Jeff Bezos’s new plans for space have stirred up old fights in science fiction

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Publication Date: 
May 10, 2019

Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos on Thursday debuted a new lunar landing module, to be constructed by his space exploration company, Blue Origin.

As he has in previous speeches, Bezos — who also owns The Washington Post — made it clear that the moon is only the beginning. He wants to help kick-start a new multigenerational era of space exploration that would culminate in millions of humans living in space colonies.

His vision is spurred by the ideas of the physicist Gerard K. O’Neill, who proposed such colonies a generation ago, but it is firmly embedded in debates within science fiction. O’Neill was engaged in fights that spanned science fiction and space exploration. New fights have emerged over the intervening decades. These fights help to explain the politics around Bezos’s proposal.

O’Neill was arguing against ‘planetary chauvinism’

O’Neill was opposed to traditional proposals for space colonization, which were aimed at colonizing planets. In his presentation, Bezos played excerpts from a famous televised argument between O’Neill and the science-fiction writer Isaac Asimov over the genre’s lack of imagination. Asimov used the term “planetary chauvinism” to refer to the systematic bias of science fiction toward planetary exploration. O’Neill proposed an alternative vision in which human beings would not seek to colonize planets, but instead build their own enclosed cylindrical space habitats.

Read the full piece at The Washington Post