Mass Drivers and Space Colonization

While teaching freshman physics at Princeton University in 1969, Gerard O’Neill posed the question, "Is the surface of a planet really the right place for an expanding technological civilization?"

Inspired by the papers written by his students, he began to work out the details of a program to build self-supporting space habitats in free space. This eventually resulted in the following two papers:

  • A Lagrangian Community?, Gerard K. O’Neill, Nature, 23 August 1974, No. 5468, pp. 636, doi:10.1038/250636a0
  • The Colonization of Space, Gerard K. O’Neill, Physics Today, September 1974, Volume 27, Number 9, pp. 33-40. Reformatted and updated with color illustrations, August 2010.

A much cited paper was subsequently published in Science:


The first Space Manufacturing conference was held at Princeton in May 1975; but the proceedings were not printed until March 1977.


Omni, a long defunct magazine, published a long interview of Gerard O’Neill in 1979, that subsequently was expanded with telephone interviews in 1982 and 1983. They also published several short articles on a variety of subjects that are included here:


The potential of a mass driver for space applications was first identified by Gerard O’Neill in 1974. Two papers that articulate the characteristics of a basic coaxial mass driver are described in:


The MD-2 mass driver is described in the following paper:


The capacitors used in a mass driver dominate its mass and cost. The quenchgun concept developed in 1978 by Henry Kolm eliminates these capacitors by storing the entire launch energy in superconducting barrel coils that are transferred to a projectile with almost no loss.


Gerard K. O’Neill died April 27, 1992. On August 15, 2010, Tasha O’Neill, executor of the Gerard O’Neill estate, gave permission to republish Gerard O’Neill’s papers on this site.