Gerard K O'Neill was a physicist; his claims to fame were inventing the colliding storage ring; and asking a good question.

Asking the right questions in life is important. His question was:

"Is the Earth's surface the best place for a technological civilisation?"

The answer of his class was no: In space there are easily tapped, large, reliable sources of free solar energy; and abundant sources of raw materials on the Moon, Mars' moons and the asteroids.

The difficult part is getting to space. (See costs of launching to orbit). Once you're there, you're a few months away from anywhere between Mars and Venus, and about 3 days from the moon. Fuel to do this travelling is likely to be available in most places if you look hard enough. Trade routes can be set up and colonies would be able to grow exponentially with no limits we are likely to hit in centuries.

However, many people considered the idea of living in a space station too confining and still do.

But, colonies can be huge. Gerard worked on grandiose designs such as Island 3 which is an O'Neill Colony 20+ kilometers in diameter and well within the capabilities of mankind. His book The High Frontier talks about these ideas.

Gerard tried to work with NASA and the US government to achieve his vision. In the end he was defeated mainly by the realities of the very poor economics of the Space Shuttle. Still, there is real hope that space tourism and travel may yet open up the High Frontier within our lifetimes, and his visionary view of the future may be realised.

Physicist, teacher, writer, and entrepeneur best known for inventing the concept of the O'Neill Colony.

Educated at Swarthmore College and Cornell University, he became an instructor at Princeton University in 1954. In 1956, still at Princeton, he published a two-page letter entitled "Storage-Ring Synchrotron: Device for High-Energy Physics Research" in Physical Review, which became a blueprint for high-energy physics research over the next four decades. He set up a lab at Stanford University to house his synchotron prototype, and by 1965 the apparatus was powerful enough to perform the world's first colliding beam experiment.

In the same year, he was given a full professorship at Princeton, and decided to devote himself to teaching introductory physics. He replaced old problems with new learning guides, which proved to be so effective that Princeton implemented them in other courses as well. He discovered that the physics of orbit were especially popular with students, largely because of the then avant garde Apollo program, so he began assigning more space-related projects, and found his own interest in the field growing as well.

He wrote a book on space travel called The High Frontier in 1977, and in 1978, he founded the Space Studies Institute (SSI) to research and develop new technologies for space colonization and space exploration. He invented the mass driver and, along with SSI, built a working model. Freeman Dyson is quoted as saying that O'Neill's designs never failed for technical reasons: if they didn't work, it was because they were economically or politically unworkable.

In 1983, O'Neill founded the GeoStar corporation to launch the world's first GPS system into orbit. Two years later, he contracted leukemia, and shortly afterward, the first two GeoStar launches both failed, sending the company into the dust.

O'Neill died in 1992. Shortly before his death, he designed the VSE train network, one of the fastest and most efficient, not to mention most ambitious, transportation designs to date. It was his last major project, and has not yet been fully realized... but keep your eyes open.

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