NASA Ames – Inspiring Creative Thinking About Space Settlements


Part of the rim of a toroidal space colony, including nearby space vehicles.
Image Credit: NASA

The Elysium film has reignited interest in the concept of human settlers living off the surface of our planet inside enormous space stations and extensive colonies. Film director Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium colony was artistically portrayed as a gigantic toroidal structure, one of the most common design concepts depicted in imaginative illustrations produced over many decades. Space theorists predict that the first space settlements will be designed to orbit Earth, preceding those that will spread out across the solar system to take advantage of water discovered on other planetary bodies and resource materials available on sizable asteroids. Regardless of their placement, each space-based settlement will need to be engineered, constructed and operated as an independent biosphere in which all water, oxygen and waste material must be infinitely recycled. Over the last 26 years, NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley, Calif., has organized a global Space Settlement Design Contest to encourage students around the world to tackle the many challenging issues critical to designing habitable space colony environments and transportation systems.


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Follow these links to read about the NASA Space Settlement Design Contest, review winning entries and view a gallery of student artwork submitted to the contest. You may also enjoy a NASA Ames image gallery displaying a downloadable collection of space settlement artwork from the 1970’s.

Feature story on the NASA Space Settlement Design Contest
Art gallery on NASA Space Settlement Design Contest
NASA Space Settlement Design Contest information and winning entries
Space colony art from the 1970s

Yvonne Clearwater, NASA’s Ames Research Center

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