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The Lost Dream of Space Colonies
By Alexis Madrigal | Jul 19 2011
Long before NASA's famed Shuttle program came to a close, the biggest space ambitions of many an American had already withered
"We have put men on the Moon. Can people live in space? Can permanent communities be built and inhabited off the Earth? Not long ago these questions would have been dismissed as science fiction, as fantasy or, at best as the wishful thinking of men ahead of their times," a 1975 NASA design study begins. "Now they are asked seriously not only out of human curiosity, but also because circumstances of the times stimulate the thought that space colonization offers large potential benefits and hopes to an increasingly enclosed and circumscribed humanity."
In the wake of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo, the dwindling resources of the Earth were on the minds of many. The solution, for a particular kind of Big Engineering adherent, wasn't to reduce the human footprint on this planet, but to extend it beyond the blue marble.
The space colony (a.k.a. space city for those who didn't like the baggage of the word 'colony') movement probably marks the apex of nominally realistic ambitious thinking about off-world living. The goal was to build a 10,000-person orbiting community with materials and technologies available to people in the 1970s. The wildly ambitious effort was centered at NASA Ames Research Center, a neighbor of Stanford University, which had to be the coolest place in the world during the third quarter of the 20th century.
By 1964 there were 1.5 million mobile phone users in the US
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