THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 822, May 17, 2015
Maybe they're just stupid
The Millennial Project Revisited: a Book Review
Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise
It began in late summer of 1994 when I discovered The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps in a local bookstore. I leafed through it briefly with some interest but did not buy it. But the more I thought of it I decided it was something worth adding to my personal library so I went back a few weeks later only to find it was gone and I had a hard time locating it again.
I had just come from a what felt like a successful interview for my current job and was optimistic enough to spend the money when I found another copy at Waldon's in the long gone Greengate Mall—so I bought it and continued what had been a good read. I had always been interested in topics pertaining to space colonization ever since my discovery of Gerard K. O'Neill's : The High Frontier in the school library during late adolescence. Things were so slow in those days in the absence of the Internet as we know it that I did not learn of the existence of a space advocacy movement—aside from the Phil Donahue interview with the L5 Society—until it was on the verge of petering out in the mid 1980s. And then we had the Challenger Disaster as I was going into the Air Force in 1986 which became a common place theme on many a boot camp day room wall. And through the Summer of 86 I was still reading Jerry Pournelle editorials in Far Frontiers and lots of interesting paperback SF novels and discovered Dandridge Cole's "Islands in Space: Challenge of the Planetoids" in the reference section of the library at Sheppard AFB. That one was forerunner of O'Neill's vision along side the other heavy hitting visionary giant of the time—Freeman Dyson—Father of Project Orion—who in tandem with Cole could have given us a present day solar system full of hollow asteroid colonies and atomic spaceships and we'd probably be planning trips to other stars by now.
But alas in 1986—the best they could come up with was the report from the Ride Commission that offered a "bold" vision for America to jump start its future in space that was depicted in the pages of "Pioneering The Space Frontier"
Like what would eventually become the International Space Station—it was just a slightly less tepid vision of the project proposed by Ronald Reagan a few years prior. Especially for one such as myself who was still dreaming of building a career landscaping the interiors of O'Neill habitats in the Earth-Moon liberation points—or maybe even a hollow asteroid in the main belt someday in my adult life. That sadly never came to pass after the nation got bogged down in the post Challenger malaise—which was probably for some a convenient excuse to argue that Mankind does not belong in space. Funny how it is so easy to become a deficit hawk and repudiate human sacrifice when it comes to something you don't like. By the time I transferred to Andrews in 88 I became pretty much absorbed with hobbies and fun in the DC area on my off duty time. I still remained interested in space and even got to see the mural at the Air and Space museum that was probably by the same artist who decorated the cover of "Pioneering the Space Frontier".
But such lofty visions were for the most part consigned to the distant science fiction future. And the best thing I could find in that market at the time—aside from El Neil's "Pallas" which caught my eye in the book stores—but I would not get around to reading for many years—along with the one about the "Capitalist alien Cephalopods"—was of course "Fallen Angels" with the dystopian world run by the greenie weenies in which the underground SF fans were trying to hide two downed spacemen from the authorities while working on a plan to return them to orbit. All the while I was arguing with the green police in Maryland and the Bucket Heads back home—learning that when it came to bureaucracy—that it was easier to just bank on pleading forgiveness than to ask permission.
All the while the High Frontier continued to be put on the back burner.
It was so ironic that the early 1990s were supposed to be the time of the Peace Dividend. You would have thought a small percentage of the money freed up by the ending of the Cold War could have been invested in something productive like jump starting the colonization of space in a big way and breathe new life back onto the blighted steel towns of the Rust Belt—which in years past I had argued to little avail; would have received quite a stimulus in the way of demand for steel for chain link fences, poles, beams and rebar to build spaceport infrastructures and receiving stations for power beams from powersats. Not to mention lower energy costs to reduce operating expense. But I usually got the standard knee jerk populist reaction from a population more or less burnt by unraveling of their way of life and preoccupied with the restoration of the promise of the New Deal and other things.
Life was looking pretty dark in those days as jobs were still hard to find and I was starting to pack my bags that summer in 94 when I got a call for an interview that opened the door to my current job. And probably saved me from jumping from the frying pan into the fire—as the hospital where my friend in Florida worked ended up downsizing and even he got laid off about the same time as I had gotten hired! And then things began to get a little brighter.
Perhaps fitting that was also the time I discovered The Millennial Project by Marshall T. Savage at a local bookstore. It was a new twist on an old dream and definitely a breath of fresh air for a foundering space advocacy movement that had gotten lost in a lost cause of trying to convince enough people to support NASA in hope that it would finally bring about the fulfillment of the visions of Gerard K. O'Neil and the L-5 Society. It also introduced some new approaches to solving the technical problems of accessing and living in space that were astonishing to say the least.
As stated in the sub caption of the book's title; colonizing the galaxy according to Mr Savage can be done on eight easy steps—at least according to its author who was very convincing in presenting his ideas. As I delved onto the work it was obvious that he had done his homework on everything from spacesuit and propulsion system designs to the details of colonizing and terraforming asteroids and lifeless planets. And the stated mission was an almost messianic call to save the planet and spread life to the stars.
Step one of that process was the establishment of the First Millennial Foundation which actually happened in the early 1990s. I actually wrote to the author in Rifle Colorado to volunteer and got a letter back. I ended up joining as a regular member filled with hopes and dreams of at lest living in one of the floating sea cities like Aquarius. Never made it any of the conclaves but it was the one thing that jump started my launch onto cyberspace back in the days where the Internet was just beginning to become mainstream and my desire to be able to communicate with the organization via email was the primary driver. And the newsletters were very interesting. They were actually appraising a piece of land in St Croix where they were looking to establish a theme park that would be a stepping stone to developing the sea colony of Aquarius.
Which was to be the second step. Aquarius was supposed to start breaking ground—in that case water—in 2015! It was to be a modular construction of hexagonal sections that formed an artificial island with parkland on top and a city beneath. The basic structure was concrete accreted on wire mesh via electrolysis from the mineral content of the sea water. The power would be supplied by a cluster of Ocean Thermal Converters (OTEC) that tapped the 40 degree differential between the surface and deep oceans in the equatorial regions—that also would support an aquaculture industry from the nutrient rich deep water being pulled up—sort of an artificial upwelling time the natural ones that often support rich local fisheries. Between a diet rich in seafood and living in a tropical climate was a dream maybe even better than life envisioned in an O'Neil habitat and looked more like something that might actually get done in my lifetime. And I was more than ready to go.
And I had high hopes of seeing the next two stages—Bifrost and Asgard. Bifrost is named for the Rainbow Bridge to Asgard of Norse mythology—as in the home of the Mighty Thor! It is a laser launching system on top of Mt Kilimanjaro that was planned to provide additional impulse to boost the Valkyrie shuttle craft that were magnetically levitated and accelerated on an underground track beneath the Serengeti plain and up through the heart of the mountain. The laser system consists of several multicolored beams that converge on a block of ice in the thrust chamber—novel improvement over one that just heats the air in the chamber—as seen in previous technical essays in SF magazines and the Jerry Pournelle novel Exiles to Glory. Because it is also touted as a useful means of propulsion above the atmosphere in subsequent steps of the project. Asgard—so named for the heavenly abode of the Norse gods is the Earth orbiting space station which departs radically from the ideas of O'Neil and NASA's glorified tin can collection—the ISS! It introduced the idea of an inflatable habitat (which had been proposed before) combined with the concept of a water shield—which is essentially about 3 meters of water sandwiched in a double silicone membrane to provide radiation shielding equivalent to the Earth's atmosphere and letting in light while dispensing with the mirror surfaced chevron shields proposed for O'Neil style habitats.
Then came Avalon—named for the legendary island of Arthurian lore. It involves building crater habitats on the moon—capping them with the same water shielded structure as the orbiting colonies in the form of a dome. The showcase example is the one in the 90 KM crater called Copernicus—with its "Never Trees" that grow to gigantic proportions in the weaker lunar gravity where people launch themselves to fly on artificial wings in the fashion of the mythical Icarus and Daedalus. Savage envisioned the crater habitats as a means to conserve wildlife much like O'Neill suggested doing with orbital colonies. The concept is expanded in the Next phase—Elysium that involves the terraforming of Mars "to create a living planet to sustain us".
Perhaps the most important stage is of course Solaria—which becomes the name of a solar system wide civilization centered in the Asteroid Belt. It involves the establishment of asteroid colonies—entire asteroids—encapsulated in the same water shielded atmosphere containing structures as the earlier generation of orbital colonies and crater habitats and is a novel fulfillment of the visions of Freeman Dyson and the Russian space scientist Karashadev for building what is called a Class II or "K-2" civilization. As in one that has evolved above our humble Level I by utilizing the resource base of an entire stellar system as opposed to a single planet. Savage solves the problem of building a Dyson Sphere as a solid structure by proposing a swarm of free floating habitats forming a halo in the current location of the Asteroid Belt which is essentially future Solaria.
And the next step beyond that is "Galactica"—the Class III or K-3 civilization that involves the utilization of an entire galaxy. The case of The Millennial Project puts forth that it will take the resources of solar system wide economy to support the construction of starships and the manufacture antimatter in sufficient quantities to provide fuel for reasonably fast interstellar travel. Which becomes the fulfillment of the book's quasi messianic vision of spreading life to the stars. Savage is pessimist when it comes to the idea of life elsewhere in the universe suggesting that Earth may be the only planet in the cosmos upon which life managed to come onto being. Therefore he holds that it is our mission to not only protect and conserve terrestrial life—but to spread it around the universe in a sort of manifest cosmic destiny. He makes a case similar to Carl Sagan in explaining the lack of signs of extraterrestrial civilizations; that someone has to be first and maybe that someone is us and in describing what the alien equivalent of a Greater Solaria might look like to radio astronomers searching the heavens for intelligent signals—says : we are looking for a needle in a cosmic haystack when we ought to be looking for a battleship!
The vision of The Millennial Project goes on from there to a wave of green creeping across the galaxy and eventually leaping the great firebreak of intergalactic space to Andromeda and beyond until the whole cosmos is infused with the green elixir of Life.
But alas after what seemed a promising start—the dream guttered out in the late 90s. The Foundation could never get off the ground as the land deal in St Croix failed to happen and Marshal Savage moved on to other things. Some of his friends—Richard Crews and William Gale attempted to establish a land based colony referred to as an eco-village in Texas but eventually but the effort apparently fell apart and faded into obscurity as the world became preoccupied with the fallout of 9/11 going into the dark malaise of the early 21st Century.
Maybe someday when the crisis we are in has run its course we will pick up the pieces of this and many other good ideas currently consigned to gathering dust on the shelf. Aside from the well researched technical details that went into writing the MP—perhaps the best core concept that deeply influenced my thinking on space was that we definitely ought to give up on pinning our hopes on a government space program that has gotten bogged down and look for a fresh approach.
The Millennial Project is a valuable resource for anyone who is interested in writing a science fiction novel or contemplating an actual colonization venture in the Asteroid Belt. The book and its core ideas are definitely worth revisiting for a fresh look. It can probably still be found in some libraries or ordered online from Amazon and other vendors.
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