SSI Newsletters: December 1977

December 1977 Newsletter on Space Studies

The second half of 1977 has proven to be even more active than the first half in several respects–research progress, new publications, media coverage, interactions with political leaders, and the establishment of the Space Studies Institute (SS!). The pace of events occasionally leaves us breathless, but we somehow seem to be able to keep up with the most significant happenings even though the size of our operation continues to be very small.



The 1977 summer Study was held at the NASA Ames Research Center between June 22 and August 2 under the directorship of Dr. O’Neill. More than four times as large as the 1976 summer Study, it consisted of five technical task groups that produced sixteen journal-length papers which are currently under review and will appear next spring or summer as a NASA “SP” volume. The summer study included the efforts of several well-qualified scientists and engineers donated, in some cases at no cost, from corporations and NASA laboratories. A sixth study group gathered information and formulated a program in which technology readiness for a full program of non­terrestrial material processing would be demonstrated by the mid-1980’s.

An independent look at O’Neill’s proposed low profile road to space manufacturing by one group indicates that the first 10,000 Megawatt satellite power station (SPS) fabricated from lunar materials could come on-line late in 1990 for a program begun in 1980 or 1981 with a total investment for the period 1980 to 1992 (when the third SPS is sold) roughly in the range of $50 to $60 billion (1977).

The electrical and engineering design of mass drivers, both for use as reaction engines in space and on the lunar surface, was looked at in detail and no intractable problems were found. The asteroid study group found cost-competitive ways of retrieving earth-approaching asteroidal materials on low energy trajectories using gravity assists by the Earth, Venus, and the Moon; they recommended an increased near-earth asteroid search effort and a program of chemical assay missions to candidate asteroids during the 1980’s. The chemical processing group explored, in unprecendented detail, the mining and benefication of lunar ores and various methods of extracting lunar materials for end use in space.

Many of these same topics and issues were raised in a subsequent NASA Office of Space Science-funded summer study on Near-Earth Resources under the directorship of Prof. James Arnold of the University of California in San Diego. Similar recommendations for research were made by this second group.

Dr. 0 ‘Neill chaired a session, “Extra terrestrial Mining and Delivery Systems”, at the Twenty-eighth Annual Congress of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) last September in Prague, Czechoslovakia. Both Drs. O’Neill and O’Leary presented papers based on summer study research. The session was well-attended with considerable international interest shown, particularly by the Soviet delegation. Also, during the Autumn, Dr. O’Leary presented papers on asteroidal resources at the American Astronomical Society’s Division for Planetary Sciences annual meeting in Boston, and on the construction of satellite power stations from non-terrestrial materials at the International Symposium on Alternative Energy Sources in Miami Beach.

The second mass driver model, potentially capable of accelerating a small payload at hundreds of g’s (zero to over 200 miles per hour over a distance of 4 feet) has been designed and will be built in Princeton during Spring, 1978. A NASA grant of $70,000 has been awarded to Princeton and MIT through the NASA Lewis Research Center for mass driver design. Government funding is not sufficient to purchase the necessary materials and components; funds for this will come from SSI sources. Mr. Bill Snow, who has just received a Masters Degree from MIT, is working with us at Princeton on the mass driver. Along with Dr. Kolm of MIT and student volunteers, and with further SSI funding, we anticipate a successful test of this model in calendar 1978. Budgets continue to be extremely tight and we would appreciate any information you might have on tracking down one particular componentn — non-electrolytic capacitors with a rating between 10 and 500 microfarads and a voltage rating of more than 600 volts. Write Bill Snow, SSI, PO Box 82, Princeton, New Jersey 08540.
[[librarian note:  This address is here, as it was in the original printed newsletter, for historical reasons.  It is no longer the physical address of SSI. For contributions, please see this page]]

The newly-formed Advisory Panel for the Universities Space Research Association (USRA) on Large Space Structures, chaired by Dr. O’Neill, met twice during the second half of 1977. The panel is playing an increasingly active role in advising us on directions in research and providing strategies for timely support of critical steps required to demonstrate feasibility and cost-effectiveness. The presence of individuals from the public utilities, life insurance investment community, aerospace engineering groups and labor unions–as well as academics in a variety of fields and distinguished visitors from throughout the world–has given us a broad constituency from which to work. The group felt it necessary to emphasize the importance of satellite power, fabricated from non-terrestrial materials, as a potentially viable long-time solution to the global energy problem. The committee has decided to rename itself the Advisory Panel on “Power from Space”. In the future SSI and USRA will be tied in closely with each other.



Several new technical publications and popular magazine articles authored by members of the Princeton group have come out over the past six months and are too numerous to mention in this newsletter. The principal technical papers are:

1. Space-Based Manufacturing from Nonterrestrial Materials (Edit. 0 ‘Neill and O’Leary), Progress in Astronautics and Aeronautics, Vol. 57, 1977, published by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (1290 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10019). This is the collection of technical papers derived from the 1976 Summer Study at NASA Ames Research Center. AIAA Administrator of Public Policy, Dr. Jerry Grey, said these kind words in the preface of the volume: “A relatively rare occurrence in science or technology is the emergence of a subject which, after only the briefest exposure, seizes the interest and sparks the imagination of both the technical community and the general public. Even more rare is the subject which survives that first exposure, not only in the form of sustained public interest but, more important, in the subsequent orderly growth of a sound scientific and technical base.”

2. A special edition of The High Frontier, prepared for national and world leaders, is being issued this month. This Presentation Edition was made possible through a generous donation by Mr. William O’Boyle of New York City. In early January, the paperback edition of The High Frontier will be published by Bantam Books. Dr. O’Neill has rewritten the book to reflect recent research results; the writing has been further simplified to layman’s language and 60 new line drawings by artist Don Davis are included.

3. The Proceedings of the Third Princeton Conference on Space Manufacturing Facilities will be available in the next few weeks from the AIAA. This volume contains about thirty-five papers contributed by participants in the May, 1977 Conference held in Princeton.

4. “Mining the Apollo and Amor Asteroids” by B. O’Leary was published in the July 22, 1977 issue of Science (Vol. 197, p. 363). This paper lays out the potential for using near-earth asteroidal resources in an early program of space manufacturing.

5. “The Low (Profile) Road to Space Manufacturing” by G. K. O’Neill will be published in the March, 1978 issue of Astronautics and Aeronautics. This article will appear in a special section of the magazine, which will include several new color paintings produced from the 1977 NASA Ames Summer Study by artist Rick Guidice. The article will contain the most recent information on a low-cost, “critical-path” scenario for processing lunar materials for manufacturing satellite power stations and other products. There are no substantial changes in cost and time estimates from earlier studies.



During the fall Dr. O’Neill appeared on the national television programs, “Johnny Carson” and “Sixty Minutes”. Articles have been written on our work in the TWA Ambassador magazine (Nov., 1977), People Magazine (Dec. 12, 1977), and Family Circle (in the near future). The NOVA special, “The Final Frontier”, is scheduled for airing on most Public Broadcasting Service stations on January 30. The World Research Corporation is producing a film tentatively called “Libra Colony”, intended for schools and public television. The BBC 3-hour documentary, “Spaceships of the Mind”, will be coming out next spring. A 4-part slide presentation based on our work and geared to high school and college science courses, is under production at Audio Visual Narrative Arts.

Dr. O’Neill’s book, The High Frontier, won the Phi Beta Kappa Award in Science. The citation read, in part, “an enormously stimulating and exciting book, refreshingly optimistic and splendidly informative; his imaginative yet disciplined speculations provide a welcome relief from the current visions of gloom.”

Several lectures were given in the fall, examples being the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum (O’Neill, in Washington) and the Royal Canadian Institute (O’Leary, in Toronto). The Smithsonian lecture had a full house on a very rainy night.

Future lecture dates include:

  • Jan. 10 (O’Neill banquet lecture, The American Astronomical Society in Austin, Texas)
  • Jan. 19 (O’Leary, Penn State Univ., University Park), Feb. 1 (O’Leary, Clemson Univ., South Carolina)
  • Feb. 2 (O’Leary, Oak Ridge National Laboratories, Tenn.)
  • Feb. 13 (O’Leary, AAAS Annual Meeting, session on Macro-engineering, Washington, D. C.)
  • Feb. 15 (O’Leary, AAAS session on the Ultimate Limits to Growth)
  • Feb. 24 (O’Neill, Bell Laboratories, Columbus, Ohio)
  • April 13 (O’Neill, Superior, Wisconsin), April 18 (O’Neill, Pensacola Junior College, Fla.)
  • March 17 (O’Neill, Tulane Univ., New Orleans)
  • and June 12 (O’Neill, EEI/Praeger Symposium, New York).



The fall of 1977 has been a particularly active period in communicating our work to political leaders. At the initiative of Barbara Hubbard and John Whiteside from the Committee for the Future, and of Representative Barbara Mikulski from Baltimore, a Congressional Seminar was held at the Rayburn House Office Building in Washington on the High Frontier concept. Drs. O’Neill and O’Leary from Princeton attended, and were joined by several research colleagues and by former NASA Administrator Thomas Paine. As a result, a Congressional resolution was introduced by the Chairman of the House Committee on Science and Technology, Rep. Olin Teague. The resolution, which will be debated in January, would provide for increased federal support of critical research and development on our concepts so that an informed go-no-go decision could be made as early as 1980. It states, in part, “that the Congress hereby finds and declares…  that every feasible means now shall be mobilized to explore and assess the resources of the “High Frontier” of Outer Space to better understand and to make practical, beneficial uses of these resources.” We recommend your writing your sentiments on this to your Congressman and to Rep. Teague.

During the fall three meetings have been held with NASA Administrator Robert Frosch on the issue of NASA support of research on the High Frontier concept. The meetings were cordial and informative. We have been assured of continued modest support from NASA and have been asked to submit a plan of research both at Princeton and nationwide, identifying the most critical, long lead time items. This was done just prior to Christmas. Communications have also been established with individuals in the White House. We owe a debt of gratitude for pa ins taking and effective behind-the­-scenes work by Dr. Stephen Cheston, Associate Dean of the Graduate School at Georgetown University, in setting up meetings and keeping us apprised of events in Washington.

On the negative side, it appears that there are, as yet, no administration advocates for the timely testing and development of the satellite power station (SPS) concept. NASA has been repeatedly advised to downplay the SPS and a joint NASA/ Department of Energy document entitled SPS Concept Development and Evaluation Pro­gram Plan has scheduled selection of one or more “preferred concept(s)” next fall. Under the plan, no hardware development or environmental field testing are permitted, yet a program go-no-go decision would be made in 1980. The non-terrestrial materials option is not included in the report. It is clear that the education of policymakers will continue to be a high priority.



Thanks to the generous contributions of Barbara Hubbard and others–including many of you who responded to our solicitation in our last newsletter–we are this month formally announcing the establishment of the Space Studies Institute (SSI). Institute officers are G. K. O’Neill (President), Tasha O’Neill (Treasurer) and Brian O’Leary. A separate announcement is enclosed with this newsletter.

We cannot emphasize too much the importance of SSI in carrying the torch for research in our concepts. The group leaders in the 1977 Summer Study unanimously ad­opted a resolution which stated that the time has come to upgrade these efforts beyond transitory paper studies. Mass driver models, bench chemistry tests, microwave energy transmission tests and asteroid searches are among many important long lead time projects which must be undertaken soon. The group leaders recommended a $2 million R+D in­vestment on the non-terrestrial resource option for 1978, with significant increases in subsequent years. This level of effort is consistent with the intent of the pending Congressional resolution, but is far beyond the current commitment by the Federal government.

In the meantime, SSI will be pivotal in supporting the most essential aspects of this work. The second mass driver model, for example, is almost wholly dependent on contributions to SSI.

We are happy to welcome Barbara Evans who will be working part-time for SSI as an administrative assistant. Ms. Evans has a diversified background in public affairs. Her work in coordinating the business of the USRA Advisory Panel and the establishment of SSI has already proven to be valuable. We are also happy to have with us Peggy Davis as a research assistant, a role which will turn out to be equally important. Ms. Davis has a strong liberal arts background. With Ginie Reynolds, who is continuing to work with us on our numerous technical communications, we have an unusually enthusiastic and dedicated group.

As SSI begins to grow, we will solicit your participation in various aspects of its operation. Starting in 1978, this semi-annual newsletter will divide into two newsletters – a “free” one informing our mailing list of lectures and other public events and a second detailed newsletter for SSI subscribers informing them of recent research results and political activities.
If you haven’t done so yet, we urge you to become a subscriber or contributor to SSI. A coupon is included on the attached letter of announcement for your convenience. If you have already done so, we are asking you to consider making any additional contributions you can afford over this critical period.


Brian O’Leary
SSI, P. O. Box 82
Princeton, New Jersey 08540
[[librarian note:  This address is here, as it was in the original printed newsletter, for historical reasons.  It is no longer the physical address of SSI. For contributions, please see this page]]

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