T.A. Heppenheimer’s Colonies In Space (1977)

colonies in space

As I was searching eBay for all the Ray Bradbury books I read as a kid and somehow lost, I discovered this little gem, for which Bradbury provides an introduction. In 1969, Princeton physics professor Gerald O’Neill, “concerned over student disenchantment with science and engineering,” started seriously discussing space colonization with his brightest freshman students. He asked them, “Is the surface of a planet really the right place for an expanding technological civilization?” After much back and forth about atmosphere and energy requirements, “They concluded that the surface of a planet was not the best place for a technical civilization. The best places looked like new, artificial bodies in space, or inside-out planets.”

They kept at it. The ideas were discussed at a conference at Princeton, studies were conducted, and in 1975 O’Neill got a grant from NASA “to work full-time on space colonization.” That same year O’Neill testified before the space-science subcommittee of the House committee on science and technology, and the U.S. Congress increased NASA’s budget by 25% “to lay the foundation for advanced projects, such as moon bases and orbital colonies.” (Did you know there was a House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology? If not, don’t blame yourself.)

The book is absolutely fascinating, and lucky for us the whole thing is available online at The National Space Society, “an independent, educational, grassroots, non-profit organization dedicated to the creation of a spacefaring civilization.” Below are some of the amazing paintings and drawings included in the book (from Chapters 8, 10, and 15). The captions are exactly as they appear at the NSS. Also be sure to check out the Color Plates and all the beautiful Don Davis paintings in Chapter 15.

Thank you, NSS!

bernal sphere

“Bernal Sphere” design for a space colony. The sphere is the central structure; the structure resembling coils of hose are where agriculture is conducted. The disks at either end are radiators for waste heat. (Courtesy NASA)

bernal sphere-2

Cutaway view of “Bernal sphere” type of space colony. Some 10,000 people would live and work in the central sphere. A separate area, exposed to the intense sunlight of space, would be set aside for growing crops. (Courtesy NASA)

bernal sphere-3

Interior of “Bernal sphere” colony. The hang-glider pilot actually is engaged in powered flight, which is possible in the low gravity of the colony center. He pedals a bicyclelike arrangement which drives the large propeller at his back.

residential district colony

Residential district inside the colony. (Courtesy Pat Hill)

business district colony

Downtown in a colony business district. (Courtesy Pat Hill)

stanford taurus

As the large colonies proliferate, the early Stanford toruses will still represent valuable living space. But their interiors will be rebuilt to suit the open, well-forested styles in vogue in the middle of the next century. (Donald E. Davis painting courtesy NASA)

6 Responses to “T.A. Heppenheimer’s <em>Colonies In Space</em> (1977)”


  1. 1 Steve Austin July 25, 2012 at 3:10 am

    That last image was also found as cover art for Larry Niven’s Ringworld which I think was published around that time. Also a good read..

  2. 2 2W2N July 25, 2012 at 4:17 pm

    Was it? I’ve read Ringworld and wondered if Niven might have been inspired by this, or vice versa. Although the Ringworld was much more massive, right? And you wouldn’t know it was a ring unless you looked overhead at certain times and saw the the arch.

  3. 3 Lance Mitaro February 5, 2014 at 12:41 am

    Wow. The movie Elysium totally stole from this concept art.
    Much like Avatar stole from those Yes and Asia album covers.


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