Composition - LIFE IN SPACE


We haven't conquered space. Not yet. We have sent some 20 men on camping trips to the Moon, and the USA and Russia have sent people to spend restricted lives orbiting the Earth.

All these are marvellous technical and human achievements, but none of them involves living independently in space. The Russians need food and even oxygen sent up from Earth. And they haven't gone far into space. It is only in fiction, and in space movies, that people spend long periods living more or less normally deep in space.

But in a couple of years this could have changed. There could be settlements in space that would house adventurers leading more or less normal lives.

The picture on this page shows where the settlers would live. It seems like science fiction - but it's not. It is based on plans produced by hard-headed people: engineers and scientists, headed by Gerard O'Neill of Princeton University, summoned to a conference by NASA. They are space enthusiasts, of course, but they are not dreamers.

The settlement is a gigantic wheel, a tube more than 400ft in a diameter bent into a ring just over a mile across. The wheel spins gently once a minute. It is this gentle rotation that makes this settlement different from the Lunar modules that took man for the first time to any non-terrestrial soil, because the spin produces a force that feels like gravity. Every space trip has shown that the human body needs gravity if it isn't to deteriorate, and gravity also makes normal activities possible. Nobody would want to live for long in a space settlement where everything - people and equipment and the eggs they were trying to fry - moved weightlessly around. 

With gravity, life in space can be based on our experience on Earth. We can have farming and factories and houses and meeting-places that are not designed by guesswork. The need for gravity is one of the reasons for building a space colony, rather than sending settlers to an existing location such as the Moon or the planets. The Moon is inhospitable. Its gravity is tiny - and any place on the Moon has 14 days of sunlight followed by 14 of night, witch makes agriculture impossible.

In the settlement, which floats in permanent sunlight, the day-length is controlled. A gigantic mirror about a mile in diameter floats weightlessly above the ring of the settlement. It reflects sunlight on to smaller mirrors that direct it into the ring, through shutters that fix the day length.

The sunlight is constant during the 'daytime', so farming is productive to an extent which can be reached on Earth only occasionally. The aim is to provide a diet similar to that on Earth, but with less fresh meat.

The farms will be arranged in terraces with fish ponds and rice paddies in transparent tanks on the top layer; wheat below; vegetables, soya, and maize below that.

The population of the settlement is fixed at about 20,000 people: farm output can be accurately planned. Research reports suggest that about 44 square metres of vegetables will be needed for each person, and just over five square metres of pastures.

The picture here shows where the people will live. It doesn't look very different from the modern small towns on Earth, and this is deliberate. Science-fiction films feature vast glass tower blocks and subterranean warrens, but real-life space settlers won't want these. Throughout history, settlers have tried to put up buildings like the ones they left behind, because these are familiar: space settlers will do the same.

And where would the settlement be? 'Why', say the experts, 'at L5, of course'. This reference describes a point on the Moon's orbit around the Earth, equidistant from Moon and Earth, where the gravitational forces of the two bodies balance. (The L stands for Lagrange, a French mathematician who listed a number of 'balance' points). Those who are interested  to settle in space have formed an L5 Society.are you interested?

Liviu Burlacu (11D).