Rolling Your Own
(Image courtesy of http://imagizer.imageshack.us/a/img90/605/stationcomparison.png)
For a lot of people, me included, there is a fascination with moving out into space using space stations of various configurations. I have a good number of years under my belt with the International Space Station (ISS) program, but I have always been drawn to larger systems of the future, like the rotating station-wheel of 2001, or the rotating cylinder type, like the Babylon 5 station or the enigmatic ship from the Rama novels. Really, I have always gravitated (no pun intended) to the latter of those two, more generally known as an O’Neill Cylinder.
I find the O’Neill cylinders to be the most straight-forward way to build a rotating station, as the cylinder is such a simple geometric volume, and offers the greatest advantage of available habitation square-footage on its interior. No space-based structure is simple to implement at this time in our technological development, and there would be many logistical hurdles we’d have to clear to make it happen.
Fortunately, the namesake scientist Gerard K. O’Neill, devised a clear roadmap to start such a development. His book, The High Frontier, originally published in 1976, still holds up really well in light of our somewhat stagnant space exploration progress over the past few decades. For many in the space industry it is a staple in their personal libraries. O’Neill’s work in the entire area, including his station designs developed for the Space Studies Institute, is inspiring to so many. Pressing forward, these designs need to be brought up again and again, and we should strive for them to become reality.