#109 October 1997
Section 220.127.116.11.109.of the Artemis Data Book
When President Reagan committed in '84 to building a Space Station, many of us conjured up the vision of Von Braun's "wheel" as depicted so well in the epic Kubrick/Clarke film "2001: A Space Odyssey".
"We must encourage commercial demonstration of artificial gravity. After all, even in Earth-fringe space, the ultimate economic bonanza stands to come from tourism, and orbitels offering artificial gravity, of whatever level, will be much more popular than those that do not."
ASI Editor's Note: Peter's uncanny prophetic vision strikes again, with the announcements appearing in the newspapers and television about Bigelow Aerospace during the summer of 1999, announcing the company's plans to develop space hotels and translunar cruise ships, all with spin-gravity to assure the comfort and safety of their customers.
Alas, neither NASA nor its contractors has ever entertained the idea of realizing an artificial gravity platform in space. No allusion is ever made to Von Braun's dream, and the whole idea lies buried in an unmentioned limbo in an unspoken partners conspiracy of silence. Instead, throughout the long rocky road to the International Space Station, what we see instead is the pursuit of validating the medical-physiological-mental feasibility of yea(s-long duration microgravity to demonstrate the possibility of an eventual exploratory science picnic strike at Mars.
NASA has not been without opportunity to experiment with artificial gravity. All it takes is two shuttles or two modules or other roughly comparable masses co-rotating around a common center of gravity via adjoined tether. But we suggest that there is a reason, a rather insidious one from our own shared point of view as would be settlers of the solar system, why we have seen no such efforts, not even so much as official paper studies to date.
The reason is this: demonstrating the engineering and physiological feasibility and validity of artificial gravity would be tantamount to a storming of the Bastille, to the sudden realization that mankind might be on the verge of Cradlebreak! For with artificial gravity, we could travel to and from Mars and points more distant with relative ease, arriving with the strength necessary to tackle the scouting, the exploration, the experimentation, the outpost building - whatever - upon reaching our destination without having to waste precious time in bed rest reacclimatizing ourselves to gravity.
Artificial Gravity opens the way for O'Neill type construction shacks, Bernal Spheres, Torus settlements and giant Sunflower worldlets. It would open the way to serious industry in space, to space settlement. Rotating habitats would allow asteroid miners as well to work healthfully, safely, productively, and be able to come home, if and when they so decided. Abracadabra, artificial gravity would open the Solar System at large as a humanizable domain. For the government, wanting to keep the space program tamed and domesticate", innocuously contained within Earth-orbit fringe-space, the potential financial commitment such a Cradle-breakout technology might encourage is sure to send cryogenic chills down the spins of any public official, not just the grim dream-reapers of the OMB.
Whether the infamous Roswell incident involves a government conspiracy pales into insignificance over the long term with the virtual conspiracy against even basic and rudimentary experimentation with artificial gravity. As much as we need Cheap Access to Space, as much as we need space nuclear propulsion, nothing stands to blow the lid off of the limits to human dreams like the realization of artificial gravity. We ain't going anywhere without it, not beyond the Moon in any significant way. Yes, we may do a self-limiting Mars sortie or two without it, but we'll get no further than that before bogging to a whimpering halt, reaching an invisible, unnamed, unidentified ceiling the public will soon accept.
Congress would no more let NASA doodle with rotating environments than it will let the Agency plan a lunar outpost or Mars expedition. Our manned aspirations have to be kept in check, satisfied with more affordable low Earth orbital tricks and trivia.
How do we make an end run around this conspiracy? The answer is clear. We must encourage commercial demonstration of artificial gravity. After all, even in Earth-fringe space, the ultimate economic bonanza stands to come from Tourism, and orbitels offering artificial gravity, of whatever level, will be much more popular than those that do not.
Meanwhile, there is strong enthusiasm among space activists and government station supporters alike for allowing commercial activity at the International Space Station, such as the Space Frontier Foundation's if-you-can't-beat-'em-join-'em "Alpha Town" proposal has outlined. Such an Open Station policy might see the incorporation of commercially financed and operated laboratories, habitats, even compact picture studios and hotel modules in and around the space station. Here too there is room for an independent co-orbiting manned rotating facility flying in formation with the International Space Station. Or, such a facility could be put up in its own, perhaps more equatorial orbit, serving commercially run industrial laboratories, tourism, or both.
Instead of leaving such developments to chance, however, space activists ought to begin now to brainstorm how we could put together an attractive enough "X-prize" purse to ensure that the realization of the first such facility comes sooner rather than latter. The stakes are high. The demonstration of physiologically acceptable artificial gravity stands to blow the lid off human aspirations, which media Science Fiction popularity notwithstanding, is at an effectively contraceptive low. <PK>
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