“The High Frontier” – A new documentary about Gerard K. O’Neill and space settlement

The  movie The High Frontier: The Untold Story of Gerard K. O’Neill will premier this Saturday, April 17th at 8 pm ET / 5 pm PT on SpaceChannel.com. You can register to watch it for free via eventbrite.

Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill was an American physicist, inventor, and space activist best known for writing the 1977 book, ​The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space.​

The book details how humans could build rotating space habitats in low-Earth orbit using a design he called the “O’Neill Cylinder.” The habitat could recreate Earth’s gravity and would house millions of people for work and play, eventually solving the major concerns facing Earth such as hunger, overpopulation, dwindling resources, and war. His book and activism launched the movement to the global stage, forever inspiring a generation of free thinkers and space leaders, altering the course of American space industry forever. Dr. O’Neill passed in 1992 from Leukemia, but his vision still lives on thanks to the “Gerry’s Kids,” those who were inspired by Dr. O’Neill and keep his vision alive today.

The High Frontier

is a documentary film about the life and influence of Gerard K. O’Neill told through the eyes of his peers, family and the younger generation he inspired during the 1970s and 80s who are now leaders in the modern day space race. Through old stories of “Gerry” as many called him, and the social impact he made on the world, this documentary pays tribute to the unsung hero of today’s space race, while hoping to inspire all ages and walks of life to reignite our planet’s space venturing spirit.

Here is the trailer:

The film will be available via VOD release on April 18th, 2021 on Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, Vudu, Microsoft Stream, and Fandango. Details about the film can be found at The High Frontier: The Untold Story of Gerard K. O’Neill – IMDb.


The Space Studies Institute (SSI) was founded by O’Neill and the institute continues to support research and development of technologies that will enable space settlement . Check out their gallery of space settlement art.

A Bernal Sphere design for an in-space habitat.

SSI offers the  Kindle version of The High Frontier book  by O’Neill for free at Amazon.

Space Habitat - Rick Guidice
A rendering of a pair of large space habitats by Rick Guidice


Prof. O’Neill was a big influence on my own life. I can recall a rainy gray autumn day in 1974 when I went to the mail box and found my latest copy of Physics Today. I was amazed to see that the cover of the usually staid trade publication depicted a huge space station. The article, The Colonization of Space by O’Neill, was equally unusual in the striking contrast between the mind-boggling boldness of his space habitat concepts and the matter-of-fact, down-to-earth manner in which he presented the motivations for such undertakings and how they could be accomplished technically and economically.

I was still a big space fan at the time but there had been a collapse in public interest in space in those post-Apollo years of the 1970s. The gigantic effort and expense that went into putting just a handful of people on the Moon for brief sojourns convinced most everyone that space travel was very impractical and that the domain beyond out atmosphere was as uninspiring as the bottom of the deep dark ocean. O’Neill’s ideas radically refuted such assertions. Colossal space habitats would become verdant islands thriving in the light of a brilliant sun, enabling the rise of new cultures and the opening of our vast solar system to endless exploration and utilization of its riches.

“The Stanford Torus – This space habitat design resulted from a NASA-Ames/Stanford University summer study. It’s a wheel 1.1 miles in diameter.”

As the film’s trailer indicates, O’Neill’s writings and articulate promotion of space habitats revitalized and re-energized interest in human spaceflight for many people. Quite a number of those “O’Neillians” continue to this day to work for the settlement of space.

The appeal of O’Neill’s habitat ideas certainly sustained my own interest in space and inspired my efforts with HobbySpace and other activities, which I hope have contributed a little bit towards encouraging  public interest and excitement in space.

Unfortunately, we don’t yet have giant habitats in open space or even small bases on the surface of the Moon or Mars. For settlements to be feasible, O’Neill counted on the Space Shuttles to lower the cost of getting to space dramatically. Unfortunately, the failure of the Shuttles to come even close to that key goal not only undermined arguments for giant space habitats but for most any human endeavor in space. Lowering space access costs thus became the focus for the past few decades for O’Neillians, some of whom pursued rocket ventures themselves or advocated for government initiatives like the DC-X/XA prototype reusable rocket and NASA’s Commercial Crew and Cargo program. Such efforts have shown progress as seen by the significant drop in launch prices with the arrival of SpaceX’s partially reusable Falcon 9 rockets. The fully-reusable, fast turnaround Starships now in development could offer the break-through that finally enables affordable space travel.

Elon Musk discounts in-space habitats and sees Starships as the means to create a city on Mars. However, such vehicles will be available for all sorts of space endeavors and space stations are sure to be among these. If designed to grow incrementally and take advantage of resources from the Moon and the asteroids, such orbital installations could eventually evolve into O’Neill’s islands in the sky.


Here is a “Roundtable TV interview” from 1975 in which O’Neill and Isaac Asimov discuss in-space colonies with former Esquire editor Harold Hayes:

[ Update: Here is a Planetary Society podcast program about the High Frontier movie: The High Frontier: A New Documentary About Gerard K. O’Neill – The Planetary Society

Physicist and space pioneer Gerard K. O’Neil gathered a community of followers as he led planning for vast, magnificent human settlements in space. Guests Dylan Taylor, Will Henry and Ryan Stuit have produced an inspiring, feature-length tribute to O’Neill that stars space luminaries including Jeff Bezos, Frank White, Lori Garver, Rick Tumlinson, and many others. Then Bruce Betts and Mat Kaplan are joined by a special listener guest on What’s Up.


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