All posts by Robert Smith

Energy. And Power.

Heinlein correctly said at the end of Have Spacesuit Will Travel that there is no “Luck”:

“Why were you on that frequency? Because you were wearing a space suit. Why were you wearing it? Because you were determined to space. When a space ship called, you answered. If that is luck, then it is luck every time a batter hits a ball, Kip, ‘good luck’ follows careful preparation; ‘bad luck’ comes from sloppiness.”


Ever have one of those days when it seems every direction you look you’re being hit over the head by the same message in a different form?

For the past few days I’ve been working on the webification of the Q1 1996 SSI Update for the SSI Newsletter archives (thanks to SSI Senior Associate Robert Sugg for sending in his clean copy), this issue is a bit more time consuming to html-ize than most because of the number of Math and Greek symbols in the text of the main article (“Sling Launch Of Materials Into Space”).

Anyway, I had finished that article and was moving on to the “Power From Space: The Imperatives Of Commercialization” by Mary Woodell and just to have some media in the background I switched on the Roku to the Great Courses channel. I had recently purchased the course “The Science of Energy: Resources and Power Explained” by Professor Michael Wysession, Ph.D., but hadn’t had the time to watch it.

This course IS great, it does an excellent job at making the fundamentals of the economics, historical patterns and the science completely understandable to an educated, but not insider, audience.

The thing about it though is that it has so many Elephant-in-the-room moments. At so many times Wysession gets right up to the lip of mentioning Space Based Solar Power – I mean, right… to… the… lip – but then doesn’t take the step. And it doesn’t seem to be out of any Buck Rogers fear, because even in the very first lecture he takes a journey through Space to Mars and talks about the energy requirements for the trip and a Mars colony; Later he does a very nice reverse life story of energy to show the incredible inefficiencies of established energy products by starting from electric lamp in a house, back to the production plant, back through the mining/drilling, back through organisms that died to make petroleum and coal, back through the layers of atmosphere and back to the Sun.

Ugh! There was the perfect place to mention that avoiding all the hundreds of millions of years of middlemen is possible with SPS, but he doesn’t… take… the… step.

I was yelling at the TV.

I’m hoping that later in the course he’ll do the right thing at least to cover all of the bases, it is 24 30 minute lectures and I’ve only finished the first handful so there is time.  I like to go in order to appreciate the flow, and I do see that Lecture 23 is called “Probable and Possible Future Energy Sources” so maybe, maybe.

But here’s the point, in an early lecture just as he was saying:

“I think humans are a remarkable species and I don’t want us to take the chance that our human experience on this planet could come to an end because we took energy for granted and allowed our infrastructures to collapse. But public opinions matter and the views of people can greatly affect our energy decisions.”

… I was transcribing this paragraph from Mary Woodell:

We must recognize that, as with any technology, successful commercialization of WPT [Wireless Power Transmission] depends first on public acceptance, which then can be parlayed into market demand. Without acceptance, there will be no demand; and, in a free-market economy, without demand there can be no product. In short, broad public acceptance is a minimum requirement for successful commercial application.

The timing of this and other lineups was creepy ;-). But of course it wasn’t completely random coincidence, both the article and the lectures were generally about energy needs and the past 20 (30? 40?) years of limited changes in the power industry couldn’t make them differ all that much. The growing needs, declining resources and widening gaps between classes that The Club of Rome and Limits to Growth dropped like a bomb on the world – and that O’Neill and Glaser and Brown and their students offered options for – are hitting the mainstream hard now…  just as The High Frontier said that they would be doing.

So what can we do? Our friends at the NSS are righty very proud to let everyone know that SPS was – once again – brought to the leaders of the United States Government. SPS is called one of the top techs to work on – for ‘someone’ to work on. That’s good news – once again. But it’s not great if the population takes that news bite as meaning it’s all done and they can stop thinking about it – once again.

Along with the technical minutia that many of us can spout off in our sleep (and sometimes put people to sleep with at dinner parties), it’s important to have an understanding of how to put and keep the “Regular Sally and Common Joe” in the loop and actively interested so it doesn’t – yeah, once again – fall by the wayside.

I hope you’ll check out the article by Mary Woodel in the Q1 1996 SSI Update for some non-engineering information that may help us boost awareness of the actual, do-able benefits offered by Solar Power Satellites, and also ask you to consider checking out the Great Courses offering “The Science of Energy: Resources and Power Explained” to see how those currently outside of the SPS area are looking at the big picture, trying to learn the fundamentals and searching for solutions. A source of points from today and a source of considerations from 1996 can add together to make us better prepared for those impromptu conversations and on stage presentations about the SPS pillar of The High Frontier.


August 30th addendum: Remember, on the SSI YouTube Channel there is the Solar Power Satellite Roundtable video from the first International Space University sessions at MIT.  Peter Glaser, Bill Brown, Professor O’Neill and Makoto Nagatomo all together presenting the concepts and details of Space Based Solar Power technology.  Click here to watch it now.

SSI Supermodels (part 1)


With summer coming to an end and vacations over it’s time to find things close to home to keep the kids (or grandkids) occupied. How about an O’Neill Colony that’s easy to put together and makes The Vision a physical reality that you can see from all angles … on a desktop scale?

Long ago SSI paid thousands of dollars and waited months for a rather large Bernal Sphere model to take to conferences, alas that model was lost to the past (and as I hear tell, it was a pain to move from place to place) but right now for just about the cost of a video game your family can have an O’Neill Cylinder that you can put on any shelf  or take with you to meetings.

This model from the Wave company in Japan was created for fans of the Anime series Mobile Suit Gundam 00 (which has no relation to the annoying song, “MSG” is a multi-season series set in a future where SSI Colonies and Solar Power Satellites – and giant mechs – are part of normal life).

This is a near-perfect Island for engineers and budding engineers to display.  Plus, it’s really easy to put together. Technically, it just snaps together so careful fingers and a fingernail file to gently smooth the little nubs down is all you need.

Here’re a few images to hopefully get you interested:

1) The box. See, it’s an O’Neill.

Wave company Space Settlement O'Neill Colony model box
Wave company Space Settlement O’Neill Colony model box


2) The cool special booklet showing details of the “real thing” It’s in Japanese, but pretty obvious.

Neat booklet on colony details
Neat booklet on colony details

Booklet second image

3) After carefuly removing the parts from the marked pieces frames (they are all numbered to make it easy), you just apply the stickers that show the interior valleys and snap them to the end caps.

The Colony Valleys
The Colony Valleys are nice stickers


3 take 2) Oops, the instructions say to snap the three windows in first, that helps the valley parts sit better between the windows.

Colony model windows
Best to put the windows in first


4) After carefully applying the mirror stickers, just snap the mirrors to the end cap. (Do be careful applying the mirror stickers, on my first one I didn’t slow down and line the sticker up perfectly then tried to peel the sticker off to re-set it and so I’ve got a crumple that won’t smooth out. Taking a bit more care on the other two worked better)

Adding the mirrors
Adding the mirrors


5) Slide the end cap covers over the end caps and the mirrors lock into place, meaning no glue is required and all of a sudden the model is very secure.

Now  just slide in the metal bar, slip that into the base, then pop on the agriculture ring and the service module and… voila!


Now, when I was trying to get the ag-ring pieces separated from the pieces frame I accidentally broke part of the ring (you might notice it sagging a bit at the top near the support strut).  So I drove over to the local Michael’s Crafts store to get a tube of model glue to fix it.

That trip not only fixed the break but also gave a fun story – and some interesting research:

While I was at the model section of the store there was a young man about 13 or 14 going through the paints and he asked me what I was working on. I told him it was a space colony which made him give me a quizzical look… so I said “the Space Colony from Mobile Suit Gundham” and he said “Ooh, nice!” I think that’s an interesting piece of information for folks who may be looking for a common-ground way of starting a discussion of The High Frontier concepts with younger generations.

But back to the model, I mentioned to the kid that I was lousy with a paint brush and asked if he had an easy tip to help me bring out the embossed detail on the model. His advice was to buy a small bottle of dark grey or black Testors model paint and a few cheap brushes, dip a brush into the paint then wipe it off on a paper towel so that almost no mark is left on the towel then brush the model with this “dry brush.”

I think I left too much of the paint on the brush … but still, it seemed to be a great tip!


The Wave Space Settlements O’Neill Colony model is available from sellers on eBay and Amazon. I’ve found the Amazon sellers tend to have a much better price, I paid all of 35 dollars including shipping from Japan and  I see them going for 60 on eBay.

Here’s a link to one of the Amazon listings (there are a few, actually) the seller I bought from was Toy Shop Japan Hobbyone, and I bought a second one for a gift from seller Makimono – both of them came in about a week, no problems at all.

Oh, my bad, you always use the Amazon Smile Program to make your purchases benefit The Space Studies Institute, so use this link for Amazon Smile:

By the way, if you came to this post after googling for Sports Illustrated Supermodels, I do apologize ;-).   And if you’re wondering why this post is titled “part 1″… come back in a day or so to get the instructions for a make-it-yourself working SSI Mass Driver. Yes, I’m serious. This is one that might spur your kids to consider a really cool Science Fair project this year!

High Frontier giveaway results are in

This note comes a little late as I was in DC the past few days for SSI (more on that to come soon).

We want all SSI Associates to know that we’ve added up the worldwide free units from our Apollo 11 Anniversary week High Frontier Kindle edition giveaway and over 1700 (1742 to be exact) new Kindle copies are now in the hands of readers.

Added to the copies from the first giveaway, back when SSI had just released the Kindle Edition, that makes around 6500 in total that we have given away for free.  And remember, because Kindle lets a person only claim one copy per account for all time instead of allowing any “loading up” of extra copies that can take away from the reality of the numbers – these 6500 represent actual individual readers (on top of the thousands who buy The High Frontier Kindle Edition at the regular low price).

Many thanks to everyone who helped spread the word about the giveaway, and now that the book is in your Kindle libraries, don’t just let it sit there, take the next step:  READ the High Frontier.

We look forward to hearing your opinions and reviews and – we truly mean this – seeing what tangible things you are inspired to work on and share with fellow SSI Associates that will prove that The High Frontier is more than just a good book.  Let us all see where it takes you and how you are an active and real part of The Human Breakout Into Space.

New on the SSI YouTube Channel Jo Franklin’s The Great Space Race: The Next Civilization

While working as the Washington producer for the legendary MacNeil/Lehrer Report, Jo Franklin became frustrated by the coverage of Space events and she set out to make a difference. The result was an epic 4 part PBS special series backed by a grant from Boeing called “The Great Space Race.”

For many years this four hour set of videos had been a high volume seller at the National Air and Space Museum and now Ms. Franklin is considering adding an updated 5th part covering the exciting latest developments in the Space Industry.

The original four part series is available for purchase directly from Sea Castle Films and Ms. Franklin has generously agreed to allow The Space Studies Institute to show on our YouTube Channel Part 4 “The Next Civilization” featuring Gerard K. O’Neill, Freeman Dyson and many other SSI friends and alumni.

With all of the revolutionary achievements coming out of NewSpace – and MatureSpace – these days it would be great to see an in depth update to this classic series. We encourage you to watch this excellent video and please give it a thumbs up to show your interest in the project.

For information on ordering the complete original series or individual hours Ms. Franklin offers that you can contact Seacastlefilms AT

News and reviews of the original release of Jo Franklin’s The Great Space Race:

The Philadelphia Inquirer May 1986 via Pbs Series Plumbs The Depths Of Space

United Press International. Exploring the great space race

Los Angeles Times. ‘The Great Space Race': A Brand-new Ballgame