Gerard K. O’Neill was born in Brooklyn, in 1927, to Edward, a lawyer and judge, and Dorothy O’Neill. He joined the Navy at age 17 and served as a radar technician from 1944 to 1946. He graduated from Swarthmore College in 1950 with high honors in physics and received a doctorate in physics from Cornell University in 1954. That year he joined the faculty of Princeton University, which he remained associated with until his death in 1992. He was a pilot with ratings for gliders, land aircraft, and instrument flight, and as a sailplane pilot held an International Diamond Badge in soaring.
Dr. O’Neill’s early research focused on high-energy particle physics. He worked on massive atom-smashing devices located in Italy and Switzerland as well as Princeton and Stanford Universities. In 1956 he invented the storage ring technique for colliding particle beams. His studies on the colonization of space began in 1969 as a result of undergraduate teaching at Princeton, and were first published in 1974. His signature work, The High Frontier, was first published in 1977. It proposed the construction of giant solar powered cylinders in which as many as 20 million people could live in space. Materials for these colonies would come from mining the Moon and asteroids. Also in 1977, he founded the Space Studies Institute at Princeton, an organization that continues today to fund research in space manufacturing and resources.
Dr. O’Neill was selected by the editors of Aviation Week as one of the Americans who contributed most to the development of the aerospace field in the year 1975. In 1985 he was appointed by President Reagan to the National Commission on Space. He is author of The High Frontier, 2081: A Hopeful View of the Human Future, and The Technology Edge: Opportunities for America in World Competition.
The High Frontier is still seen as one of the most important books ever written on the subject of the human breakout into space. The Institute, at Dr. O’Neill’s request, intends to keep The High Frontier in print as long as the organization exists.