How does everyone see life onboard an O'Neill cylinder?

DAgent

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So I've been looking into using the idea of an O'Neil cylinder space station as a setting as I find the idea of such a place quite fascinating. I do have a few thoughts about things I've not quite been able to find out from any online sources, so I'd like to pick everyone else's brains a little. Anyone wanting an overview on these, please check out the wikipedia article: O'Neill cylinder - Wikipedia

Just how would the seasons work? Would it just be one long Spring and Summer for each "year"? or would they throw in Autumn and maybe a token Winter if they had total control over the weather cycle?

If they have some natural countryside settings, trees hedges, forests, and lets face it, I think we would all need those settings for recreation as well as cleaning the air and making oxygen and so on, would they also make use of traditional farming methods? If they did, would they be able to have several harvests a "year"? I'd imagine there would be hydroponic gardens as well.

Assuming they are using external solar panels on the hull to get energy from the sun, would there be any point in adding solar panels to any rooftops inside the habitat area? Or wind turbines, hydro electric generators in rivers, heat sinks in the ground and other uses of renewable energy?

Does anyone else have any thoughts about them that they can't find answers for?
 

Wayne Mack

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Some of the things I've always wondered:
  • Would it be possible to transit between the two cylinders due to opposite rotation or would the two communities become isolated?
  • How would a ship dock with the rotating station?
  • I assume that some sort of motor would be needed to maintain rotation. Otherwise, Friction between the two cylinders would cause slowing.
  • Where will material for new construction come from? Is it assumed that the buildings present on day one would last forever?
 

Venusian Broon

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Some material from Isaac Arthur.



I don't know if it answers your questions, but I'd guess they might be there.

He has a series on megastructures with 29 videos, with ringworlds, 'Continent-sized Rotating Space Habitats', Matrioshka brains, orbital rings etc.... that discusses related topics - look it up on his playlists.
 

Venusian Broon

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Some of the things I've always wondered:
  • Where will material for new construction come from? Is it assumed that the buildings present on day one would last forever?
Just how would the seasons work? Would it just be one long Spring and Summer for each "year"? or would they throw in Autumn and maybe a token Winter if they had total control over the weather cycle?

If they have some natural countryside settings, trees hedges, forests, and lets face it, I think we would all need those settings for recreation as well as cleaning the air and making oxygen and so on, would they also make use of traditional farming methods? If they did, would they be able to have several harvests a "year"? I'd imagine there would be hydroponic gardens as well.

Assuming they are using external solar panels on the hull to get energy from the sun, would there be any point in adding solar panels to any rooftops inside the habitat area? Or wind turbines, hydro electric generators in rivers, heat sinks in the ground and other uses of renewable energy?
The way I see it, all of your questions are really only pertinent for the first O'Neil cylinders (if they get built). Where we don't really know too much and haven't had much practice at building them. If we really "conquer space" I think we could be on the way to making a Dyson swarm with billions of O'Neil cylinders and many other megastructures, depending on what we need the space for. And at that point, I think anything goes - why not have a 'winter' habitat with tundra ecologies all the time. And some with a 'natural' cycle of seasons.

With regards to power, I think we'll need fusion - remember we could put the cylinder anywhere, and if we're going to make billions and trillions of them there's loads of space much further out where the sun's solar energy will not be enough to really power anything. But the ones closer to the sun could use more solar cells.

Of course we'll need a lot of material for all these, and there a number of ways I'd think we'll get it.

1) At first we could mine asteroids - plenty of companies and space agencies today are starting to think about this.
2) We could convert the mass of the bigger objects of our system into useful stuff. I mean, do we really need Jupiter? This is much further off - although Moon mining might make sense.
3) Finally we could uplift material from the sun directly and just use that. It's where all the mass of the solar system is (I believe there's about two Earth masses of gold somewhere in there. for example) Sure it'll mostly be hydrogen, but if we really master fusion, not only will we get energy, but potentially we could convert all this sun hydrogen into oxygen, carbon, iron etc. that we could then use as building materials. Yes, this now a bit far future, but it's theoretically reasonable! (Whereas at the moment, trying to build an interstellar ship that could get you to another star in under a human lifetime is less so.)
 

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We already live on what one might call an 'O'Neill sphere' and it is a big bu**er. It is also largely self regulating and it will run for hundreds of millions of years.
Given the impossibility of interstellar cylinders, primarily due to energy supply. We are limited to the inner solar system.

Even if we think we can play god well enough to manage an artificial eco system why on earth would we build them?
The only reason I can think of is as a semi permanent and multi generational colony of teraformers doing over Mars or Venus.

However, sociologically, I watch the world today and I honestly think the hyper-modernist squeaky clean lifestyle such a colony requires is not viable. It is a delusion a very long way from real human variation and behaviour.

Life on the terraformer stations would likely have the character and crew mentality of a gulf oil rig rather than some being perfect proto community of spandex clad utopians in a flying Eden.
Just look at Johannesburg, Amsterdam, New York, Delhi. The rich, complex and varied way 99.9% of the world lives it's lives and you begin to see the reality check in the sci fi dream.
Would any one really want to live for decades on the very limiting environment of a giant USS Enterprise? No way Jose. I'd go space crazy. Give me the delicious and ever changing cultural smorgasbord down here any day. :)
 

DAgent

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Some material from Isaac Arthur.



I don't know if it answers your questions, but I'd guess they might be there.

He has a series on megastructures with 29 videos, with ringworlds, 'Continent-sized Rotating Space Habitats', Matrioshka brains, orbital rings etc.... that discusses related topics - look it up on his playlists.
I'll have to give them a watch, what I've found online already does answer a lot of questions, but there's always just the odd one or two or five more that can come up after musing on things awhile longer :)
 

DAgent

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We already live on what one might call an 'O'Neill sphere' and it is a big bu**er. It is also largely self regulating and it will run for hundreds of millions of years.
Given the impossibility of interstellar cylinders, primarily due to energy supply. We are limited to the inner solar system.

Even if we think we can play god well enough to manage an artificial eco system why on earth would we build them?
The only reason I can think of is as a semi permanent and multi generational colony of teraformers doing over Mars or Venus.

However, sociologically, I watch the world today and I honestly think the hyper-modernist squeaky clean lifestyle such a colony requires is not viable. It is a delusion a very long way from real human variation and behaviour.

Life on the terraformer stations would likely have the character and crew mentality of a gulf oil rig rather than some being perfect proto community of spandex clad utopians in a flying Eden.
Just look at Johannesburg, Amsterdam, New York, Delhi. The rich, complex and varied way 99.9% of the world lives it's lives and you begin to see the reality check in the sci fi dream.
Would any one really want to live for decades on the very limiting environment of a giant USS Enterprise? No way Jose. I'd go space crazy. Give me the delicious and ever changing cultural smorgasbord down here any day. :)
What makes you think they are impossible? Certainly by today's standards they are, but if we get to a technology level where we can mine the moon and the asteroid belts, and refine those materials and use zero gravity engineering methods, we'd be at the point of development to make these sort of objects.

Though I have to admit, the thought of what would happen to the people on board these is another very interesting pointer. Would they end up going through the same sort of social issues we've gone through up to today? Would they be in a better position then we are now? Or, god forbid, a worse place as a society then we've ever been in recorded history?

Someone made a video on youtube showing what the inside of an O'Neill cylinder might look like, using New York City as a reference, including the twin towers. If you could physically make a cylinder that can hold a recreation of NYC, you can conceivable have enough space for quite a large chunk of humanity to live, complete with all kinds of plant life, which I think would be needed for so many reasons, including keeping the residents sane, as well as breathing.
 

DAgent

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You will have to pay an air tax.
Yeah, I can see that happening. Even with a rain forest onboard.

That said, that does bring up the point of what kind of work would be done there? I can imagine all the money paid would be digital, or whatever replaces the thing that will eventually replace whatever replaces digital money transfers, rather then using paper money and coins. But what would everyone be doing for a living?

If there's traditional farming going on, there might very well be hydroponic gardeners as well, both earning their livings and paying their taxes, which means there would have to be bankers and tax collectors, maybe? Or would those last two roles be completely computer controlled?

Another thought that just cropped up in my head, would there be break away collectives of people on board after a couple of generations of live on the cylinder? Would someone try to setup their own hippy commune in the forest trying to get stoned on mushrooms, even though none of the magical variations were brought on board?
 

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if we get to a technology level where we can mine the moon and the asteroid belts, and refine those materials and use zero gravity engineering methods, we'd be at the point of development to make these [extraterrestrial habitats].
This presents a significant chicken and egg problem. To build an O'Neil Cylinder or similar ecosystem that supports human life without relying on Earth resources, extraterrestrial resources are needed. To mine or obtain these resources requires that there are extraterrestrial ecosystems that support human life. The first step needs to rely on resources from Earth and the result must provide benefit back to Earth. There is a limit to much can be done by relying on governments or rich individuals to pay for these things.

For the considerable future, efforts will need to remain small scale and need to justify resource needs based on benefit provided to Earth. I see the two potential benefits to be, moving 'dirty' industries off-planet and providing alternate sources for scarce or exhausted planetary resources.
 

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Forgetting abut all the stuff whether it is viable or not, the main problem I found was how exactly does stuff including ships dock and transport goods and people get into a rotating station. I never did find any video that actually showed this happening. I found that simply saying they docked or by cutting off the video image just before the ship "lands" is the most practical way of doing it.

After talking with a friend, we came up with the idea that putting a track on the outside of the station that traveled in the opposite direction of rotation would provide a stable landing platform. Then the docking platform could move to a airlock on the outside of the station and entry was made that way. No idea what happened while making move from ship to station, just said entry was made, assumed gravity would be working.

An alternative method was to have the station rotating around a hollow tube axel. The axel was stationary compared to the movement of the ring. Then an airlock moving on a track, and then locked into position was used to get inside.
 

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The way I approached docking with a rotating space station was by having a large platform on the outer edge. A ship would land in a somewhat similar manner as a jet on and aircraft carrier. The ship would approach at a velocity slightly higher than the tangential velocity. The landing platform would rise up to meet the spaceship and centrifugal force would press the ship down onto the landing pad and convert its forward velocity into rotational speed. This also avoids any need to fire any rocket engines near the station to stop momentum.

I've gone back and forth on launch from the station on either having a cable give the spaceship a slight jerk forward or backward off of the landing strip. momentum would then throw the ship away from the station without needing to fire rocket engines in the vicinity of the station.
 

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I have never heard of an O'Neill cylinder spaceship and am enjoying reading and thinking about it for the first time. At the moment I'm not clear why you need a counter-rotating module. I rather thought you would orient your craft's rotation axis in any desired direction by transferring angular momentum to and from flywheels, much as with the ISS. But as I said, this is a new area for me...
 

psikeyhackr

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Robert Heinlein wrote a short story, It's Great to be Back, about a colony on the Moon. A consequence of this was everyone had to be relatively smart. The astronauts of the Mercury Program all had IQs of at least 130.

Would you want to live with dumb people in space? How easy would it be to cause deadly emergencies?

So how would a society with only exceptionally smart people work?
 

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Robert Heinlein wrote a short story, It's Great to be Back, about a colony on the Moon. A consequence of this was everyone had to be relatively smart. The astronauts of the Mercury Program all had IQs of at least 130.
Would you want to live with dumb people in space? How easy would it be to cause deadly emergencies?
So how would a society with only exceptionally smart people work?
Well, if you had only 'smart people' there would still be a distribution of intelligence, with a mean and sigma. And you'd just define 'dumb' as being those who were >2 sigma below that mean. (Same argument applies to 'poverty', incidentally.)
 

psikeyhackr

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Well, if you had only 'smart people' there would still be a distribution of intelligence, with a mean and sigma. And you'd just define 'dumb' as being those who were >2 sigma below that mean. (Same argument applies to 'poverty', incidentally.)
Simply saying "still have a distribution" does not mean the resulting society would not be significantly different from any society that has existed on Earth.

Comparing it to poverty is even more nonsensical. Do you think grammar school dropouts are going to be sent into space?
 

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Well, if you had only 'smart people' there would still be a distribution of intelligence, with a mean and sigma. And you'd just define 'dumb' as being those who were >2 sigma below that mean. (Same argument applies to 'poverty', incidentally.)
Most things don't require above average intelligence to learn and do. Smart people only really shine in complex situations or when attempting to produce a breakthrough in some field. So a city of relatively smart people would largely look like ours but with less crime and anger.


Just how would the seasons work?
Any way you want. Just as there are places on earth with only one season, you can design it to have 1 or however many you want per year. And that could be done by limiting the amount of time sunlight shines in, either via filters or altered day/night times. But the cylinder isn't big enough to have a climate, so your spring is still going to require artificial rain, for instance.

Assuming they are using external solar panels on the hull to get energy from the sun, would there be any point in adding solar panels to any rooftops inside the habitat area? Or wind turbines, hydro electric generators in rivers, heat sinks in the ground and other uses of renewable energy?
Nope. No wind for wind for turbines, no snowy mountains for rivers and solar panels on house roofs would be inefficient compared to those in vacuum, and you might not have house roofs at all. Why build houses when the hole world is built from scratch and the environment is controlled? Live under the plants, or in fabric structures. The whole place could be bikini temps year round with precisely controlled rain.

How would a ship dock with the rotating station?
Aside from the hubs, another easy way to dock would be to fly at the edge of the rotating side, perpendicular to the axis. If the ship is traveling the same velocity as the outer circumference of the station, they will have a moment when they are static to hook up. At that point the station "lifts" the ship off of it's straight path and into the rotation - like a car tire tread grabbing a stone off a road. Launching would send the ship on its way with the velocity it arrived with - but in other directions. The advantage would be that the ship is under gravity while it is docked (which is also the disadvantage. Ooop - looks like you answered your own question. But it is best think about the ship flying under the cylinder and being picked up rather than over and coming down.

Otherwise, you could just park near one end and come aboard through an inflatable tube. You don't have to hard dock.

Even if we think we can play god well enough to manage an artificial eco system why on earth would we build them?
Why wouldn't you build them? Why would it be better to travel long distances and put up with all the downsides of a dead planet when a space station can have a perfectly controlled earth-type environment parked right near home? No blight, no mosquitos, no hurricanes. Low cost to travel between them and other vacuum locales. Plus, it doesn't destroy the natural environment of other planets and moons that aren't the right gravity or chemistry for earth life. After awhile, it would seem foolish to live on planets - like being a hunter/gatherer instead of working 9-5 and having a grocery store.

That said, that does bring up the point of what kind of work would be done there?
What kind of work do we do here? Do you know anyone who farms or builds machines? Most of us do things that are far removed from survival type activities. People in space will design shopping webpages, make porn, invest in bitcoin, run blood drives and operate liquor stores. Just like here.

But they may also do work building more orbiting stuff, maintaining powerstations that beam energy down to earth, make consumer goods out of space materials and then drop them to earth.


I have never heard of an O'Neill cylinder spaceship and am enjoying reading and thinking about it for the first time. At the moment I'm not clear why you need a counter-rotating module. I rather thought you would orient your craft's rotation axis in any desired direction by transferring angular momentum to and from flywheels, much as with the ISS. But as I said, this is a new area for me...
You could. But the other cylinder is the flywheel. Why build an dead flywheel of solid matter when you could have more living space?


Space stations could be great ways to put people in healthy environments and let the earth heal below. Consumption in space isn't nearly as awful as on a living planet with strong gravity. And if you decide that you want to go study saturn, you don't have to start all over with ships and construction - just take the slow ride out by moving a station where you want it. Space travel doesn't need to be cramped and resource starved.
 

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Comparing it to poverty is even more nonsensical.
The comparison to poverty is as follows. At the moment (in the UK) organisations say people are 'in poverty' if their family income is below 60% of the average income. If you suddenly (impossibly!) double everyone's income, you will still have that group whose income is less than 60% of the average.
 

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