It’s Space Habitats Week here at Gizmodo and io9. Planetary settlements have garnered a lot of attention lately, from caves on the Moon to eventual outposts on Mars (we’re not going to talk about Mars One). Today, you can ask Al Globus, an expert on orbital settlements, about why humanity’s future is in orbit rather than on the surface of other worlds.

As part of his work as a contractor at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California, Globus has authored several papers on space settlement, and he is an organizer and the head judge of the annual NASA/National Space Society Space Settlement Contest.


Every year, the Space Settlement Contest invites students from elementary school through 12th grade to submit their orbital settlement designs and models, essays on orbital settlement topics, and even stories and artwork related to orbital settlements, to compete for a $5,000 grand prize and publication on NASA Ames Research Center’s website.

Globus has also worked on other futuristic topics like nanotechnology—he invented these cool carbon nanotube gears, for instance—and data visualization. You can ask him all about orbital settlements, nanotube gears, or contest tips in the comments below and he’ll be here at 4:00 pm EDT/1:00 pm PDT to answer your questions.

Stanford Torus. Image credit: NASA

In the meantime, I asked him a few questions to get the conversation moving.

Gizmodo: On your website, you mention that space colonies offer an advantage over surface-based colonies because they can match Earth’s gravity, allowing settlers born and raised in the colonies to return to Earth without worrying about an increased gravity. What about shorter-term research settlements, populated by adults raised on Earth (who aren’t supposed to be having kids out there)?


Al Globus: I define a “settlement” as a place where at least some people raise their kids. I’m pretty sure you are talking about what I would call a space station—a place to go work in space for a limited time. We have had space stations since the 1970s. At the moment there are three people in the International Space Station (ISS).

Gizmodo: Are there other factors that make space colonies a better choice than surface colonies?

Globus: Yes. Quite a few. Rapid resupply from Earth. The Moon is a few days away from Earth, and trips to Mars take many months. Early colonies in Earth orbit will be only hours away.

Great views from Earth (and eventually other planets). Space colonization is, at its core, a real estate business. The value of real estate is determined by many things, including “the view.” Any space settlement will have a magnificient view of the stars at night. Any settlement on the Moon or Mars will also have a view of unchanging, starkly beautiful, dead-as-a-doornail, rock strewn surface.

Zero-g construction means bigger colonies. Much greater growth potential. Economics: Near-Earth orbital colonies can service Earth’s tourist, energy, and materials markets more easily than the Moon. Mars is too far away to easily trade with Earth.

Gizmodo: What’s the coolest Space Settlement Contest entry you’ve seen so far?

Globus: “There was a very interesting one this year that looked as if it were made of a large number of Bigelow BA330 modules — a couple of which are in construction right now.”

Join NASA contractor Al Globus today at 4:00 pm EDT/1:00 pm PDT to ask all your questions about orbital space settlements, working for NASA, the Space Settlement Contest, and more. Ask your questions now below!

Top image: O’Neill Cylinders, courtesy NASA