SSI Begins Releasing the Videos of the 2016 Breakthrough Propulsion Workshop

September 20th – 22nd 2016 the Space Studies Institute was proud to present The Breakthrough Propulsion Workshop at Estes Park – three days of cutting edge Science and Engineering in the Rockies.

The videos of the presentations are done, and we are proud to announce that we are now releasing them day by day a few at a time and inviting you to view them all in their original order.

I will freely admit to our SSI family that as we were packing up the microphones and tripods for the trip to record the Breakthrough Propulsion Workshop I was a tiny bit worried. The physicists and engineers at this gathering  are the tops in this niche field and their work is truly at the cutting edge.  I thought people who spend their days and nights working out ways to coax radical theories into obtuse mathematics into useful machines might be beyond mere mortal’s comprehension and even somewhat incapable of small talk over breakfast cereal.

But after only the first few sessions, the truth was clear: These people are not eccentric Doc Browns in tinfoil hats or evil geniuses out to trick with fluff and flash. They aren’t slick suits with get-rich-quick-selling-quantum-foam promises.  They’re professionals.  And while they are truly, deeply passionate about their work and they do speak a language that uses Greek symbols as verbs, they, as you’ll see in most of the videos, give pretty clear explanations of their areas of expertise.  They know how to make these subjects make sense to each other.  And now, to us.

I do not mean that the workshop was a high school breeze, but I firmly believe that if you to start at the beginning and put your attention into these presentations the parts that might seem too far ahead by their titles will begin to flow in and the whole will truly add up to a better grasp of these “advanced” topics.

Over the decades, the subject of propellantless propulsion has been called heretical and treated as taboo by some members of the technical community.  Even President Gary admits that it’s worrisome to some of our membership.   But here’s the thing – for the human race to become a truly space-faring civilization, some type of technology with direct ties to the presentations at this workshop will be required.  We wanted to take a measured step towards this goal

To guard against distractions that a conventional conference can potentially allow, the Breakthrough Propulsion Workshop was held in a remote site far from disturbing cellphone signals.  We met in a small room where the chairs were all at the same level.  The people who are actually doing the hands-on work – those best able to spot the devils in each other’s details – were eyeball to eyeball of each other.

There may be some presentations that you don’t think you’ll be interested in, but we hope that you’ll suppress any urge to cherry pick.  My own experience proved to me that watching every single presentation ended up giving the very best experience. In fact, there were two sessions that hadn’t seemed to be up my alley that ended up really catching me.

It is our hope that no matter what your current level of experience is in these topics, you will come away after watching them with a more complete view of the current state of the art of these real-world technologies. SSI volunteers lugged loads of equipment to Estes Park, Colorado to make sure that this important gathering was documented. It was Gary’s order that we just let the cameras roll and put the viewer into the group as equals, and we believe we have accomplished this goal.

SSI was very proud to be a part of the Breakthrough Propulsion Workshop at Estes Park, September 20th to 22nd, 2016, and we hope that you will make the time in your busy schedule to learn from these dedicated, serious, funny, brilliant and excellent presenters.

An announcement of the availability of the printed and electronic proceedings will be coming soon.  Please keep checking for updates and to get alerts as they happen, LIKE the Space Studies Institute on Facebook now at

To view the growing list of workshop videos, click here!

SSI Supermodels Part 3… your Models

Space Studies Institute Newsletter 1992 NovDec image 9 Beranal Sphere model

We’ve had numerous requests for more SSI Supermodels and the SSI “Bernal Sphere” Island is high on the list.  Alas, the massive model we had made decades back (shown above) is gone – maybe in some SSI Alum’s closet,  maybe in a private museum somewhere?

Perhaps these notes from the SSI Newletter archive could jog a memory.

While that particular one was very detailed, it’s worth noting that the one Gerry had on his own desk was a lot simpler.


So simple in fact that a 3d model or even a small kid’s ball and some rubber gasket rings from Home Depot could go a long way to making a nice display.


A ball, 5 rubber rings on either side, a pin running through the center, four rectangular sheets on each end for solar panels and some paint.  That gets a bulk of the imagery done.

A person really into model making could add to that or even use the classic SSI blueprint to do a partial cutaway of the main interior…


… or duplicate the old model that showed the activities inside the agriculture rings (those rings on either side). The cover of the SP-428 book from the 1977 Ames Study directed by Dr. O’Neill offers a nice view…



These Don Davis illustrations from The High Frontier book might spur additional ideas…

ssi_donvais_ch99p347tn ssi_dondavis_ch09p166tn

Windows 10 comes with a 3d modeling “paint” program included and there are many other options from free to nearly free.  And most software links to companies that will 3d print your model for a small price.

The SSI Bernal Sphere starts from a pretty basic foundation… we’d love to see the models that you can come up with!


Stephen Hawking should roundtable with Mike Combs

Last night after the family was asleep I started checking on the mailing list for the upcoming SSI Update, our special private Newsletter for SSI Associates. Robin Snelson had just sent nearly a hundred new addresses and before the merge I took a moment to appreciate the people on the long-term list. My eyes were caught by the name Mike Combs.

Mike has been a great Advocate and organizer and writer on The High Frontier for many, many years. Robin told me that he was one of the earliest HF Webmasters and many Space professionals know him from his legendary Space Settlement site (the original 1996-2014 pages are now hosted as a reference on the National Space Society servers at ). He continues to run the SSI Yahoo group and when we started assembling the SSI Newsletter Archive Mike was the first to offer his personal copies of issues that we hadn’t yet found. He’s just a great, dedicated High Frontier person. A true shining star.

Anyway, I finished merging the names and fired up the new SSI Facebook page to check that all was well… and I saw Mike had given the page a “Like.” A happy sight to end a day.

Woke up this morning and flipped open the Google news to see the report that Stephen Hawking has given us all a deadline to get our butts beyond the limits of this Earth. The issues are listed like a tolling bell and the end-all goal is stated by the author of the article without hesitation: we have to find “Another Planet” that will make everything wonderful again for the chosen ones.

So, let’s see. There’s a problem, a whole host of problems, caused by the limitations of squeezing the last drops out of a limiting planetary surface and the answer is… to pass through billions of miles of limitless resources and limitless raw energy and quick like scared little bunnies scuttle back down to hope for the best on yet another limiting planetary surface.

Don’t they say that continuing to make the same mistakes while expecting a different result is a sign of insanity?

What’s this got to do with Mike? “Planetary Chauvinism.”

In The High Frontier book and in many other writings and presentations, Gerard K. O’Neill brought up that term, usually with the anecdote of a conversation with Isaac Asimov:

“We are so used to living on a planetary surface that it is a wrench for us even to consider continuing our normal human activities in another location. If, however, the human race has now reached the technical capability to carry on some of its industrial activities in space, we should indulge in the mental exercise of “comparative planetology.” We should ask, critically and with appeal to the numbers, whether the best site for a growing, advancing industrial society is Earth, the Moon, Mars, some other planet, or somewhere else entirely. Surprisingly, the answer will be inescapable: The best site is “somewhere else entirely.”

In a roundtable TV interview, Isaac Asimov and I were asked why science fiction writers have, almost without exception, failed to point us toward that development. Dr. Asimov’s reply was a phrase he has now become fond of using: “Planetary Chauvinism.””

-Gerard K. O’Neill, The High Frontier, Chapter 3: The Planetary Hangup
copyright space studies institute

I sent Bing looking for the original reference and came across this short Wikipedia entry that says that Ike recalled hearing it from Sagan. That entry ends with the line: “The counter-argument is that all the benefits of a planet can be achieved in space, usually by an O’Neill Cylinder type structure.” And looking an inch down to the source we see a link to Mike Combs’ “Somewhere Else Entirely”.

Read Mike’s piece. Click the link and read it right now. And if it’s been a while since you sat down with the details in The High Frontier, get your copy off of the shelf or go over and pay that whopping 7 bucks to get it on your Kindle. Refresh your memory on the finer points and talk it up. People are discussing this stuff – Your Stuff – right now.   And they’re ready to listen to you.

There are NO LIMITS to Growth. The limits are only in the views that we humans have accepted to be truths, but that are truly only rote and easy habit. There are a far wider range of solutions that can pay all of the bills that we’ve stacked up and give every human being a new surplus.

We call those better, smarter, more profitable long-term options that we have the technology and ability to start building right now: “The High Frontier.”

The All Time Classic: Gerard K. O'Neill's The High Frontier
The All Time Classic: Gerard K. O’Neill’s The High Frontier

Thanks Mike!

Technology for Human Space Settlement