The Legacy of the Stanford Torus
July 23, 2013

The Legacy Of The Stanford Torus

Living in space has been a fantasy that has been swirling around the minds of humans for generations. Back in the 70’s, we thought we’d be closer to it than ever before with the unveiling of the Stanford Torus space colony concepts. The world grew in excitement with thoughts of living on the final frontier, but NASA had to break the news to us that things like space travel were miles (scratch that, light-years) away, which broke everyone’s hearts as they went back to their lives living on Earth, breathing natural air.

Sadly, the concepts had their 15 minutes of fame and then proceeded to fade out into the darkness and were forgotten in time. The good thing is that the Stanford Torus has had such a lasting effect on the world in the short time that it was “famous,” that its very design has become a staple in countless Sci-Fi stories across all mediums.

The big, donut-shaped artificial habitat has had its blueprints bless that of The Halo video game franchise with the appearance of huge ring habitats, and even more recently in an upcoming summer blockbuster called Elysium that is hitting US theaters in August. Elysium stars Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, and is based in a future where humans live on colonies which bear a striking resemblance to the classic Stanford Torus.

As mentioned above, the Torus was a huge ring shaped space habitat that would spin once per minute which in turn would give its inhabitants the artificial gravity that mimics that of the home planet (and, of course, it would be hilariously funny to see them turn off the gravity for thirty seconds and then claim they had “technical issues”). As for the sunlight, that would be provided by an elaborate arrangement of mirrors so one could still catch those rays. The habitat is connected by a system of tunnels which is made for travel to and from the colony and as for Maintenance there would be (in theory) stations on the moon and mini stations floating about to transport repair parts and such.

The really interesting part of this station (and what has started the legacy) was that on the inside of this ring was the actual environment complete with hills valleys and even neighborhoods. Completely livable, the citizens would be able to live a normal life as they would on earth.

Going back to science fiction though, the creators of such works as Halo, Elysium and, of course, many other books, video games and films have tried to imagine how civilization must be like on such stations and this has churned a wide array of creative scenarios.

In the Halo series, we have barren habitats that were most likely forgotten in time and, although they may be used as completely livable colonies, the Halo Rings are more often used as weapons because in a self-destruction, the blast could hold enough force to destroy, if not significantly damage, a planet (which would make space warfare a lot more dangerous).

Now, take a look here at Elysium. You obviously can see the Torus like colony, but the story really focuses on the Government/Local Authority and how they have used the advanced technology of their time to oppress the people living within. One thing worth noting is that in this film Earth is barely even habitable and forgotten, which means that the more rich and prestigious people live in space while the poor live on the forgotten planet. Not saying that this scenario would occur, but it is a plausible thought to one of the outcomes if a generation lived in a time period where this situation existed.

The Stanford Torus in its day really captured the imaginations young storytellers and since then has become an enduring benchmark in science fiction ever since, But ask yourself this question: if those concepts came out sometime in the 70’s, then what crazy ideas are bouncing around the offices at NASA right now?

Sure they may be on their own now but with almost forty years of hindsight I think they might have yet another colony that is better designed and refined waiting for the day that space travel isn’t a fantasy, but a convenience to people across the globe.

Image Credit: Donald E. Davis

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