Gerard K. O’Niell Part 2

Gerard K. O’Niell Part 2

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Gerard K. O’Neill Part 2

Father of Space Settlements

By Frank White

This message is the 22nd in a series of Space Frontier Foundation essays designed to inform the Internet public about the incredible possibilities awaiting us in space and the seventh & last in Frank White’s series on the Visionaries Of The Open Frontier.

Consistent with his vision that the high frontier (a phrase he coined and popularized in his first book) should be an environment of opportunity for all, Gerard K. O’Neill founded the Space Studies Institute(SSI) in the 1970’s. SSI soon became a rallying point for those interested in a space movement rather than a space program. It was privately supported by memberships, and took little or no government money.

O’Neill and SSI originally focused on the technical side of space settlements, i.e., how to mine extraterrestrial materials, transport them to Lagrange points and build space habitats. Soon, however, the Institute became a magnet for those interested in the human implications of opening up the frontier. Doctors, lawyers, management consultants, philosophers and sociologists all found a home under the large umbrella that had been opened up by O’Neill and SSI.

O’Neill himself was unique in that, from the beginning, he made a connection between space settlements and the betterment of humanity. The High Frontier is replete with analyses of the benefits of moving polluting industries into space, and the advantages of creating small human communities beyond Earth orbit.

During his lifetime, Gerard O’Neill rarely received the credit that was due him, but he always worked to have a positive impact, in whatever role came his way. Appointed to be a member of the President’s National Commission on Space in 1985, he helped move that group toward his vision of an open frontier, and partly through his efforts, the commission’s report, Pioneering the Space Frontier, advocated a vigorous and visionary US space program that may yet come into being.

As our world approaches the beginning of a new century and a new millennium, we are the keepers of the flame that was lit by Gerard O’Neill and his class nearly thirty years ago. It is our choice whether it becomes a beacon of hope throughout the universe or sputters and dies on a small planet at the edge of a spiral galaxy.

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