Non-Fiction Books about the Moon
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The Millenial Project

The Millenial Project

Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps
by Marshall T. Savage; introduction by Arthur C. Clarke
Little, Brown & co.
Paperback, 508 pages
ISBN No. 0-316-77163-5
Cover price: $16.95
Amazon link.

1994(previously published 1992 by Empyrean Pub, Denver)

Summary Review: This is the romantic counterpoint to more traditional views of space colonization. The seven steps in chapters 1 - 7 of the book are all heroically named: "Aquarius", to colonize Earth's ocean deserts; "Bifrost", a cheap and efficient bridge to space; "Asgard", a zero-gravity space colony in geo-synchronous orbit, otherwise similar in concept to Gerard O'Neill's "Islands"; "Avallon", domed lunar craters with Earth-like ecologies; "Elysium", a terraformed Mars; "Solaria", which is "Asgard" duplicated to Dyson-sphere levels; and finally "Galactica", spreading among the stars of our galaxy. The eighth step, to be done first, is the formation of an organization to work in Utopian manner to carry out the full program of spreading life among the stars. While there are a lot of technical details to consider, and many to quibble with, this book isn't just about the technical details. The 20 pages of bibliography, 50 pages of end notes, and thorough index show the author has researched his subject, but the beautiful center plate images, mostly original paintings, are the star of this book. Although there are a lot of good things in it, don't read this book looking for a detailed plan for the future - read it for the simple exhilaration of a broad but pragmatic view of what we human beings, representing life itself, could do in the next hundred, thousand, or million years if only we really put our minds to it.

Full Review: You might ask why a book on space colonization starts out talking about Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion (OTEC) power plants. It's a good question; the particular technical details seem a little dubious - in particular Marshall Savage's schemes for generating structural materials directly out of seawater (seament) are perhaps 2 orders of magnitude too slow to make sense [recent research by Eric R. Lee at Stanford]. And who wants to spend their life eating Spirulina algae products? Though the algae reappear in later segments of the book as the principle counterparts to humans in a "closed ecological life support system" (CELSS). But the main point of "Aquarius" is a demonstration that even on our own Earth, which seems so over-crowded, we still have vast areas with solar power resources and more, readily available. As Savage points out in an appendix, far more energy comes directly from the sun to the ocean surface every year than we have available in petroleum oil reserves. A few tweaks here and there to the technical aspects of the scheme, and somebody should be able to find a way to make this work.

The same combination of bold vision with imaginative but arguable technical design characterizes the remaining steps in the "project". The "Bifrost" bridge is an Earth-based mass driver; a great idea, but this particular plan is a little extreme for human use with an average 10 g acceleration, and a 255 g curve. The mass driver gets part-way to orbital speed, but exits into the atmosphere and must be supplemented by a ground-based laser propulsion system to finish the job. As propellant Savage proposes attaching large blocks of ice to his "wave-rider" craft, with the laser somehow causing propellant velocities far higher than chemical rockets can achieve, thus significantly reducing the need for propellant. There are a lot of untested claims in here - on the other hand, something like this ought to be feasible. In the long run space elevators (or electromagnetic launchers from the tops of huge towers) may be more likely to meet our needs for an efficient "bridge" to low earth orbit; either way we'll be cutting launch costs by huge factors, and enabling enormously more mass to get into orbit.

For "Asgard" the untested claims multiply, but most seem at least plausible. In contrast with O'Neill's giant, rigid, rotating colonies, Savage makes the simplifying assumption that we and much of the life on our planet can handle zero g just fine, with a few compensations here and there. This allows a free-floating architecture of spherical bubbles, and the use of water everywhere for radiation shielding and more. Plants float freely with roots in a custom base, or even in their own full micro-environment bubbles, attached via a hydroponic umbilicus to nutrient sources. What should the bubble membrane material be? Savage suggests a layered structure, but primarily a "silicone" based polymer - unless we can somehow make suitable transparent structures out of glass (maybe fiberglass?) one way or another we're going to need a lot of carbon and hydrogen, the hydrogen needed both for the exterior plastics and the water shielding. Even with a "Bifrost" bridge from Earth, it will likely still be much cheaper to fetch those volatile elements from space, and those are two of the elements (along with nitrogen) that may be very hard to find on the Moon. So before "Asgard" can take effect, both lunar and asteroidal mining have to be in place - whether this sequence is in fact the logical one certainly remains to be seen. The "paying job" for "Asgard" in Savage's view, as in part for "Aquarius", is handling data and communications; the recent demise of the Iridium satellite system and the success of land-based wireless systems indicates that energy production may serve better than telecommunications as justification. But the image of "Asgard" is a beautiful one, and somehow, if not the first major space colony, something much like this has to be in our future.

Avallon is Savage's plan for the Moon - basically bringing "Asgard" to the lunar surface through doming of lunar craters. In a way this is one of the more familiar pieces of the project, and if you accept "Asgard", "Avallon" logically follows, though doing it this way requires more huge quantities of the volatile elements the Moon lacks (carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen). So asteroid mining of one sort or another is a prerequisite to this plan too. Savage does envision a preliminary lunar mining base, "Fort Landsberg", with mass driver launcher (and a laser array) to direct payloads to the "Asgard" colony. Power for "Fort Landsberg" comes from solar power satellites in halo orbits about the L1 or L2 Lagrange points, and therefore always permanently fixed over the same spots on the Moon's surface (and also almost permanently illuminated by the sun). However, L1 and L2, unlike the L4 and L5 points, are not stable - keeping a satellite near there would require a constant supply of propellant. Savage claims this can be done just through reflected sunlight as with a solar sail; this seems a little doubtful. Mirrors near L1 and L2 later serve to reflect sunlight into the craters of Avallon, to mitigate the 14-day lunar night. Nevertheless Savage's vision for Avallon is a reasonably familiar one, even with the continuing emphasis on bringing all of life with us; in particular he suggests different lunar craters could preserve distinct Earth ecologies.

Even more familiar are the plans for settling Mars, titled "Elysium". There are a few questionable assumptions here, particularly concerning the quantity of water that may lie frozen beneath Mars' surface. But the main idea of using greenhouse gases (particularly water vapor) to heat the planet and using green plants to make the air breatheable is reasonably familiar. This terraforming will take some time of course, so the same domed environments used on the Moon will also make do on Mars. Preceding all this is settlement of colonies in the Earth-crossing asteroids and particularly the ones that cross the orbits of both Earth and Mars. According to Savage's rough time-line, which puts "Bifrost" in place between 2015 and 2030 and "Avallon" starting around 2060, "Elysium" gets its start somewhere around 2125.

Another 100 or so years later begins what Savage terms "Solaria", with humanity settling the main belt asteroids, and eventually taking advantage of all the resources of the solar system, out to the Oort comet cloud, and the full solar output (a Kardashev level-2 civilization). This is pretty far in the future, and Savage turns speculative again. The basic technique of building "ecospheres" remains, now applied to asteroidal territory. The "membranes" may cover craters or surround entire asteroids, which would be mined and terraformed both inside and out. Once again the resource requirements are immense, and for what he wants to do even the asteroids are not really enough. Through estimates of available resources throughout the solar system, Savage comes up with truly astronomical figures ("billions of billions") for the potential human population of "Solaria" by the year 4000. To quote his poetic conclusion: "Our solar system will be transformed. It will be as different from the sterile void as the Earth is from the Moon. Just as Life transformed a molten ball of rock into Gaia, the living planet; it will soon transform a frozen disk of orbiting rubble into Solaria, the living solar system."

By 3000 according to Savage's schedule, we should have settled "seed" colonies near close to 200 stars in our neighborhood - as with Solaria, there is no particular requirement for conveniently located planets in these stellar systems; any old rubble will do to build a comfortable civilization. And the star need not be similar to the sun - a smaller, cooler star just means we settle closer in, and the reverse for a bigger, hotter star. For example around Sirius A, 23 times the sun's brightness, the Dyson cloud would be at five A.U. or further; the resulting civilization would eventually be many times larger than "Solaria". The speculative concepts reach their height here, including mass drivers hundreds of billions of kilometers long to efficiently accelerate and decelerate vehicles close to light speed. Within half a million years the entire galaxy would be settled, forming Savage's "Galactica". The chapter ends with several arguments for the unlikelihood of any life, particularly intelligent life, other than ours in our galaxy, and therefore humanity's unique imperative to bring life to the galaxy.

To get things moving Savage then proposed to form the "First Millenial Foundation" (, now actually known as the "Living Universe Foundation". As a group of individuals interested in settling space the organization is not very different from societies like Artemis (now the Moon Society), the Mars Society, the National Space Society, etc. But the methods seem somewhat Utopian - this foundational group is to form a "core" that acts like a "Human Laser", people acting "in synchronous harmony [...] creat[ing] a coherent beam of intent." The human imperative to assist life in its conquest of the solar system and galaxy takes on almost religious tones here. At least the first few steps in the project are not intended to be done merely for their own sake, but to build resources for later steps; obviously a high degree of social cohesion and commonality of purpose will be needed to make that at all feasible. Establishing a new society with the conquest of space as its goal is certainly one way to avoid trying to persuade hundreds of millions of taxpayers of the worthiness of your plans.

But the most important thing about the Millenial Project is not the copious (if sometimes flawed) technical details, not the specific sequence or timeline for our settlement of space, not the new organization of space enthusiasts; read this book to find a romantic, non-sterile, truly awe-inspiring vision of life expanding to fill our solar system and the galaxy.

Artemis note: Savage's "Avallon" chapter is the one that concerns itself with the Moon. Like the rest of the book, the imagery is beautiful and we can only hope that our lunar future is something like this. But Savage's domes with transparent water-based radiation shields require huge quantities of volatiles, so either we'll get lucky and find such things deep under the Moon's surface, or else it will have to wait (if it ever happens) for resources from elsewhere. However the initial lunar base plans mesh well with what we hear elsewhere; the Moon has to be a first stop to large-scale colonization. It is the only logical primary source for Oxygen, metals, and other raw materials for growth in Earth's neighborhood. Savage's book was written before the discovery of Hydrogen near the lunar poles; and so he recommends a first settlement near the lunar equator. But the details here are minimal; the book is more interested in the longer term prospects, so how that first base gets settled and develops is not worth more than a few paragraphs.

Non-Fiction Books about the Moon

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