Space Station DIY: Bernal Spheres?

I needed a plausible space station for my fictional characters to live in. My research yielded such riches, I decided to share them with you in a series of “Space Station DIY” blog posts.

John Desmond Bernal
John Desmond Bernal

Today, let’s consider the Bernal Sphere. It’s an idea originally cooked up by John Desmond Bernal in 1929. Bernal was primarily known as a pioneer in molecular biology, but his concept of a spherical habitat in space seemed plausible enough for NASA to launch a more in-depth study in 1975-76.

Gerard K. O’Neill

That study led to Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill’s proposal for Island One, a relatively small Bernal Sphere. This was followed by the larger Island Two (which, it was hoped, would provide a more practical industrial base). By the time O’Neill got to Island Three, he’d evolved to a different shape, the O’Neill Cylinder (we’ll discuss that design in a future post). Other research rooted in the Bernal Sphere eventually led to a toroidal design, often called a Stanford Torus.

The wine-tasting party doesn't seem to mind if the world is inside-out.
The wine-tasting party doesn’t seem to mind if the world is inside-out.

What would it be like, to live in a Bernal Sphere? Artwork from the mid-1970s gives us a glimpse of an inside-out world, in which you could see the other side of the colony “up in the sky.” I don’t know about you, but I think that would give me terrible vertigo.

Recreation at the poles: nets and micro-gravity sex?
Recreation at the poles: nets and micro-gravity sex?

The artificially-generated centrifugal gravity would fall to nothing at the poles, which some have thought would make those good recreational areas. The illustration above envisions “Zero gravity honeymoon suites,” but doesn’t seem to consider the problems of space-sickness caused by microgravity, or the realities of Newton’s Third Law. Perhaps people would be better advised to enjoy their marital bliss in the 1-G areas, and play Quidditch at the poles.

Perhaps people could play Quidditch at the poles of the Bernal Sphere.
Perhaps people could play Quidditch at the poles of the Bernal Sphere.

The outside view shows a series of rings on one end, stacked next to the sphere. This would be the so-called “Crystal Palace” for agriculture to feed the population of 10,000 (on Island One).

External view of Island One, with agricultural "Crystal Palace" tori at one end.
External view of Island One, with agricultural “Crystal Palace” tori at one end.

Unfortunately, scientists and engineers in the 1970s were not much concerned about the issues involved in intensive farming, so they followed contemporary ideas, and designed their Crystal Palace to be a cow-, pig-, and chicken-hell. I wonder how much concern they had about overuse of antibiotics and methane production (perhaps they could use the latter as a fuel, but what about the smell?), as well as the relative economies of growing plant crops versus livestock. Maybe they just couldn’t imagine life without steak?

Livestock Hell in space? Maybe not such a good idea after all.
Livestock Hell in space? Maybe not such a good idea after all.

Ultimately, I decided the Bernal Sphere was not the design for my fictional space station. If I didn’t want to imagine living there, why would I try to make my characters do so? Might recall O’Neill apparently moved away from the original sphere-focused idea, too, once he looked into it more. But although my fictional Rana Habitat Space Station didn’t turn out to be a Bernal Sphere, the design gave me some interesting ideas. I hope you’ve enjoyed this exploration.

Earlier posts in this series have discussed space stations in popular culture and conjecture, and the idea of Dyson spheres.

IMAGES: Many thanks to the ever-invaluable Wikipedia, for the photos of John Desmond Bernal and Gerard K. O’Neill; to the NASA Ames Research Center for the 1970s-era artwork of the Bernal Sphere interior, exterior, and “Crystal Palace” cutaway detail; to the National Space Society, for the artist’s rendering of the Bernal Sphere recreational area; and to Entertainment Weekly for the Harry Potter Quidditch image. I appreciate all of you!


Finished—Sort of

You may have noticed (If so, bless you!) that I didn’t post much on my blog last week. What’s up with that? Massive stuff going on in my life, that’s what.

My first novel, finished in 1979, actually was written on one of these.
My first novel, finished in 1979, actually was written on one of these (manual Underwood).

I very recently finished a full draft of a science fiction novel.

This is the fifth novel manuscript for which I’ve been able to write “The End” in my adult life. The working title of the current opus is Going to the XK9s.

XK9s are forensic olfaction specialists, (dogs) whose universe-class noses make them something of a forensic analysis lab on four legs, and whose genetically-modified verbal-logic enhancements have pushed them over “the line” (wherever that lies, exactly) into sapience.

Rex looks a bit like real-life hero dog Lucas, who in 2015 saved his partner, Deputy Todd Frazier, after Frazier was ambushed by three assailants.
Rex looks a bit like real-life hero dog Lucas, who in 2015 saved his partner, Deputy Todd Frazier, after Frazier was ambushed by three assailants.

My protagonist is Rex, the “Leader of the Pack.” The other POV characters are his opinionated mate Shady and his somewhat beleaguered human partner Charlie.

My logline (still a work in progress) reads: A genetically-engineered police dog must innovate crime-solving approaches on a major case to prove his Pack is sapient and deserves freedom, before enemies—both from the Project that created them and from the criminal underworld—can destroy them.

I’ve mentioned “the novel” in past posts, most notably in the Space Station DIY series (an outgrowth of my research, since a large space station is the primary setting for the novel).

The XK9s were inspired by recent scientific explorations of dog cognition, recent discoveries of dogs’ ability to sense medical conditions by scent, and canine capabilities in search and rescue, drug enforcement, and bomb detection.

Present-day forensic olfaction specialists in training.
Present-day forensic olfaction specialists in training. Photo by Reed Young.

Since I travel in science fiction circles, I meet a lot of people who are “working on a novel.” People who actually have finished one are rarer, but simply finishing a draft doesn’t mean it’s done.

Publishing today: a whole new set of learning curves!

Very few people “take dictation from God” on the very first draft, most certainly including me. Once the novel is “finished,” the editing begins. In my case that means hacking through thickets of luxuriant verbiage to focus, polish, and pare it down to a streamlined, more readable length.

After that, professionals will review it. And after that . . . Oh, my. Publishing has changed almost beyond recognition since I worked with agents and editors in the 1980s. Lots of large learning curves ahead!

But meanwhile, it’s time to celebrate a nice milestone.

IMAGES: Many thanks to PenUltimate Editorial Services for the manuscript-finished typewriter image; to ABC News, for the photo of heroic Belgian malinois Lucas (read his story); to Gizmodo, Smithsonian Mag and photographer Reed Young for the photo of bomb-sniffing dogs in training; and to CyberSalt, for the “Good Luck” road sign.

Space Station DIY: Spheres of Influence

I needed to create a space station. 

Looks like fun, and it’s clearly DIY, but not quite what I mean.

The space station I needed to make would be the place where the characters in my novels could live out their comedies and dramas, grow, change, and face their challenges (or try not to, depending). 

But what sort of environment would it be? It would need earthlike aspects, for earth-evolved persons to be able to live there (and for their earth-evolved writer to be able to wrap her head around it). But it would have to believably function in space.

Again . . . not exactly what I needed!

When I first set out to explore ideas about space stations/habitats, I decided to consider only ideas that had been suggested and extensively considered previously, by people who could do the math (better yet–who liked doing the math, and understood it). This math-challenged artist has enough problems without courting gratuitous disasters.

I also rejected the idea of some kind of mysterious “artificial gravity” that was generated kind of like a magnet one could switch on or off. I wanted to find a design that could exist in our universe, and that was in keeping with physics as we more or less understand things today.

Dyson ring: the tiny dot in the center is the star.

I eventually rejected the idea of using Dyson rings, swarms, bubbles, or spheres, especially for a living surface. In case you haven’t encountered the concept yet, a Dyson structure is a megastructure (bigger than you can possibly imagine, even if you can imagine a lot) that would encircle a star (in some scenarios, our star), to collect energy and possibly create new living surface. There are a lot of practical difficulties with this idea. 

How big is a Dyson sphere? In this concept, big enough to encircle not only the Sun, but also Mercury and Venus, with lots of room to spare. In other words, ludicrously big.

Of course, other sf writers are free to disagree with me, and several have used the idea to good dramatic purpose. Here’s an image of the U.S.S. Enterprise with a Dyson Sphere from Star Trek-TNG’s episode Relics.  

Megastructures in space? Star Trek gave us interesting visuals.

In rejecting a Dyson sphere I’m also at odds with Robert Silverberg (Across a Billion Years) and Stephen Baxter (The Time Ships). So be it, guys. 

We cannot rule out the possibility that at some point in the future we could solve the problems, but as Frasier Cain points out in this video from Universe Today, there might not be enough matter in our solar system to build a full sphere. 

This is not to say there aren’t fascinating possibilities. The idea that you could even partially enclose a star with a structure made by sapient creatures is pretty interesting, and it’s an idea that’s endured for almost 80 years, as I write this. 

The cover of the first edition.

As far as I can tell, Freeman Dyson actually got the first germs of his idea from Olaf Stapledon’s 1937 novel Star Maker. Dyson wrote about the idea a bit later, in 1960. 

Only last winter, scientists using the Kepler Telescope actually did think that maybe they’d discovered evidence of a megasturcture similar to a Dyson sphere. However, now they’ve had second thoughts

Would’ve been pretty interesting, from a scientific point of view–although until we know how friendly they are, I’d just as soon keep extraterrestrials out there in the reaches of space for a while longer. 

I couldn’t resist Danielle Futselaar’s gorgeous rendering of the Dyson-like structure-that-wasn’t, as it might have looked disintegrating from around the star KIC 8462852

Unfortunately, the more I learned about Dyson structures, the less they fit my novels’ needs. But I had a lot of fun with the research. And just because it probably isn’t currently possible to make one, that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to hypothesize, create images, and dream far-off dreams. 

Last time: I kicked off the “Space Station DIY” series with an overview of my introduction to space colonies, space stations, and this whole idea of living permanently on structures in space.
Next time: we stay well-rounded with Bernal Spheres.

IMAGES: The image of the “DIY Mission Control Play Station” is courtesy of MAKE: on Pinterest. The fanciful “Home in Space” image is from Universe Today (Yep. See below). 

The Dyson Ring and Dyson Sphere diagrams are both courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. God bless you! The article is excellent, too.
Lots of thanks to Paramount Pictures and Popular Mechanics for the image of the U.S.S. Enterprise and a Dyson Sphere. 
The photo of the Star Maker first edition cover is from a different article in the ever-valuable Wikimedia Commons
The gorgeous image of the disintegrating Dyson Sphere (that didn’t turn out to be one after all) by Danielle Futselaar for SETI International is from the Washington Post. Many thanks to all!

VIDEO: Many thanks to Universe Today and Frasier Cain, for the informative YouTube video “What is a Dyson Sphere?” The link takes you to extensive notes, if you’re interested.

Space Station DIY: Where to start?

That’s no moon . . . 

I needed to create a space station. 

I had a cast of characters, the makings of a plot, and a big-picture concept of how my universe had turned out as it did. 

But now it was time to get down to creating the habitat space station on which my characters would live.

Where does one start?

One goes back to the 1970s, I discovered. That was the era when I first learned the concept of a “space station,” much less that people were seriously thinking about how one might actually build one someday. 

My earliest book on the
subject, with a great
John Berkley cover!

I was a college kid when I went to a movie called Star Wars, for the scandalously high price of three dollars per ticket. My then-boyfriend Pascal (now husband of 37+ years) and I went back to see it over and over again, as often as we could afford to (pre-video tape–but then, I’ve already admitted I’m older than dirt). 

I didn’t know it when I was bankrupting myself at the movie theater, but just a couple of years earlier a bunch of rocket scientists and other geniuses had gotten together at Stanford University for the 1975 NASA Summer Study, to try and figure out how it might be possible to build a space colony. 

They came up with something the shape of a bicycle wheel, with mirrors mounted on the hub. Artificial gravity was to be created by centrifugal force inside the outer ring. Being scientists, they didn’t call it a doughnut or wheel-shape, but a torus. It is still known as the Stanford Torus.

This is Donald E. Davis’s rendition of the exterior of the torus.

According to Wikipedia’s article about the project, it was based on earlier ideas proposed by Wernher von Braun and Herman Potocnik. The concept was known to science fiction writers, but the scientists really got going on it in 1975.

The idea of using centrifugal force to create gravity in a wheel-like structure also was suggested in the 1957 Russian film, Road to the Stars, which is fascinating to watch. Indeed, we’re still speculating on some of the same things they did, and a lot of the speculation doesn’t seem to have changed all that much. The entire 49-minute opus is available for viewing on You Tube. If you have time, take a look.

In 1957, Pavel Klushantsev’s film Road to the Stars included a space station with a torus of sorts, that produced artificial gravity.

If you look at the list of contributors to the 1975 Summer Study, it really did take a village to work out the myriad of details to arrive at something that might actually work. It’s now all freely available online

Although it’s been used in many movies, from 2001: A Space Odyssey to Elysium, the “classic” Stanford Torus isn’t the only prototype space station shape from which the would-be sf author can choose, however. In upcoming posts from this “DIY Space Station” series, I’ll look at Bernal and Dyson Spheres, the O’Neill Cylinder, and Bishop Rings.

IMAGES: Many thanks to TurboSquid for the picture of the Death Star, and to Abe Books for the cover art for Colonies in Space. The wonderful Don Davis painting of the torus, NASA Ames Research Center (ID AC76-0525), is now in the public domain. I got it from Wikipedia. The image of Klushantsev’s proto-torus design is a screen-capture from Road to the Stars, as seen on You Tube.

ConQuesT Photos of My Art Display

I’ve been having a great time at ConQuesT 46 in Kansas City. I’m not sure I’ve ever had a show where I sold more–at least, not more paper sculpture! Here’s a look at my display before the buyers descended.

You can sort of see the Dealers’ Room being set up behind these two panels. 
Here’s the third panel. ConQuesT Art Show panels are 2 feet wide.

I’m scheduled for ten program items at ConQuesT, including a demonstration called “How I Make Paper Sculpture,” on Sunday. It will include a PowerPoint slide show and hands-on paper sculpture experience for attendees.

Also on Sunday (immediately after the demonstration), I’ll do a reading. A bunch of people have signed up–I hope to see them there! (And I hope my voice holds up!).

Sunday afternoon will be the first time anyone outside my writers’ group has heard Chapter One of my novel Dogged Pursuit. It’s an sf novel about a genetically-engineered police dog who must prove he is sapient (and thus worthy of freedom) by helping to solve an important case before the Director of the project that made him and his Packmates can “recall” and destroy the “batch that turned out too smart.” The Director claims they are “defective,” because he hopes to keep control over the lucrative canine forensic tools the Project has created–something he can’t do if they are declared “sapient” and set free. I hope my listeners enjoy Chapter One!

In the next few months, I’ll be collaborating with my friend and fellow artist Lucy A. Synk, to create character images of my XK9 protagonist Rex, and his friends and colleagues from Chayko IV Habitat Space Station. Followers of my blog will be the first to see them!

 IMAGES: the photos in today’s blog are by me, Jan S. Gephardt, of my artwork display at the ConQuesT 46 art show. You may re-post these images if you will please not alter them, and give an attribution and a link back to this site.

Look for me and my artwork at these three Midwestern SF Conventions in May and June!

Now that I’m home and able to access my finished artwork again, I have accepted guest invitations from some of the science fiction conventions in the region.  Please come to these fine conventions and look me up!

Demicon 25 
Des Moines IA, May 2-4, 2014

Demicon 25 will be held at the Holiday Inn Northwest.

The theme of this year’s annual science fiction, fantasy and gaming convention is Hi-Yo, Silver!  Celebrate Away!

Demicon 25 will be held at the Holiday Inn Northwest, 4800 Merle Hay Road, Des Moines, IA.  There will be an Art Show (I’ll have work there), Dealers Room, Gaming, music, parties, programming, and much more.

I’m really looking forward to attending this convention, which I haven’t had a chance to attend for several years.  I have only good memories of Demicons past.  Watch for me on programming!

ConQuesT 45
Kansas City MO, May 23-25
The theme of ConQuesT 45 is ConQuesT Noir.
The longest-running SF convention in the Midwest is moving to a beautiful new hotel in downtown Kansas City, with more room than ever for its many popular and enjoyable events. I’m not the Art Show Director this year, so I’ll have time to be on programming!

KC Downtown Marriott: new home of ConQuesT!

Of course I’ll have artwork in the Art Show, and I hope to be on several panels–perhaps also a paper sculpture demonstration, or maybe even a reading from my new SF novel Dogged Pursuit.
ConQuesT 45 will be held at the elegant and spacious Kansas City Marriott Downtown. 200 W. 12th Street, Kansas City, MO.

This is my hometown convention, put on by the Kansas City Science Fiction and Fantasy Society (KaCSFFS), of which I am the Communications Officer and a longtime member.

Soonercon 23
Oklahoma City,

OK, June 27-29, 2014
(okay, technically it’s in Midwest City, OK).

Reed Convention Center again hosts Soonercon.

Soonercon bills itself as Oklahoma’s oldest and longest-running fan-run extravaganza. And it is! My family and I have a long and pleasant association with Soonercon, and we’re looking very much forward to attending this convention again.

Housed at the beautiful and convenient Reed Convention Center, 5800 Will Rogers Road, Midwest City, OK, Soonercon always boasts a large number of interesting guests and panelists, and many events and activities. I’ve signed up for programming, and also plan to be in the Art Show.

Turn of the Semester, Turn of the Page

Windblown (2010) is one of my first “autumn”
paper sculptures.

Fall semester has begun.  Start of the school year, start of a new cycle: since I was a tiny child, the start of another school year has functionally been my “new year.”

But it’s been several years since I last began a new fall semester as a classroom practitioner.  I will always be a teacher in my heart, but the life of working in the classroom is no longer my life. 
Today I’m most invested in the other major aspects of my life: professionally, as an artist and a writer; personally, as part of a vibrant, multigenerational (and multi-species) family.
Purple Clematis is one of the paper
sculptures I finished in 2013.

So, while my “intuitive cycle” is (probably forever) tuned to the end of summer as the time of “new beginnings,” this particular year’s new beginning marks a change of direction for this blog.

For the past few years I’ve been scattering my attention between two personal blogs—this one, as “Artdog Educator,” and another one that’s been devoted strictly to my visual artwork, titled “Artdog Observations.”  As anyone knows, who’s been following either one, I’ve been posting less and less frequently to both. 

That’s because I have a massive new project in my life, a science fiction/mystery novel with the working title of Dogged Pursuit.  It’s been consuming much of my attention since spring.

At the same time, I have been trying to keep up working on my artwork.  I make fine-art paper sculpture, aimed at juried shows and in hope of gallery representation. 

Nine-Part Herbal Fantasy is my most recent finished
paper sculpture. It was recently accepted into a show!

With so many creative projects now moving forward, however, I need to re-balance the load.  This season of new beginnings seems a good time to combine both of my former blogs under one title, “Jan S. Gephardt’s Artdog Adventures.”   

As all creative people know, it’s hard to compartmentalize—worse, it’s often counter-productive to try.  Things one learns in one sphere inexplicably turn out to relate to others.  My own creative life is like a Venn diagram with about a thousand circles—and they all converge in my art and writing. 
I sometimes foster dogs for
Great Plains SPCA.

“Artdog Adventures” will explore all of it—the artwork, the writing, the background material, the interesting stuff that I discover, books I read, current events, and also my ongoing thoughts about social issues and education reform when it seems appropriate.  

Because they inform my creative work, I also will undoubtedly include thoughts on the environment, animal welfare, and most especially dogs.  Because I am involved in science fiction fandom, you’ll probably also get comments on that sphere, from time to time.

I hope you’ll be interested to join me on my creative journey, and share the “Artdog’s” adventures.