For years, man has dreamed of living in space. However, life off of Earth isn’t quite as easy as it’s depicted in The Jetsons. There are problems that exist in space, like exposure to cosmic rays, which would lead to radiation poisoning. Then there are the dangers of flying space debris, like asteroids. Still, thanks to our innate urge to explore and colonize new lands, there have been a handful of people who have looked for ways to make life in space possible.
10. Darrell C. Romick’s Space City
In 1955, Goodyear Aircraft engineer Darrell C. Romick showed the American Rocket Society a proposal for an ambitious space station. Romick’s craft would be a three-stage space launch, and what separates Romick’s design from many other spacecraft is that all three stages would involve crafts that could be piloted and re-used.
Romick’s city would be constructed in space. The third stage spacecraft would be a rocket and 10 of these rockets would be attached end-to-end, which would create a long cylinder. As they connected the rockets, an airtight shield would be built over them, and after six months a large expansion would be built over the cylinder to give it more of a capsule look. There would also be a flat circular living space at one end that would house 20,000 people, and at the opposite end of the living quarters there would be dry docks for ships to land.
In total, the space station would be the size of two Empire State Buildings end-to-end, while the circular living area would be about the size of the Pentagon. According to Romick’s plans, it would take three and a half years to complete the city in space.
9. The Bernal Sphere
An early vision of a habitat in space was the Bernal Sphere, which was designed by British scientist John Desmond Bernal. It was meant to be a sphere with two poles attached on opposite sides. The sphere would be one mile in circumference and would hold 10,000 people. The end of the poles would have docking areas and other zero gravity manufacturing would be done there. Like many other habitats in space, it would have to spin to create gravity, and according to the plans it would have its own agricultural system and be powered using solar panels.
Originally, it was thought that one of these spheres would have been constructed by the 1990s. But of course, decades later, a floating space habitat remains a dream.
8. Stanford Torus
A ringworld space station has been seen in a few science fiction stories, including Elysium. One of the most famous designs for a real life version is the Stanford Torus, designed in 1975. The plans were based on a design by physicist Gerard O’Neill, who wrote a book about possible space stations. His design was modified by a group of NASA scientists, engineers and artists.
The Torus would be one mile in diameter and accommodate up to 10,000 people. It would be situated between the Earth and the moon, about 250,000 miles (402,000 kilometers) from Earth, and would create gravity by rotating. It would also have an agricultural system, dairy farms and tiered greenhouses, and mirrored solar panels would provide energy and keep cosmic rays out. There would be so much solar energy that it could send its excess back to Earth.
According to their study, the group behind the Torus believed that it could be built by the year 2000. Obviously that didn’t happen, but the possibility still exists.
7. The O’Neill Cylinder
In Gerard O’Neill’s book, he discussed the possibility of three different space habitats. One of the most notable ones is his own design, which is called the O’Neill Cylinder. The cylinder would be five miles wide and 20 miles long. It would need to spin 40 times an hour so that it would have gravity similar to Earth. The cylinder would hold 40,000 people and the plan included a fully functional city complete with parks, recreational centers, and businesses.
The cylinder itself would have thick walls that would alternate between land and mirrored solar panels. The panels would stop radiation from getting in and would also power the vessel. Due to the thickness of the walls and the internal size of the cylinder it would develop its own atmosphere, including changes in weather. The primary hiccup that’s kept the cylinder from becoming a reality is that it would always need to face the sun. Otherwise, construction is still entirely feasible.
6. Lewis One Space Colony
In 1991, NASA’s Al Globus tried to update conceptual space stations from the 1970s using the most up-to-date computers. His design, the Lewis One, was a cylinder that would house 10,000 people. The station would have its own manufacturing area, where the people on board would need to build new segments and even copies of the space station. The capsule would be 6,300 feet (1,921 meters) long and 1,750 feet (534 meters) wide.
The outside would have two flat solar panels that would also protect the inhabitants from cosmic rays. The solar panels wouldn’t move, but the capsule inside would rotate to create gravity. One of the major downfalls of the project was the lack of actual sunlight getting into the vessel.
5. Kalpana One
Named after Kalpana Chawla, an astronaut who died in the 2003 Columbia disaster, this design was a 2006 update of the Lewis One. The design was much smaller, at 1,066 feet (325 meters) in length with a diameter of 1,800 feet (550 meters). In total, it would house 5,000 people with plenty of green space. It would also be shaped like a top, with a halo shaped environment for the habitat. It would rotate no more than two times per minute, giving the outer ring of the halo gravitational pull because of centripetal force. This would create the appearance that people were walking on the ceiling.
4. Project Persephone
If you’ve ever been concerned about a global catastrophe, we’ve got good news. Right now, 13 researchers from the universities of Greenwich, Warwick and Surrey are building a space ark that could ensure humanity lives on. It called Project Persephone and is named after the Greek queen of the underworld.
The ark would be a cylinder about 12 miles (20 kilometers) long, and three miles (five kilometers) in diameter. It would be full of soil, and people would live in burrows. Persephone would also be self-sustaining, and it would develop its own ecosystems instead of relying on mechanical parts. The ecosystems would allow the spacecraft to generate light, air, water, food and gravity.
Part of the research involves developing better biofuels and artificial soil to make life on the vessel possible. The hope is that 50-100 people could board it, but it could theoretically hold up to 500 people. Those on board will start having children, with the intention to keep humanity going for multiple generations. They also considering including human eggs, sperm and embryos that could grow in artificial wombs. Hopefully any catastrophes decide to take their time, however, as the project isn’t expected to be completed for another century.
3. Bigelow Aerospace Module
In the 1990s, NASA developed an inflatable space station called the TransHab. While NASA never built one, the idea of an inflatable space station was far from over. A private company called Bigelow Aerospace has continued to develop these inflatable space stations, and so far Bigelow has launched two modules into space. First was Genesis I, launched July 2006, and Genesis II was launched in June 2007. With two successful tests, Bigelow signed a contract with NASA to send a folded up module to the International Space Station. They plan on sending the module using a spacecraft called Dragon, which is owned and operated by the private space company SpaceX. The module is 13 feet by 10.5 feet (4 meters by 3.2 meters) and will be an additional room for the space station.
Inflatable space stations need much less fuel to power and are much easier to transport into space. In fact, an inflatable module is one of the best candidates to replace the International Space Station when it’s retired in 2020.
2. Foster + Partners’ Moon Structures
One of the most feasible places to develop a colony is on the moon. The problem is that it’s difficult and expensive to transport supplies to the moon, and without some type of base already there it’s tough to even get started.
That’s where Fosters + Partners and the European Space Agency come in. The plan is to set up an inflatable dome that would house a 3-D printer based on designs by Enrico Dini, who used his own printer to build a house in Amsterdam. The 3-D printer would use moon dust. Then the settlers would need to build a 4.9-foot (1.5 meter) thick wall that would protect the dome and the astronauts from cosmic rays and meteorites. The walls would be hard, but full of bubbles filled with unconsolidated moon rock and moon dust. The dome would be two stories high and four researchers could live and work there. It would serve as a basis for further colonization.
1. Mars One Colony
Mars One is a Dutch non-profit organization that wants to have humans living on Mars by the year 2027. The project, which is expected to cost $6.3 billion, would send four people on a one-way trip to start the colony. The plan is to send rovers beginning in 2022, and then in 2024 six shipments of cargo will be sent to Mars. These shipments would include two living units, two life support systems and a supply unit, which would arrive by 2025.
In early 2015, the team at Mars One was able to whittle the list of 200,000 applicants down to 100. From there, they plan on conducting a series of both team oriented and isolation tests, in anticipation of the biggest problems the first settlers on Mars will face. The team will continue to work together until 2026, before the first team sets off. After that, they’re looking to send six more sets of four settlers every two years.
There are a number of critics who believe the Mars One project will succeed out of concerns they’re not organized enough to do something so complex. Additionally, a study at MIT said that, using the current plans, the settlers would only be able to live on Mars for 68 days before dying from lack of oxygen.