New hi-res scans of NASA's 1970s dreams of space colonies

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(Is confused). If the paintings were comissioned by NASA, then doesn’t that mean they are automatically in the public domain?


Of course the theoretical justification for these was for the people needed to build a belt of solar power satellites that would use microwaves to beam power down to the Earth. Now even if that makes sense. (and it makes more sense now that we realize the impact of CO2 on gobal warming) If people are needed, it would be cheaper and simpler to simply pay them a ton of money to endure awful privation than to build them big habitats like this. Just as we do with oil rigs and fishermen on the ocean. We have yet to build floating cities in the North Sea.

“commissioned by” is not the same as “created by.” Strangely, it is not enough to make something a “work of the United States government,” which is ineligible for copyright protection under US law. Legally, that only applies to works created by US government employees within the course of their employment.


Public domain? Isn’t that a felony now?

Also, these are lovely, I want to move in!


And if you do the math, the actual benefit over just putting solar panels in the desert isn’t that great, and in no way can justify the massive costs of building a huge space based infrastructure. As with so many dreams having to do with space travel, the alleged reason for doing it never made very much sense and was just a half assed justification for putting people in space (see also helium 3 mining, etc).

OK, thanks for the clarification. Something that is 100% paid for by the government can still be copyrighted if it was done by outside contractors and the terms of the contract did not specify that it was a work made for hire. Fine print trips me up every time.


As someone who grew up in the 1970s, THIS is why I’m constantly depressed about the state of our space program. We were promised rotating toroidal space colonies, and now we don’t even have the capability as a nation to launch a single human being into space anymore. It’s tragic.


I remember these exact illustrations from The Star Wars Question and Answer Book About Space.

As a 3rd grader, I expected:

  • we’d have run out of crude oil by now

    • If they hadn’t perfected the electric car by now then we’d have an electric matrix over the streets, to power our vehicles bumper-car style
  • Monorails! Where are our monorails?!

  • We would be inundated with killer bees which meant I’d have to be inoculated during my 20s

  • We’d have orbiting, if not lunar, space colonies


In the future everyone’s names will be hyphenated.


The promises depended on launching stuff into space becoming at least 10x cheaper and to really be practical they needed to be 100x cheaper. Which never happened. NASA gets blamed for lying through its teeth about how cheap the shuttle would be, but that wasn’t the real problem.

Fundamentally the number of things we wanted to put into space was never large enough to pay for the iterative work needed to polish and refine a cheap and reliable launch system. When the cost of launching your satellite or space probe is not so much compared to the cost of building the thing and staffing the ground crew to run it, there’s no incentive to figure out how to make the launch cost 10x or 100x cheaper. When there’s only a tiny number of companies and government entities that can afford to put something up there, there’s no market for building a new rocket that might work better. When a huge segment of the launch market is done for military purposes, where cost control is never on the table, you get a situation where the military and government contractors who provided the rockets had no incentive to lower their costs.

Add in cold war era politics that put restrictions on who was allowed to make and launch rockets and the balkanization of the launch market, with each country that could build big assed rockets insisting that it do the launches for its own satellites itself, TYVM, and you have a perfect storm of negative feedback loops repressing innovation and experimentation in rocket design, thereby keeping launch costs high.

Basically launch tech stayed stagnant until this century. Now, finally, with the proliferation of uses for satellites (GPS, wireless internet without cell towers, etc) and with the debalkanization of the market (with each launch provider created by the cold war vying to launch satellites for any nation or telecom company that wants to have a satellite), you finally have some experimentation and iterative improvement of rocket designs beginning to bring launch costs down. Whether or not it will bring costs down enough to make those 1950’s space dreams affordable remains to be seen.


I love this sort of stuff and share the disappointment of others at the lack of awesome colonies in space and all those other promised toys and vehicles.
It also reminds me of a series of books from the early 80s, full of speculative artwork and ideas; one on Space, one on Robots etc. Big softback books, possibly published by Usborne? Inspired my Lego building for years as a kid…


Yeah, that’s another “we need to justify this SOMEHOW” idea.

The question in many cases isn’t so much whether it is a work made for hire as who exactly is doing the hiring.

Well the revolution in digital electronics has meant that the same capacity can be put into a satellite with vastly less mass and therefore less launch cost. Just try and imagine how much heavier the circuitry would be on a telecommunications satellite based on 1970s technology.

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Make it so!


If you’re a fan of these, you must read The High Frontier by Gerard K. O’Neill and Seveneves by Neil Stephenson.

I agree these images should have been considered public domain from the beginning, which was why I had no hesitation in sending a photo of one to a Chinese painting factory for a 30x40 oil on canvas version.

as relevant to this as you can get :


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You should definitively read Habitat by Simon Roy.

It was the '70s. This was the ultimate suburban white-flight escape fantasy.

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I know and love these illustrations from “Colonies In Space”. I must have read it a dozen times as a kid!


The next generation of Sovier Killin’ ICBM launch vehicles were not gonna fund themselves!

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