Oneil Colonies

Our Newest Challenge in Space: Privatizing the Delivery and Return of Human Beings

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission, which was the first time man walked on the moon. December 11th, 1972 was the last time that man set foot on the moon. This means that it has been over 45 years since man last walked on the moon. I say “man” here because out of the 12 humans who have set foot on the moon, all of them happened to be men. One would think that with all the technological and societal advancements that we have made since the 70s, we would have made it back to the moon again already, and we definitely would have landed a woman on the moon. But alas, NASA had to stop sending men to the moon because they no longer had the money to fund the costly missions. In fact, in today’s terms, the cost of the Apollo missions would be roughly $152 billion. Because NASA stopped sending people to the moon, we now have to pay Russia roughly $80 million per astronaut to send them to the International Space Station. Of course with prices like these, there are going to be plenty of people opposed to furthering space exploration, when the money could be put towards a different area of need.


Here’s the dilemma: do we give NASA more money so that they can send people to the moon again, or do we allocate that money to a more important area of need in the United States? We must ask ourselves if the end goal of getting to the Moon was dedicated to scientific exploration, or was America simply trying to beat the Soviets as a way to show dominance? Interestingly enough, the United States has actually come pretty close to using space as a way to show military dominance over the Soviets through a little operation called Project A119. This was a military initiative undergone by the U.S. Air Force whose purpose was to strike the moon with a nuclear bomb. Yeah, you read that right. During the Space Race and the height of the Cold War, the U.S. Air Force thought there was no better way to show off their power capabilities to the Soviet Union than by nuking the moon. They wanted the Soviets to be able to see the “mushroom cloud” of the nuclear blast from down on Earth, and thus, be struck with intense fear of the United States and its nuclear capabilities. Fortunately, the U.S. didn’t follow through with this plan since scientists determined that they would not receive the “mushroom cloud” reaction from the explosion that they would have wanted.


Thankfully, not everyone views space exploration as a means of promulgating military power like our current president does. Instead, there are people like Jeff Bezos, Amazon CEO, and Caroline Kennedy, daughter of John F. Kennedy, who have a more peaceful vision for the future of space exploration. In a recent interview with CBS, the Amazon CEO, supported by Kennedy, discussed his theory of The Great Inversion. He explains that currently we send things into space that are made on Earth, but through this Great Inversion, we will have highly manufactured products made in space and then sent back down to Earth. He gives the example of microprocessors as one of these products that would be helpful to have produced in space. Eventually, he believes that the Earth will be zoned solely residential, and that people will be able to choose between living on Earth or living somewhere else in space. If you think all of this sounds optimistic, wait until you hear what’s in store for Bezos’s aerospace company, Blue Origin.


Founded almost 20 years ago, Bezos’s Blue Origin has become one of the top tech companies to achieve many advancements in the field of space travel. Ever since Bezos was in high school, he has believed that the Earth is finite, and in order for the world economy and population to keep expanding, space exploration is the way to go. In fact, Jeff Bezos is so optimistic about space travel, that he believes he will journey to space within his lifetime. He plans to do this by pioneering a new industry dedicated to space tourism. One of his first projects in this new field is that of the suborbital rocket system named New Shepard, after the first American who traveled into space, Alan Shepard.


Aboard New Shepard, passengers will experience an 11 minute flight just above the Kármán Line, the internationally recognized boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and the boundary of outer space. If this sounds like something you’d be willing to try, then I suggest you visit Blue Origin’s website and reserve your seat. That way, when tickets for the 11 minute journey into space go on sale, you can be first in line (along with the many other people who have already reserved their seat too of course). Additionally, on their website you can request to have a payload sent to space on New Shepard for research and technology purposes, but fair warning, this requires a lot of paperwork, so serious inquiries only!


Thus far, New Shepard has successfully flown 8 NASA payloads to space, completed 12 test flights, and most recently, it completed its sixth flight reusing the same rocket and capsule, which further emphasizes the importance of reusability to Blue Origin. As previously mentioned, space travel costs a lot of money, but Bezos believes that we can make it cheaper by creating reusable rockets. In fact, next in store for Blue Origin is New Glenn, a heavy-lift launch vehicle named after the first American to orbit the Earth, John Glenn. Like New Shepard, New Glenn is designed to carry both research payloads and people, but it is expected to have a lifetime of at least 25 missions, and is twice as big as any existing rocket. Thus far, $2.5 billion has been invested in New Glenn, and its first mission is set to take place in 2021. Of course this is a large sum of money, but when you’re the CEO of Amazon, it’s simple.


Since this year is the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11, we can’t help but wonder, when are humans returning to the moon? Well according to the Trump administration, Americans will be back on the moon by the year 2024. In order to help NASA achieve this goal, Jeff Bezos and his company have designed a lunar landing module called Blue Moon. But, Bezos’s plan is not to just go to the moon and come right back. Instead, he envisions a lunar colony as the first step in his greater plan to have humans live in outer space. Blue Moon’s framework is essential to achieving this dream, since the landing module is powered by liquid hydrogen, meaning that it is able to be refueled upon landing, since NASA has confirmed the presence of ice found on the moon. Bezos is so optimistic about humans living in outer space that he envisions humans living in O’Neill Colonies, which were first introduced by American physicist Gerard K. O’Neill. These colonies are basically spinning structures that feature agricultural areas, high speed transportation, and even entire cities, all floating in a giant cylinder in outer space. Bezos has described the climate in these cylinders as like “Maui on it’s best day all year long.” Who wouldn’t want to live in such a place? Well, this doesn’t really matter to anyone reading this right now, since we will be long gone by the time these O’Neill Colonies could even be put into use.


On a brighter note, something that we might be able to witness within our lifetime is humans on Mars! NASA actually plans to have boots on Mars by the 2030s. When it comes to private companies though, Bezos is focused on space tourism and going to the moon, whereas, Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX, is more determined to get humans to Mars. Founded in 2002, the goal of SpaceX as stated on their website is to “enable people to live on other planets,” the first of which being Mars. Elon Musk believes that if he could make the cost of flying to Mars equivalent to the cost of buying a $500,000 home in California, then he thinks that there would be enough people willing to buy a ticket, that humans could eventually inhabit Mars. Like Bezos, many of Musk’s aspirations may sound impossible, but we have to remember that at some point in time, humans thought it impossible to put a man on the moon.


But at the end of the day, we must ask ourselves, is the goal to send humans to Mars, or is the goal to colonize Mars? Should we be fixing our own problems here on this planet before we destroy another one? With these questions in mind, one can only wonder, is all of this just a big waste of money? Should we be using the one billion dollar yearly budget that Blue Origin has on something else? Even back when man landed on the moon 50 years ago, there were concerns that the money the U.S. government was spending on space exploration could be better spent. A man named Ralph Abernathy coordinated a group of 500 people at the Kennedy Space Center days before the Apollo 11 launch, as a way to protest the government’s spending on the project, since there were starving children out on the streets. Another reason why people might be hesitant to top companies like Blue Origin and SpaceX making rapid advancements is because there is a possibility that the U.S. government will view these advancements as possible tools of war, like they almost did with the Soviets. But then again, that’s what the Space Force is for, right?


To wrap up this article on a somewhat lighter note, here’s a short list of 10 things you might not have known about the missions to the moon:

  1. As a member of the Apollo 14 mission, Alan Shepard became the first man to hit a golf ball on the moon.
  2. On the moon, if you were to drop a hammer and a feather at the same time, they would fall to the surface at the same speed.
  3. The Apollo 11 crew took remnants of fabric and a small piece of wood from the original Wright Flyer to the moon.
  4. Buzz Aldrin took the Holy Communion once Apollo 11 landed on the moon before Armstrong took his famous first step.
  5. President Nixon had a statement already written in case the Apollo 11 mission didn’t go as planned, and the astronauts died on the mission.
  6. A Jamestown cargo tag from a ship that traveled from England to the New World in 1611 flew to the ISS and back on the 400th anniversary of the colony.
  7. The light-saber used by Luke Skywalker in Return of the Jedi was sent to orbit aboard Space Shuttle Discovery to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the original Star Wars trilogy.
  8. Commander Mark Polansky took a teddy bear to the moon that was a replica of one owned by a Holocaust survivor.
  9. Astronaut Satoshi Furukawa built a Lego replica of the International Space Station while aboard the International Space Station itself.
  10. Astronauts trained for walking on the moon in zero gravity by being suspended sideways and walking on a slanted wall.