Some Early Space Station Concepts And Designs: Ideas That Were Envisioned Before Their Time

The conquest of outer space was on the mind of men decades ago, with some surprising similarities to today’s space platforms these visionaries seemed to predict the future. A future that they could not an have possibly understood or fathomed. Ultimately, we will need a new fleet of space shuttles to get there.

1960s Proposed USAF Orbiting Space Station and Space Shuttles

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This is a concept depiction of a orbiting space station that the USAF (United States Air Force) was considering in the 1960s. The intent was that a two-person crew would spend a month aboard

the station before being rotated out and brought back to Earth. The orbiting station was to be called “MOL”, the Manned Orbiting Laboratory.

MOL concept Design


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This would be the body of a rocket and a Gemini-style craft would be the ‘shuttle’ that would return the astronauts to Earth at the end of each mission.

The project time-line was pushed back and ultimately the USAF had spent a third of a billion dollars by 1969 with the then-projected cost estimated to be nearer to one billion dollars, so the project was terminated.

Some of the Air Force personnel that were selected for manning the proposed station would later transfer to NASA and be among the Space Shuttle astronauts. Cited is Shuttle Astronaut Richard Truly whom also later in his career became the Administrator at NASA.

Looking More Familiar - Another Space Station Concept Design

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Here is a more familiar space station concept; a radial design with a central docking station from which to offload crew and supplies. This is not too farfetched for the 1960s when this design was created.

Nuclear Power or Mercury-Furnace in Space: A Proposal

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Another concept design, this one includes the use of a SNAP-II atomic power source on the end of a telescoping boom-arm. Because atomic energy was considered to be dangerous the concept design shows the nuclear pile extended away from the main crew quarters and laboratory sections of the orbiting craft.

It was theorized that this station would be built in segments as it would be too heavy to launch as one unit, and would also function as a servicing and launch point for extra-orbital vehicles.

First Detailed Drawing of a Space Station, 1929

A cross-section of a circular station that rotates, creating artificial gravity. Notice the parabolic solar refecltor which catches the sun’s rays and focuses them onto instruments. The radial pathway from the outer ring allows the astronaut to walk from a gravity environment to the mico-gravity hub to receive visitors and supplies. An elevator that serves the same purpose is also shown.

In cross-section this looks a little bit like a bird don’t you think?


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In this we see a 1929 depiction of a orbiting space station as seen and an approaching space vessel.  Designed by Hermann (Poto?nik) Noordung (1892-1929) this is cited to be the first detailed drawing of how a space station replete with artificial gravity might look and be occupied by men.

Herman(n) Poto?nik, a Slovene by birth born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire (modern-day Croatia,) he curiously adopted a German-sounding pseudonym that defies logic  but it might be he chose this pseudonym to demonstrate problems of chaos. The German “ordnung” (order) and “ordunga” in Slovene when combined with the “N” prefix may have been meant to stand for ‘no order’ or ‘lacking/without order’ which is a perfect description of “Chaos Theory.”

At any rate, this visionary is mainly remembered for addressing the issues around long-term human habitation on outer space. He died at an early age of pneumonia and in abject poverty. His obituary made no mention of his studies, accomplishments and contributions to space science. Efforts are being considered to raise a statue in his honor at his home city where he was born.

Inflatable Space Station? Not So Farfetched an Idea According to NASA

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What about Low / Microgravity on the Space Station?

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Even back in the late 1960s, the health effects of long-term low gravity was a concern for the astronaut’s health. Long-term health problem can arise from not using their muscles and bone will slowly lose calcium and become soft in micro-gravity. One way to help prevent this is by taking supplemental calcium and regular strenuous exercise, which occupies a good portion of today’s astronaut’s daily routine.

Artificial gravity would relieve this, as working in simulated Earth-like gravity would work the muscles and better maintain bone density. A rotating station would provide a healthier, familiar work environment for future astronauts. While this design is quite dated the principles are still valid and may be explored in future craft for long-term space travelers.

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A Mini Death Star Station?
A larger long-term research station concept.

(image source) NASA brochure; circa 1959.

This spherical space station concept could hold as many

as 50 personnel. It sort of resembles an uber-Sputnik, or a small Death Star from the Star Wars films decades later. It also reminds me of the Brick Moon concept.

What was ‘Brick Moon’ you wonder?

Much Further Back Was “Brick Moon”

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Published in the “Atlantic Monthly” by E. Everett Hale back in 1869, this fantastical proposal known as “Brick Moon” is the first known attempt to envision what would be required for an orbital satellite. It was a fantasy story, science fiction but it is regarded as having foreshadowed the need for certain technologies and an orbital platform from which to base these studies and house the people whom would live in them for extended periods of time.

Apart from containing a sealed atmosphere from inhospitable space, this design might function much like the materially-close ecosystem Biosphere 2, the Brick Moon construct was also intended as serve as a navigational aid to the term ‘mariners’ or what we would today call ‘astronauts.’ A veritable ‘space station on Earth,’ Biosphere 2 and Brick Moon seemingly have similar designs in mind.

Constructs such as the  geodesic dome such as “Spaceship Earth: EPCOT” at Walt Disney World Resort are a natural extension of the need for a livable environment outside of Earth which the 1869 “Brick Moon” proposal seemingly envisioned.

Looking Ahead to the Not-Too-Distant Future: Getting to/from the Space Stations of Tomorrow via New Space Shuttle Designs

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Looking vaguely like a Federation Starship with attitude From STAR TREK, a completed International Space Station in the distance will be receiving regular international space missions. With the advent of space tourism becoming more common, new and super efficient transport vehicles and systems will emerge. Many vehicle concepts are in the early production stages now and in the very near future these will shuttle personnel and supplies to orbit to begin the greatest missions yet; visiting other planets.

Article Written By thestickman

Writer, hobbyist, blogger.

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