All posts by Robert Smith

New Shepard and Shepherding to The High Frontier

Yesterday morning Blue Origin’s New Shepard performed yet another excellent test flight. This time landing both launcher and crew capsule safely in the Texas desert even with one of the three capsule chutes intentionally not deployed.

This is historic news and the Blue Origin team deserves a standing ovation.

While that feat and its exciting videos receive the lion’s share of media attention, it is just as exciting to keep up on Mr. Bezos’ goals beyond the launcher – or rather, for the launcher and it’s progeny:  Space Manufacturing.

Many SSI Associates have been following the growing hints and announcements from Mr. Bezos concerning the O’Neill/SSI Space Manufacturing end-game, and to see that side of the story starting to break through to the mass media is very encouraging.

It is also a time for careful and considered action.

As the discussion of Space Manufacturing continues to make popular culture news, there will always be some folks (or a lot) who haven’t yet done their own due dilligence on Space Manufacturing and so have not yet begun to see the actual potentials. Thanks to the internet making it easy for anyone to make instant comments and forum posts on any news item, negative opinions can seem to outweigh positives as regular folks see for their first times the individual events but haven’t yet invested the required personal time to let the big picture develop itself in their minds. Frankly, there is a very good chance that most casual readers and internet opinion writers never will see the big picture at all because some other shiny news headline will come along and distract them away, and also because “Space is Big” and things related to beyond-Earth concepts aren’t as simple to fully grasp as reports of what the starlett du jour is wearing to a club that night ;-).

This is not a fault, this is normal human action. If it weren’t the case then the interviews and articles in magazines from People to Science,  Look to Time,  Penthouse to OMNI to Physics Today to National Geographic and the hundreds of newspapers and all of the radio and television reports and documentaries from the 1970s, 80s and 90’s would have given us all here today low cost energy to spare, thousands of amazing jobs, a better educated world population and more than a few beautiful Islands in Space.

When we all see the reports and the occassional off-target opinions and are tempted to do our own replies to try to help ‘set the record straight’ we should remain aware of our own human drives and emotions and try not to get caught in any weeds of complexity with folks new to these big, important ideas. The Space Age is older than most of us and obvious to many in our own ranks but it’s still very new to the majority of people outside of our spheres of associates. Think back to your own days before you “got it” and consider how getting to that point may have been enhanced by someone listening very well to your objections first and thoughtfully guiding from a common ground.

Remember how The High Frontier book was written by a world renowned Nuclear Physicist but it was completely understandable and easily digestible by just about everyone.  O’Neill had the gift of being able to make the complex fit together and make sense without ‘dumbing down’.  It’s a talent that for most of us takes practice but it is learnable and it is required if the big goals are ever to be realized.  Hard-core engineering details need working on and getting people passionate about that required minutia can be easier after the general message of how it all helps people here on Earth is crystal clear.

The High Frontier and its core of Space Manufacturing is personal to many of us but it is also far, far bigger than any one of us. Let’s look to these new opportunities where brand new people are being exposed to the spark and try to find ways to gently fan that passing interest into the same fact-fueled flame that burns within our membership. Ignore the trolls and posts that are obviously being made just to start arguments, look for specific points and address them with clear respect given to their authors, point to, give a gift of The High Frontier Kindle Edition.  The net is being widely cast right now, in it among the many are the few who may have what it takes to make a big difference for everyone.  It’s every SSI Member and Associate’s responsibility to look for them and support their growth.

With your help online and face to face more good people can find their way to The High Frontier.

Some links about the Blue Origin flight:

Blue Origin YouTube of Sunday’s test

Business Insider

SSI Associate Doug Messier’s Parabolic Arc

Space News

AP via KOMO news Seattle

Some links about Mr. Bezos’ interest in the O’Neillian Space Manufacturing, SPS and other High Frontier concepts:

Washington Post (which he owns) April 2016

Popular Science June 2016

recode conference with video June 2016

CNBC June 2016 March 2016

How Stuff Works June 2016

The Vision – Uncut – Now on YouTube

A special video for the Space Studies Institute membership, this is the complete and uncut version of “The Vision” from Gerard K. O’Neill.

Produced by SSI Senior Associates Rick Tumlinson, Morris Hornik and Andrew Lindberg, this is a direct copy from the O’Neill family’s original (Thank you Tasha and Ed!). The lower quality segments that we allow others to post on YouTube came from the cd accompanying the 3rd edition of The High Frontier book.

Sections and start times:

Survival 00:00
Hopeful Future 02:50
Relief for the Earth 06:00
An Obvious Idea 08:30
1969-1979 09:50
The Founding of SSI 11:55
Who is SSI 13:45
The Space Program 14:55
The National Commission on Space 19:46
Scientists, Citizens and Space 25:25
The Moon 27:50
Space Colonies 33:35
To the Stars 40:51
We are the Pioneers 43:35

Note: If you view the YouTube page for the video with a computer browser, the start times are links that jump to the exact position in the video.  To jump out of this page into that page, select the video above and click the “YouTube” logo that pops up at the lower right.

Pass this on, give it a thumbs up, support The High Frontier!

Tasha O’Neill on the Gerard K. O’Neill papers at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Archives

This morning Tasha O’Neill, Artist, co-founder of the Space Studies Institute, SSI Senior Associate and widow of Gerard K. O’Neill, sent this note. We are very proud to share it with you.

In Oct. 2013, I finally decided that it was time for Gerry’s papers to leave this house for a more permanent resting place.

After Patrick McCray had finished the research for his book ‘The Visioneers’, I packed up 26 file boxes with Gerry’s papers and drove them to the Udvar-Hazy Center at Dulles Airport where they would be archived. The important thing to the family had been that ALL of his papers were accepted, covering all aspects of his distinguished career: Physics, Space, Geostar (and other entrepreneurial ventures), aviation, including articles, books, manuscripts, photographs and a screenplay about the High Frontier.

Patrick McCray had made the introductions to his contact who would be championing the acceptance – Supervisory and Acquisition Archivist Patricia Williams.

A few weeks after contacting her, the selection committee at the archives had determined that Gerry was worthy of being included.

We drove to Washington Dulles Airport, were met at the gate and made our way down the taxiway that all aircraft now housed in the Museum had used, including the Space Shuttle and the Concorde. We were led down a ramp into a huge loading bay where staff was waiting to help us unload the Explorer. We were then escorted up to the archives, had the boxes counted and formally received. Patti gave us a tour of the archives including the cold chamber where some manuscripts are chilled for three days to kill any insects before they could do any more harm. She invited us to come back once the papers had been properly archived.

On April 19, 2016, we drove to Dulles where Patti Williams introduced us to Tyler Love who had actually preserved and archived Gerry’s papers. She was very complimentary of how organized they had been and how easy it was to maintain the order that Gerry had put them in. There were stories of how sticky notes can cause harm and what she did to preserve the paper and the content that had been covered up by the sticky notes.

I was able to fill in some mysteries of why there was a newspaper from 1982 featuring the Epcot opening at Disneyworld. The answer was that Gerry had been an advisor to the creators of a space ride and that we had been invited to the gala opening.*

We toured the stacks and noted that 73 boxes occupy 10 shelves.

I was pleased to see that Amelia Earhart’s was right next to his and the Saturn History Project Oral History Interviews as well. He is in good company.

— Tasha O’Neill


Gerard K. O’Neill papers now in the National Archives


Gerard K. O’Neill papers now in the National Archives


Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum Archives Division

Direct link to the O’Neill collection:’Neill.pdf

* – for more on the Epcot O’Neill Colony attraction see this issue of SSI Update

Links from the President. G-Lab and the Chinese embryos

SSI President Gary Hudson
SSI President Gary Hudson

Anyone who has been in a room with SSI President Gary Hudson over the past several years has heard about the absolute need for a G-Lab free-flying multiple-gravity testing habitat.

The SSI G-Lab, testing generations of vertibrates so as to finally gather information applicable to Humans in non-terrestrial gravities, must be a habitat situated for a relatively long period off of the Earth so that the effects of the planet’s 1G do not influence the data.

It should be a spin-system that allows the testing of various low gravities including the popular-culture goals of Mars (=~1/3rd) and the Moon (=~1/6th) plus a control Earth-normal and also the ability built into the fundamental design to test other various increments between those. That last point is important because a planetary surface is not the only place where a Human presence should be considered, and also because even transit “missions” such as to Mars will require the knowlege of just exactly what level of simulated gravity is best for the period of the trip – it may not be a full G.

The questions about this orbital laboratory typically include “Why does it have to be so big, can’t we get by with a small box?” and “Isn’t NASA or some other government agency already doing this testing?” and “Elon is going to Mars, he must be personally driven to invest in this research, right?” All good questions that are easily answered.

Over the past week another question has been starting to be asked: “Now that it has been proved that embryo development is possible in zero gravity, do we need a G-Lab?”

In case you haven’t seen the news, President Hudson advises you read these headline links:

This is very positive news, but even with independent confirmation the results of this experiment do not in any way take away from the need for G-Lab. We congratulate the scientists and engineers for being the first to publically reveal their doing this important research, but zero gravity/micro-gravity is not the only game in Space and conception is only the beginning. Related – but somewhat contradictory research – from Japanese scientists can be found at:

Even though it took decades for a government space agency to do this particular obvious experiment, we have conducted decades of applied micro-gravity research. G-Lab is about testing *Reduced Gravity* through the entire life span of a vertebrate, or as President Hudson says:

“… I’d have expected this result. The blastocyst isn’t likely affected by low or zero G. No bones, no calcium metabolism to speak of. The issue is how the embryo develops into a fetus, and what happens after the pups are born and they develop to adults in partial G. That’s the key experiment that (to my knowledge) has never been done.”

And doing that work is what G-Lab is about.

For more information, including the answers to the questions above, please click this link.