Space Settlement, Education, and the Information Super-Highway

Al Globus (
Computer Sciences Corporation
Numerical Aerodynamic Simulation Systems Division
NASA Ames Research Center
April 1995 NAS-95-012


It is theoretically possible to design space settlements in software, just as modern aircraft are increasingly designed on computers. The lessons learned can then be used to lower the cost and risk of construction. One approach to building things is to create many small, partial prototypes. Each prototype teaches the builders, and observers, a little more about actual construction. Obviously, building small, partial space colonies in the real world is difficult. Building small, partial space colonies in virtual space is more practical in the near term.

Prototype virtual space settlement construction educates the builders, but can also educate observers. Ideally, participation is available to all interested parties. Most space colonization work is conducted by isolated individuals and small groups scattered around the globe. Thus, distributed collaborative systems that allow widely separated individuals to work together might be helpful.

The World Wide Web (WWW) [Berners92] may provide a good vehicle for distributed, collaborative virtual space colony prototype construction. The WWW is a distributed, hypermedia information archive available on the Internet. Thousands of providers are simultaneously and independently placing material on the Web and linking to each other's material with no central control. This is one of the most remarkable phenomena of our time. Millions of people all over the globe have access to information archived on the WWW by thousands of international providers, and the numbers of both groups are growing rapidly (for evidence see [Cutler95]). The minimum requirements for connectivity are a small computer ($1000), a modem ($100), an account on an Internet provider's computer (a few tens of dollars a month) and client software (free). Information on WWW can give space settlement tremendous visibility.

Although space settlement is a long term goal, related materials and projects have substantial immediate educational value. For example, the K-12 educational establishment is seeking themes to teach a variety of disciplines in a unified setting. Space settlement is an excellent theme since science, engineering, social studies, art, model building and story writing can be easily incorporated. The engineers who build the first space colonies may well be in grade school today. It makes sense to start training them now. Note that the modern space settlement effort began with Gerard O'Neill's 1969 undergraduate physics class [Brand77].

We are taking the first steps towards building virtual space settlements on the Web with educational applications by: