The recent facebook kerfuffle

[from the SSI Facebook page]

Apparently a minor ruckus was caused by a forward of a recent SpaceNews story. Comments here and there ran from analytical to … fun internetty 🙂. One gentleman noted the relationship between the cgi cylindrical design and Clarke’s Rama. For someone who does not do space work every day, it was a good note as were his points on limitations of current launch systems for something as huge as was seen in the article’s imagery. And there was this response:

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Hi [name withheld]! I attached a fun picture for you. Before there was an official Clarke Award, Sir Arthur gave this to nuclear physicist Gerard K. O’Neill. It was gifted between the two before there was an internet.

O’Neill was famous originally for revolutionizing particle physics with his Storage Ring Synchrotron – the technology that made round particle accelerators actually work – an idea that lots of professional folks said was nuts until O’Neill and Richter made the first one in Menlo Park near Stanford and Richter won that 1976 Nobel with it. And of course when anyone thinks of a particle accelerator now they see the O’Neill-caused design in their heads. I spoke with Freeman Dyson years back and in his 90s he was still pissed that folks weren’t / aren’t able to fully “get” O’Neill. (Really pissed, like he scared me when he banged his hand on the table over it.)

You are absolutely 100% correct that something like an O’Neill Cylinder (O’Neill called it an “Island 3” design) or even a “Bernal Sphere” (the a.k.a. name that O’Neill gave in homage to JD Bernal to his smaller “Island v1” design) is not something nearby in time. It isn’t, you are right.

However, that is not the full point that some people are making for spinners. The point, by my humble understanding, being around the industry for a bit of a while, is that at least some type of spinning test vehicle should by now be at least on someone’s timeline, even if it is just a New Glenn sized test lab. No one, no one, has done a single spin test away from the overwhelming influence of Earth’s 1G on even the smallest of vertebrates. Worms, yes, fruit flies, yes. But they don’t have backbones or bones at all like you and I do. Which is something to think about when you hear so many folks saying that the Moon (1/6thG) or Mars (1/3rdG) is going to be just fine for humans – there is no evidence to support those happy thoughts. None. Only a spinning test environment that is away from the 1G of Earth can do reduced gravity physiological testing. So a dream of a big O’Neill habitat is, I agree, a dream for today, but a push for a spinner, even a small one, is at this point, kind of a good idea IF we all are serious about Humans living for extended periods on lower gravity locations.

edited to add: I apologize for the long note, you can feel free to delete it… but I also wanted to let you know between just you and I that I do not expect or ask you to become one of those nutty O’Neill fanboys 🙂, I personally am on record as hating O’Neill (yes, hating) for his crazy “space stuff” for a long time. Thing is that after many years, decades in fact, one day it happened against my long proud habit, that I noticed that O’Neill’s numbers about his reasons for space systems started to add up. It was embarrassing for me BUT … I had to eat crow and admit it. That’s just my personal experience. The spinner test systems for vertebrate physiology in reduced gravity aren’t related to that, but I did want to share that personal bit with you [name withheld].


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