Rocket man, I think it's going to be a long, long time. When Princeton physicist Gerard K. O'Neill published the first edition of High Frontier
back in the mid-70s (just four years after "Rocket Man," to be exact), he just assumed that some of us would be living in orbit by now. Or as the Space Studies Institute's George Friedman puts it in a new essay for this third edition of O'Neill's pioneering work, the L5 society's slogan "L5 in '95!" certainly wasn't referring to 2095.
In High Frontier, O'Neill had mapped out a straightforward, manifestly doable path to putting humans into space permanently and sustainably, using 1970s material and current-day Zubrin-style know-how. But O'Neill died in 1992 seeing humanity no closer to fulfilling his bold vision. Freeman Dyson points out in a new introduction to this edition that in many ways we've actually backslided, that the International Space Station (and the current role of NASA) is "not a step forward on the road to the High Frontier. It's a big step backward, a setback that will take decades to overcome."
But O'Neill's idea of pursuing an inexhaustible energy supply (solar power in space) and endless room to expand remains tantalisingly attractive. The science has only gotten easier, and the moral imperative has only become more pronounced, with the planet's resources ever-steadily squeezed and the recent knowledge that a mass-extinction event on Earth is nearly inevitable. (O'Neill calls the High Frontier the only chance to make human life--perhaps all life in the universe--"unkillable.") The High Frontier is as exciting a read as it ever was, and six new chapters provide context for the advances made in the 25 years since O'Neill's original manifesto. But perhaps the best addition to this printing is the chance to see and hear the soft-spoken physicist himself, in more than an hour of MPEG video included on the CD-ROM. --Paul Hughes
CD-ROM and Book. Man's on-going conquest of the solar system has been much publicised for its miraculous accomplishments. What is generally less publicised are the potential uses of space beyond simply landing men on another planet. 'Flags and foot-prints' is something we can all be proud of, but the true value of near-Earth space lies with the possibilities for manufacturing and colonisation. Processes not possible on Earth, because of atmosphere and gravity, can be employed in space to produce unique and highly desirable commodities. Habitats built in space, occupying the same orbit as the moon and made primarily from lunar raw materials, can be the necessary answer to our desperate, ever-increasing needs for living and agricultural areas. O'Neill is universally recognised as the father of the 'O'Neill colony' concept. Beginning in the 1970s, he took the original concepts and built from them a complete, realistic and attainable plan - a plan to orbit permanent colonies at the L4 and L5 Lagrange points in near-Earth space, where everyday people would live, work and play in comfort and safety in an environmentally satisfying world.
In this 3rd edition of The High Frontier, is O'Neill's original blueprint for the future, accompanied by new chapters presenting the up-to-date technologies and social considerations that impact upon and further justify the plan. This is a vision of a possible hopeful future that could already have come to pass if the human race had committed to it - it is still a source of hope for the future.