You have to admire Richard Branson's public relations skill. The very day that two of his brand new 'tilting' trains stuttered inefficiently
into service, he was busy strutting up and down in London with a brace of attractive stewardesses, waving branded models of Burt Rutan's SpaceShip One
and pledging to blast the wealthy into space
in three years or so. A case of 'look everyone! up there!', making sure all eyes were on something else. There's even a glossy new website, Virgin Galactic
, to tempt the wealthy into parting with those six figure tickets. Related metafilter
The story of space tourism is a long one, a cultural memory built up through books, films and television shows, as well as the occasional high-profile case study by apparently reputable architects and designers. Driven partly by the idea - no, the certainty
- that astronauts are having a whole lot more fun than they there are letting on, designing for space is one of pop culture's bastard offshoots, the conflation of the shadowy aims of the military-industrial complex with the sheer, unadulterated hedonism of the permissive society.
That space could be a location for heady, weightless joy
is either the ultimate subversion of the militarism of space (no sooner had someone figured out how to get up into space than the military was banging on their door looking for ways to exploit this new territory) or blind submission to the increasing militaristation of society. After all, we are grateful, if not downright dependent, on technologies that has transferred from the military to civil realm (GPS
, for example, not the Hummer
) yet which depend to a large extent on military funding to keep them running. No longer can people jest that Teflon
are the best by-products of the space race.
All this disguises the perhaps unpalatable truth that there never will be any such thing as 'Leisure Space'. Speculative design for space colonies
, a science fiction staple of the 60s and 70s, proposed vast cities in space, presumably utopian in outlook. Far easier, though, to believe that these tumbling cylinders would be dictatorships, benign or otherwise, rather than paradigms of democracy. No-one would be along for a free ride. There's no room in space for consumerist playgrounds or sun-drenched retirement communities (space as Flordia?). The potential space colonist would be a small cog in a big machine, expected to keep turning perfectly for as long as they lived.
The huge range of futuristic concepts for living, working and playing in space can be found in a new research monograph, Musings Towards a New Genre in Space Architecture
(although the infamous Space Resort
, such as that proposed by architects Wimberly Allison Tong & Goo
, isn't cited). Musings
is sponsored by the European Space Agency's Lunar Base Design Workshop
as a means of making the design community more aware of the cultural and technical needs of design for space travel while it is still at a very hypothetical stage.
The fundamental premise of the publication is that early design for space travel was influenced largely by science fiction. Then engineering constraints and realities took over. These first two stages are labelled 'voyages d'esprit' and 'man-in-a-can' respectively, nicely summing up the trajectory from Jules Verne to Soyuz. Only now are we entering a new stage, 'trans-gravity', when the complex systems developed by earthbound architects and the ambitions of government agencies and scientists will all collide in a cloud of dazzling futurism. The book is stuffed full of concepts and links. Just a few: the Cosmic Dancer
sculpture, exotic ideas
, Hans-Jurgen Rombaut's Lunar Architecture
, the Tate in Space
, space settlements