earth. . . .
(WELL, we never said we'd give the Club of Rome a monopoly on exponential curves.)


Of course we won't really need to spend that kind of money? and I suspect we can start getting returns on that investment before 25 years. O'Neill himself thinks in terms of some $5 billion a year, which works out to $25 a head for each person in the US; and the colonies have got to be worth
if only in entertainment value.

Now how can something as complex as space colonies be built for that low a price? And wouldn't it be cheaper to build space manufacturing facilities in near-Earth orbit rather than going out to L5?

That's the beauty of the O'Neill concept. All the building materials for the colonies must, of course, be put into orbit—but they need not come from Earth. Most of the raw materials for the L5 colony will come from the Moon.

The Moon has one twentieth the gravity well that Earth does. The colonies will be in stable Trojan Points. Put those two data together and you reach an interesting conclusion: much of the mass of the colonies need never have been launched by rockets at all.

There are several devices for getting lunar materials to the L5 point. One involves a simple centrifugal arm: a big solar-powered gizmo similar to the thing used to pitch baseballs for batting practice. It flings gup, such as unrefined Lunar ore (25-35% metal, from our random samples) out to the L5 point, and the laws of gravity keep it there. Refining takes place at the colony, and the slag is useful as dirt, cosmic ray shielding, and just plain mass. There's also oxygen in them there rocks.

Another workable device is the linear accelerator or mass driver—a long electric sled as used in countless science fiction stories. Both these can be built with present technology.

Obviously, then, O'Neill colonies have a prerequisite, namely, a permanent Lunar Colony. Now that's certainly within present-day technology; I once did studies that demonstrated that with technology available in the 60's we could keep astronauts and scientists alive for years on the Lunar surface, and things have come a long way since then.

The Lunar Colony will need at least one near-Earth manned space station, since Earth-orbit to Lunar-orbit is the most efficient way to transport large masses of materials
here to there. The Lunar Shuttle will be assembled in space, and won't have all that waste structure that would enable it to withstand planetary gravity; thus it can carry far more payload per trip.

It's here that I think the profits come in. Skylab demonstrated that space manufacturing operations have fantastic potential profits. There are things we can make in space that simply cannot be made on Earth. Materials research benefits alone might pay for the space station. Certainly the potential for Earth-watch operations, pollution monitoring, better weather prediction, increased communications, and all the other benefits we've already got from space, will contribute to profits as well.

And once space shows a visible return on investment, we may well be on our way.

So. The prerequisite for the space station is the Shuttle; and there's the weak point. The Shuttle is in trouble. There are a number of Congresscritters who'd like nothing better than to convert the Shuttle into benefits for their own districts. There are plenty of intellectuals who continually do cry "Why must we waste money in space when there are so many needs on Earth?" The obvious reply, that most of our expenditures on Earth seem to have vanished with no visible benefit, while our space program has already just about paid for itself in better weather prediction alone, does not impress them.

There are also the Zero-Growth theorists who see investment in space not as a mere waste of money, but as a positive evil.

We are close to breakthrough. For a whack of a lot less than we spend on liquor, or on cigarettes and cosmetics, on new highways we don't need, on countless tiny drains that flitter away the hopes of mankind, the United States alone could break out of Earth's prison and send men to space. The effect on future generations is literally incalculable. We
do it; but will we?

* * *

I wish I were sure that we would; or that if we of the US don't do it, somebody else will; but I am not. There are just too many disaster scenarios. A Great Depression, War. The triumph of anti-technological ideology. The continued ruin of our educational system—in California, with 30 State Universities, there is not one in which bonehead English is not the largest single class, and the retreat from excellence (called democratization and equality of opportunity) races onward. Any of these, or all of them at once, could throw away an opportunity that may never again come to mankind.

So what can we do?

For one thing, we can organize at least as well as the opposition. Science fiction readers may have mixed emotions about "ecology" movements, consumerism, Zero-Growth, and the like, but I think we have not lost our sense of wonder, nor abandoned our hopes. We have not given up the vision of man's vast future among the stars. We have not traded the future of man for a few luxuries in our time.

Unfortunately, we have no voice, or rather, we have a myriad of voices, none very effective.

In the 50's a number of us in the aircraft industry used to bootleg space research. There wasn't any budget for that crazy Buck Rogers stuff. Most of us believed we would see the day when the first man set foot on the Moon. We didn't believe we'd see the last one. I hope we haven't.

Like many of us who recall pre-Sputnik days, I alternate between hope and depression. Recently I have seen one hopeful sign, although it is a bit frightening.

As I write this it appears that the Soviets have built lasers sufficiently powerful to blind our infra-red observation satellites. These satellites are in very high orbits, meaning that the Soviet lasers must be extremely powerful. One old friend who has remained in the industry told me at a New Year's party that the Soviets must be at least 5 years ahead of us, and this in a field in which we thought we were supreme.

Why is this hopeful? Isn't it rather frightening?

It's frightening if you think the Soviet Union may fall or be under the control of convinced ideologists willing to trade part of their country for all of the world. There is nothing in Marxist ideology to forbid that—indeed, any communist who has the opportunity to eliminate the West and thus bring about the world revolution, and who fails to do it because of the price in human lives, is guilty of bourgeois sentimentality. So yes, it's frightening that the Soviets may have taken several long strides toward laser defense against ICBM's.

It's hopeful, though, in that it may stimulate us to get moving in large laser
In my judgment, defense technology is the ideal way to conduct an arms race, if you must have an arms race. (And it takes only one party to start a race, unfortunately.) Defense systems don't threaten the opponent's civilian population. They merely complicate offensive operations, hopefully to the point where no sane person would launch an attack; and they give some hope that part of your own civilian population may survive if worst comes to worst.

If we can't justify space operations in terms of benefits to mankind, then perhaps we can sell them as defense systems? Big lasers can be used as space launching systems. If built they can put a good bit of material into orbit, thus making the manned space factory economically feasible and nearly inevitable; and once in Earth orbit, as I said in the first of these columns exactly two years ago, you're halfway to anywhere.

Specifically, we'd be halfway to an era of plenty without pollution; halfway to assuring that our descendants won't curse our memory for throwing away mankind's hope for the stars.


*Readers with more interest in O'Neill colonies should send $20 to the L5 Society, 1620 N. Park, Tucson AZ 85719, which publishes a newsletter and lobbies for NASA support for space colonies. I thoroughly recommend their organization.

How Long to Doomsday?


Thus opens Paul Ehrlich's THE POPULATION BOMB.

"It seems to me, then, that by 2000 AD or possibly earlier, man's social structure will have utterly collapsed, and that in the chaos that will result as many as three billion people will die. Nor is there likely to be a chance of recovery thereafter. . . ."

Thus closes a popular article by Dr. Isaac Asimov, perhaps the best-known science writer in America.

It would not be hard to multiply examples of doom-crying among science fiction writers, or, for that matter, the American intelligentsia. There are dozens of stories and articles describing life in these United States after the year 2000 as poor, nasty, brutish, and short—although hardly solitary as Hobbes would have it.

Much of this doomsaying springs from three original sources which are endlessly requoted: Ehrlich's work previously mentioned, and two outputs from MIT: WORLD DYNAMICS and THE LIMITS TO GROWTH. All are essentially mathematical trend projections, with the MIT studies employing complex and highly detailed computer models.

Strangely, intellectuals including science fiction writers have a lot of confidence in these economic models, although they have very little in the ability of social or physical scientists to save us. It's almost impossible to overestimate the influence of these three books. Writers make predictions based upon them; teachers quote them endlessly, or worse, quote secondary and tertiary sources which draw their ideas from them.

The result is that these works and the view they represent have become "conventional wisdom" for the young. DOOM is "in the air" so to speak; a great part of our younger generation is convinced that no matter what we do, no matter how much we discover or learn, we are finally and inevitably doomed. If Isaac Asimov says we are finished, then what hope have we?

Even when the result is not total defeatism—after all, if we're doomed no matter what we do, why not "tune in, turn on, and drop out"?—the influence of this view is crucial. For millennia the concept of progress has been the driving force of Western civilization. Our philosophy was simple: hard work and study would save us. "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Now all that is lost. Western civilization has lost faith in progress. Our only salvation, a new era of intellectuals say, is through Zero-Growth; "Small is Beautiful"; "soft energies"; and the like. Political figures including the Governor of California and the President of the United States base their future planning on this philosophy; they have specifically abandoned the older idea that "knowledge is power" and that good research and technology development will bring about an era of plenty.

doomed? Surely the works which generated that
deserve analysis.

* * *

First: the blurb that opens Ehrlich's book is clearly wrong. My copy was published in 1969, a year in which about 53 million people died from all causes. It takes four seconds to read the blurb, so for one person to die each second, 31.5 million—about 60 percent of all deaths—would have had to be from starvation.

Taking the UN cause-of-death statistics and being as fair as possible by including as "starvation" any cause related to nutrition—diphtheria, typhus, parasitic diseases, etc.—we get about a million, or some 5 1/2 percent. Dr. Ehrlich is off by a factor of ten.

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