Gerard O'Neill

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(Redirected from Gerard K. O'Neill)

Gerard Kitchen O'Neill (1927 - 1992) was a U.S. physicist and space pioneer.

While lecturing to a freshman physics class at Princeton University in 1969, O'Neill posed the question to his students: "Is the surface of a planet really the right place for an expanding technological civilization?" There were sound physics based reasons why the answer appeared to be no. (O'Neill was an avid pilot and a scientist-astronaut candidate during Apollo so the question was a natural one.)

A small conference on space colonization was funded by the Stewart Brand's Point Foundation in May 1974. Among the people who attended was Eric Drexler, at the time a freshman at MIT. A highly influential article by O'Neill based on his work and his students, "The Colonization of Space", appeared in a September 1974 issue of Physics Today. A much larger conference on Space Manufacturing Facilities was held in May 1975. Many of the people who became post Apollo era space activists attended. In September 1975 the L5 Society was founded to develop public support for O'Neill's ideas for space colonies.

In 1977 O'Neill founded the Space Studies Institute at Princeton University. His research included inventing particle storage rings, worked on mass drivers for space propulsion, research and design concepts for space stations, Space colonization, solar power satellites, and lunar and asteroid mining. He authored the book "The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space" which inspired a generation of space exploration advocates.

One of the supporters of O'Neill's ideas was Rick Tumlinson, who worked under O'Neill at the Space Studies Institute. Tumlinson would later go on to co-found the Space Frontier Foundation in 1988; to this day, the Foundation supports O'Neill's concepts of large-scale space colonization.

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