History of the Chicago Society for Space Studies

Often new members of our organization or new acquaintances ask the question: “How did You get started?” This article was prepared in order to answer some of these questions about the origins of the Chicago Society for Space Studies. This article covers the years 1977 to 1990 – the point in time at which CSSS directors voted to make CSSS a chapter of the National Space Society.

The true origins of the Society can be traced back to a series of events that occurred between 1974 and 1977. In September 1974 Physics Today published an article by a Princeton physics professor Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill. His concept of a large space habitat constructed from lunar material and fueled by clean solar energy seemed very attractive (albeit unlikely given the diminishing space budgets of the time). The article suggested however, that such a structure could be built with current technology. The Physics Today article and a later 1976 article published in Science Year were seen by several people who would one day form the nucleus of the Society. What actually brought the first group together was a class entitled “Space Colonies and Space Travel” held at the Adler Planetarium in early 1977. James Seevers, an Associate Astronomer, obtained one of the prepublication copies of O’Neill’s book, The High Frontier and put together a 10 week course which discussed Space Shuttle development, lunar mining and large habits in space [1]. Seevers traces his interest in human space exploration to the Werner von Braun article in Collier’s Magazine, illustrated by Chesley Bonestell which appeared in the 1950’s.

The class was the binding element that brought together the initial members of the Society. Towards the end of the course, Maureen Maxwell (soon to become Maureen Maryniak) constructed a survey of the class that asked whether participants would like to form a space colonies group in Chicago. Response to the survey was very positive and Jim Seevers, Maureen Maxwell and Gregg Maryniak formed an ad hoc committee to organize the first meetings of the group. In May 1977, with Jim Seevers and four former class members in attendance, the first Mass-driver was demonstrated at the Space Manufacturing at Princeton University.

Monthly meetings of the Chicago Society for Space Settlement began in June of 1977. A mailing list composed initially of former class members was set up and a short photocopied note was sent out each month to announce the meeting times. Since June 1977 the Society held its general monthly meetings at the Adler Planetarium on Chicago’s lakefront. The principal purpose of the group was to share the latest information about the harvesting of space resources. Every bit of news was hungrily sought out. In the Fall of 1977 David Hupspeth and Larry Boyle attended a conference in San Francisco and returned with a wealth of information.

In December 1977, the Chicago Society for Space Settlement filed for incorporation as a 501(c)(3) under then name Centaurus, Inc. The Chicago Society for Space Settlement Articles of Incorporation for the stated purpose of:

The purposes of the corporation are the promotion of interest in space settlement and industrialization by means of educational planetarium, museum, and library exhibits, the press and other literary and educational means; the stimulation of public awareness of the issues pertaining to space industrialization and settlement; and the provision of a forum for public discussion and research on the social, economic, and environmental implications of these activities.
Said corporation is organized exclusively for educational and scientific purposes, including, for such purposes, the making of distributions to organizations that qualify as exempt organizations under section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1954. [2]

One of the first projects undertaken by the new Society was a series of talks at schools, churches, libraries and private firms. The Society’s first major public event was its participation in the SUN day activities held at the Planetarium in May 1978. Hundreds of Chicagoans saw our presentation on Solar Power Satellites. In June of that year, Society President Gregg Maryniak decided to experiment with replacing the monthly notices with a bona fide newsletter. The result was the first issue of Spacewatch, the Journal of the Society.

In April 1978 we began exploring the possibility of hosting a lecture by Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill somewhere in the city. The headline of the July 1978 issue of Spacewatch exclaimed that Dr. O’Neill’s presentation would take place on October 20 at Navy Pier! Not only did the city grant us the use of its newly renovated lake front auditorium; they also provided free parking arrangements and much additional assistance. Over 800 witnessed Dr. O’Neill’s October Lecture. Guests included residents of Indiana, Wisconsin, Michigan and downstate Illinois, many of whom had driven several hundred miles to see the event. In addition to seeing Dr. O’Neill, they also observed our membership in action coordinating the many details necessary for the program’s success.

In 1978 the Society’s most exciting activity was the production of television programming on the mass-driver for use by the Society and by the Space Studies Institute (SSI), a non-profit research organization founded by Dr. O’Neill. The concept grew out of a discussion between Dr. O’Neill and Society Director James Kosei following O’Neill’s October presentation. The idea, presented to the membership at our meetings and in Spacewatch gathered momentum as members once again gave generous financial support.

Led by Jim Kosub, a team of seven members attended the Fourth Conference on Space Manufacturing at Princeton University in May of 1979. Using production-quality equipment, the team videotaped interviews with such key participants as Drs. O’Neill, Brain O’Leary, Stephen T. Cheston, David Criswell and Freeman Dyson. Tapes were also made of the first superconducting mass-driver. In a special June/July issue of Spacewatch, the board of Directors announces a resolution to increase support of the Space Studies Institute by giving a discount on our dues to those members who join SSI and the Society on a concurrent basis. The videotape produced by the Society had its premiere on May 11, 1980. The production included computer graphics done by Bill Schmid and models built by several Society members.

In 1981 13 members of the Society attended the Princeton Conference and we interviewed 24 Conference participants for more tape presentations. September of 1981 saw the Society change it name. The members voted by a ten to one margin to make the name of our organization: “The Chicago Society of Space Studies”. Although promoting the large-scale colonization of space remained one to the fundamental goals of the Society, many of our directors felt that our old name emphasized only this aspect of space development. The new name enabled the Society to keep its logo that was created for the Society in 1978 by designer John Swannell.

In October of 1985 long-time Society President Gregg Maryniak became the Executive Vice President of the Space Studies Institute in Princeton, New Jersey. Larry Boyle replaced him as President of the Society. In July 1987 we co-sponsored a Symposium on Pioneering the space frontier at the Field Museum. People came from all over the Chicago area to hear about exploring the planets, starting new space manufacturing industries, and using the energy and material resources of space for our benefit.

In May of 1989, CSSS co-sponsored the International Space Development Conference (ISDC), which was attended by over 1,000 people from all over the world. In 1990 the Chicago Society for Space Studies voted to became a chapter of the National Space Society, the ISDC’s sponsoring organization.

Note 1:
Adler Planetarium Original 1977 Space Colonies and Space Travel Course Syllabus (PDF format)

Note 2:
Original 1977 Chicago Society for Space Settlement Articles of Incorporation (PDF format)