THE MILLENNIAL PROJECT
|THE MILLENNIAL PROJECT: Colonizing the Galaxy — In 8 Easy Steps
Marshall T. Savage
Illustrations by Keith Spangle
Denver, CO: Empyrean Publishing Co., 1992
One thing you will never doubt after reading this book is the author's faith in Man. It hits you about three words into the Introduction, which proclaims in ringing tones the manifest destiny of Humankind: To spread in glorious profusion throughout the Solar System and then beyond, leapfrogging from star to star, triumphant over the forces of Chaos and disorder, bearing the Emerald Banner of Life across the Cosmos. In the current climate of doubt about personal and general futures, such an attitude might be taken for madness. If this be madness, make the most of it.
After this clarion call to immortal greatness, Mr. Savage goes on to lay out the method to his fine madness — the "8 easy steps" of the title.
Step 1 of the Project is the building of thousands of floating cities to tap the thermal energy of Earth's oceans — each one returning 3.6x109 Watt-hours of electrical energy and 24x109 cubic feet of hydrogen to the world economy each year. These "colonies", as the author calls them, would also support mariculture, or sea-farming. Savage goes into great detail about the cultivation and nutritional benefits of algae and seaweed; obviously, this is one of his areas of expertise. This chapter goes on to set forth some of the construction methods used for his prototype colony, which he calls Aquarius.
Chapter 2 describes the construction and operation of "Bifrost", a system for launching 14-ton spacecraft through a 125 km evacuated tunnel by means of electromagnetic levitation, then boosting them the rest of the way to orbit with powerful laser beams. The scheme is fairly well worked out; but Savage glosses over such details as the nature of the "fast airlock" at the high end of the tunnel, and the time needed to re-evacuate it after each launch. He also ignores the effect on passengers as the capsule, moving at 5,000 m/s, slams into the atmosphere.
In Chapter 3, Savage savages NASA — not without some justification. ("Like watching a walrus trying to scale a ladder," he says on page 124.) But criticism of NASA, however justified, is beside the point now; for today's NASA is neither going to get humanity into space, or prevent its getting there. Savage realizes this, I'm sure, for he soon moves back to his main theme. He goes on to propose the building of a true space colony — Asgard. This will be a collection of nested plastic spheres: bubbles within bubbles within bubbles. Reading this, I got the uneasy feeling that Savage's planning was as incomplete as his habitat's structure seemed to be.
But Asgard will not be as fragile as it might at first appear, as I learned when I read further. Savage has considered such basic questions as material strength, temperature control and radiation shielding. The inhabitants of Asgard, safe in geosynchronous orbit, will maintain various computer databases and operate a colossal "switchboard in the sky" for all of Earth's communication needs. They will be "knowledge workers" engaged in the twenty-first century version of "telecommuting".
In chapters 4 and 5, Savage has his expanding civilization establish domed cities in Lunar craters and next terraform the planet Mars, each time using the most easily accessible resources to bootstrap development.
Chapter 6 has the intrepid spacefarers populating the asteroid belt and sending out "shoots" or "tendrils" into the Oort Cloud. The population of the solar system at this time approaches 3.6x1018 human beings. They have begun to tap a significant fraction of the Sun's energy output; with this, they gain the capability to produce large quantities of antimatter — fuel for true starships.
In chapter 7, Savage's Solarians begin to part company with their natal star. This process repeats on a larger scale the expansion through the solar system. First, robot probes scout the nearby stars for their ability to support human life. Next, relatively slow freighters are sent to those systems that are livable, carrying the machinery and bulk materials to get civilization started. When these are close to their destinations, small groups of colonists depart in faster ships, their voyages timed to arrive with the cargo carriers. At each target star, over another thousand years, a new solar civilization develops. These outposts of Man in turn send forth expeditions to stars farther out. Thus does life transform the Universe into the abode of Life.
Finally, in chapter 8, Savage returns to the present. He describes a new form of social organization, made possible by computer power, mediated by computer-empowered individuals. This is his Millennial Foundation — the core organization that will set Man on the path to destiny — now, before it is too late.
Of course, anyone who paints a picture of a thousand years of future history must needs use a very broad brush. But Savage has done his homework; there appear to be no technical obstacles to the plan he lays out, only political or social impediments.
But here I part company with him, for there is also a major philosophical impediment, which Savage dismisses. He holds that we humans are the only life in the Cosmos. He is one of those who believes not only that life has not spawned on other planets, but that it cannot. For the Universe was made for Man, and Man for the Universe. I have met this point of view before. It rests on the argument that, if intelligent life is as common in the Cosmos as some (notably Carl Sagan and Frank Drake) believe, some one of these races would already have undertaken the kind of expansion described in The Millennial Project, and we would have unequivocal proof of their existence. I have never been convinced by this argument. I have no logical counter-argument to offer; but I prefer to believe that life is common in the Universe, and that intelligent life does exist around other stars. If we cannot imagine plausible reasons why none of that life has reached our solar system, that does not mean such reasons don't exist.
Whatever you choose to believe about the uniqueness or ubiquity of life in the Cosmos, you should read this book. As a blueprint for social change and the conquest of space, it has certain shortcomings (as what plan does not?). As an affirmation of the rightness of human expansion into space, it is hard to surpass.
Addendum (26 April 2009): When I wrote this review, I called Mr. Savage's view a "philosophical impediment" to his grand plan. But it really isn't. There's no reason to assume that the participants in such an expansion would not adapt themselves to the presence of other intelligent species, once these were encountered.