Category Archives: Solar Power Satellites

Gee Whiz Society

A small group got together at the Dutch Goose in Menlo Park, the burger joint where Gerard K. O’Neill would share lunches with the construction workers and physicists who were working together building the Stanford Linear Accelerator – “The SLAC” – just a short walk away on Sand Hill Road. (And also share breakfasts and dinners too, according to SSI Co-Founder Tasha O’Neill)

At this lunch someone asked where the phrase about SSI not being a “Gee Whiz Society” came from.

We can tell you that there are many recordings in the Space Studies Institute archives; a number of them are not correct for general public release and many of them were recorded by O’Neill personally – he seemed to always carry that little micro cassette recorder that the President of Panasonic gave him as a gift. Throughout those recordings that phrase popped up.

We think that we can tell you at this point that one time in a private meeting with accountants it was pointedly raised that there was ‘too much’ money going out to hardware projects, when some of it, they thought, might be better used for “advocacy.” O’Neill’s response to this was: “Hardware projects ARE what we do” and “Find the money for them.” And in the listening you can hear plainly that: That… Was… That.

In any case there is a place where you can see the “Gee Whiz” being used to a full audience. Unfortunately, we do not have the recording of it, but if you have ever heard the man’s voice maybe on one of the SSI YouTube or Soundcloud Channel releases, we think you can hear it in your head while reading along.

For context, this was one of the last times GKON addressed the full membership, and it is very likely that he knew it would be. That is important to keep in mind. He was, as always, careful with his words *BUT* there is no doubt that in this address, he was speaking with true reason. We can hear that even in the typed words and we hope that you can too.

“As you know, SSI is a low profile operation. That’s by design. We are not a “Gee Whiz” society – we’re trying to do serious, worthwhile, permanent things which are going to be valuable and bring us out into space.”

“They link fundamentally and make dependent the future of the United States space program on a science program. I say that speaking as a scientist. There is nothing more self-serving, there is nothing more conservative, than the scientific establishment. The scientific establishment takes as a high priority the justification of more science, more grants, more funds, more graduate students, and so on, doing basically the same things.”

“To be fair, some of NASA’s worst blunders, the Shuttle and the Space Station, have nothing to do with science. I think we are seeing a fossilization that has occurred in NASA for many years. As long as NASA always looks to the scientific community to justify NASA’s existence, we will always have a very timid though possibly still expensive, space program. It will not tie into the needs of the ordinary person in this country.”

“It will not tie into the needs of the ordinary person in this country.”

“It will not tie into the needs of the ordinary person in this country.”

“It will not tie into the needs of the ordinary person in this country.”

Oh, sorry, I seem to have accidentally typed that same line repeatedly. My bad.

We hope you will read it to the end, it is only three short pages.

And remember that it was a speech, meant to be heard in through the air, so it’s one of those things that really works best when read out loud.

Here is the link:

An Interesting SSI Weekend

Just a quick update for the SSI family… over the long holiday weekend The Space Studies Institute sure got some things done.

After wrapping up some must-do general office busywork last week we pulled out the Space Based Solar Power/Solar Power Satellite collection cases and got back into organizing for eventual public release.

In the 1990’s The Space Studies Institute was selected to be the repository of  the  NASA and Department of Energy SPS documentation and over the years many researchers had visited the Princeton SSI offices to pour over these priceless volumes.  When SSI moved main operations to the Mojave Air and Space Port this large, heavy collection was put into storage for a time when the budget would allow safest shipping and that time arrived last summer when an SSI Senior Associate contributed their time to do the packing and paid for the transport to the West coast.

Some of the SSI NASA DOE SPS report collection being put in order
Some of the SSI NASA DOE SPS report collection being put in order

On Friday we put much of the collection in chronological order and got a chunk of the Velobound reports digitized.  Hundreds more, those in spiral and staple binding and in cloth-glued format are still to come and thanks to an SSI SA’s loan of  a wide format book scanner they will be done as we are able.

The scanning is just the “easy” part, after that each page will be individually enhanced and each report will be put into separate PDFs with hyperlinked tables of contents and hierarchical bookmarking to make life easier for future SPS researchers.


This is very time consuming work but we look forward to a first release within a few months, if all goes well, and SSI Senior Associates up to date on memberships for 2018 can look forward to something special in their mailboxes at that time (Which reminds me, if you haven’t gotten around to renewing your pledge for the year please head over to the Join Page and click the Senior Associate yellow button to use paypal for that.)

That was Friday, on Saturday an SSI Alumnus and I met up  for a nice lunch just to talk Space and Options and there just happened to be a very large piece of paper with us that has been in need of digital cleaning.  Upon seeing the white page with blue sketching he offered to see what he could do to bring a bit of Space History back to the light of day  – and he also renewed his SSI Senior Associate pledge, which is is very appreciated and just makes us all more comfortable when we allow “insider” information out of the SSI physical archives.

We very much look forward to seeing what he comes up with and hope that in time we will have something very nice to show in an upcoming SSI Associate members-only newsletter.


And then there was a little thing that happened yesterday on the SSI Announcements Facebook page, the place where we put fast notes of interest to the SSI Family…  February 19th, being the birthday of Nicolaus Copernicus, we thought deserved a notice.  And it was definitely noticed:

SSI remembers the birthday of Nicolaus Copernicus
SSI remembers the birthday of Nicolaus Copernicus

Over 20 thousand good people saw that little post, it was shared 200  times, Liked by over 850 people, Loved by 65 and even given “Ha-Ha” by 11 :-).

If you didn’t see it, here is a direct link:

There were a lot of comments, some quite interesting from folks who don’t normally have Space technologies in their day to day work, and while some of us might not share all of the opinions that everyone chose to expose publicly, it all makes for very good research.

The Space Studies Institute is about using the Energy and Material Resources of Space to help regular people everywhere they chose to live –  ALL regular people, not just those those who see things exactly as we do right now.  So if you check  that post’s set of threads and maybe are considering joining in, we know that you will take a breath and remember that everyone is entitled to an opinion and arguments don’t help anyone – what helps Everyone is working to show by deed where real positives can be made.

There’s an old truism that someone paraphrased at the Estes Park Advanced Propulsion Workshop: “People will argue forever that something is impossible… but when a cannonball is sitting in mid-air right before your own eyes, it is hard to deny it.’  The contributions and tax deductible donations of our Associates work to make people see that “Impossible” things with potential benefit sometimes just need extra help.  We sincerely appreciate all of your help and we look forward to updating you on the ongoing projects mentioned above and the others that truly deserve your full support.

SSI Senior Associate and Volunteer Robert Smith
The Space Studies Institute


15,000 Scientists From 184 Countries Just Issued A Dire ‘Warning To Humanity’

The news today is of a rebirth of the Limits To Growth issue that this planet faces.

People are talking about this “down to earth” set of topics again which is very, very good.

We hope that some conversations start like this:

Him: So we should force population control?

Her: No. No… no no no no no. That is not the idea and it won’t work anyway, check China and India for historicals. There is NOT a population problem, there is a Resource and Area limitation problem. A planet is what it is, it has what it has and no more. There can never be too many people, but there can be too many people in a place not able to support their numbers. No planet can get around this.

Him: So we need another planet?

Her: We need more area with resources, so once we get past the pre-Copernican warm and comfy feeling that “The Whole Wide World” is all that we have to work with then we have to start doing real comparative planetology. And once all of the actually available areas – not fluffy exoplanets until we have the tech to get there – are judged with their positives and negatives and potentials in the near to far terms, we have to ask the question “Is a planetary surface, any planetary surface, really the best place for an expanding technological civilization.”

Him: But you can’t lift enough people fast enough to overcome the rate of births, we’re past the tipping point of birth rates. You can’t free up the Earth by moving just a few thousand off of it or even a few million. It’s the two trains leave the station math problem.

Her: That is likely true. So the real question is how do you get humans to not have such a growth rate in areas where a population level is limited by available resources.

Him: And we’re back to forced sterilization.

Her: No. We at a point where we can look where resource availability is low and the population growth rates are highest and find out why. A small fix may make a big difference. One topic that developed countries overlook is that underdeveloped countries still have the need to have lots of kids because those kids are traditionally the machines they use to gather enough food to barely get by. If a family had a tractor instead of an ox (which is still a real technology out there past our borders) then the work takes less children. Such a family would then have the option to send one or two kids to school instead of putting them in a field. Higher education leads to awareness of options beyond making more babies at younger ages.

Him: But the reason they don’t have tractors is they don’t have the money for them.

Her: And they don’t have the money for them – or the money to invest in more productive modern techniques of agriculture – because they don’t have enough surplus to sell because they need to make more food to barely feed more children. Yes, it is a cycle. A cycle that needs to be broken.

Him: And tractors blow out pollution…

Her: In the US we are in an electric vehicle revolution, electric tractors are a real possibility.

Him: You like looking at the core and you miss the big one there. Electric cars in the US are mostly really Coal powered. Mostly they do little to help the pollution problem.

Her: Ahhh. And you might be missing a core in this very conversation… what if instead of using Coal, which is just a battery for a very small relative amount of energy that fought its way through the atmosphere millions of years ago, what if instead we could go to the pure source directly and eliminate the middleman and the millennia or “processing time” it takes to make that battery? What if we could get the free high output energy directly?

Him: Solar power, yes it is coming but still the efficiency is not there and as soon as nighttime starts or a cloud rolls overhead the power is gone. That means we need better batteries and HUGE ones for more than just a single house to have its lights on for a few hours each night. And remember that batteries are toxic so you haven’t gotten around the pollution issue, you’ve just moved sideways.

Her: That is all true.. unless you can get out of the nighttime and cloud limitations. And you can.

Him: You can’t stop night from coming.

Her: No, but just 8 minutes away from any place on Earth there is no more nighttime and no more clouds. Remember your Copernicus… Earth is not the center of the universe, the “whole wide world” is not the whole of what we truly have been given to work with. 8 Minutes from where you are the power is streaming past us non stop, no indigenous native culture to kill to get it, no wars to be fought to get at a small patch of land hiding it from miners. Space, even just our small local neighborhood of it is very, very big. Imagine the Sun, the energy is pouring out of it in every direction billions of square miles are seething with the pure good stuff, more than we could ever dream of over-using and with billions of years more coming non-stop and just being thrown away.

Him: Solar Power Satellites, Peter Glaser, Bill Brown, Gerry O’Neill, yeah, yeah. Big in the 80’s but if it was so perfect then we’d be doing it. The systems are too big to launch.

Her: Actually, the high tech parts are a workable mass to launch… it’s mostly the dumb support structures that make up over 90% of the actual mass of any factory construction. The dumb girders are too much for even our very best chemical rocket tech to launch but remember, Earth is not the only place to get dumb mass.

Him: We don’t have a big scifi Lunar space fleet.

Her: We Humans never, ever have what we don’t think we need. Talking this out shows that there truly is a real need. But more importantly to the specifics of this line of talking… once you look beyond the common and incorrect idea that everything in space has to be launched from Earth, and always with rockets, options start appearing. Ever heard of a Mass Driver?

SSI, Engineering for the Human Breakout Into Space… for ALL of Humanity. Join us as a Senior Associate and be part of the solution.  Click Here Now.

Let the Sun Shine In

Swarthmore College Bulletin August 1992 cover

It is commonly accepted that excellent places of higher learning are those that are not only open to the investigation of extreme ideas, but are those which encourage that investigation.

The cover of the August 1992 Swarthmore College Bulletin shows that openness by the students… and, far more importantly, if you look closely at the last paragraphs of the editor’s introduction to the issue’s first article, you’ll see that when students instinctively shy away from a topic that challenges them a bit too much an excellent instructor is one who guides them to think twice.

Swarthmore College Bulletin August 1992 GKON article

If you want to read that article, just scroll to the bottom of the May 1992 SSI Update Newsletter.