I recently mentioned Ed Regis’s lively Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition in a couple of posts here on Futurisms, and I thought I’d mention one final item from the book — a very minor one. One of the people Regis profiles is Dave Criswell, who as a child became enamored of a vision of civilization in space. By the 1980s, Criswell was promoting “star lifting,” the sort of project that makes geoengineering look like Tinkertoys. But Criswell didn’t stop there. In 1988, Regis reports, Criswell dreamed up something new:
He proposed holding the 2008 Olympic Games in space.
Criswell first presented the concept at a meeting of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics; later, both Omni and the Smithsonian Institution’s Air & Space magazine ran stories about the scheme. [Note: Regis himself wrote the Omni article.] The idea was to build a two-mile-wide space station up in orbit, a structure big enough to hold ten thousand people.
Criswell had everything figured out: once around the ring would equal a ten-kilometer run; new zero-gravity sports events could be developed. He even invented a type of aircraft — a swing-wing space plane — that could get sports fans up there and back for the price of a typical ocean crossing….
Robert Helmick, president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, was actually quite impressed by the Olympics-in-Space concept. “It’s a fantastic idea, very creative,” he said. “The Olympic Games have a universal appeal throughout the world, and I think it would be great to hold them in space and for there to be some visible insignia up there that everyone could see.” [pages 287-88]
Cynics and curmudgeons might say that the Olympics and human spaceflight are perfectly paired since both involve exorbitantly expensive spectacles that, although tremendously impressive, seem to leave many people bored.
More seriously, I’m confident that human beings will someday settle other worlds, and that the old sports and games they bring with them will be complemented by new ones suited for their new civilizational footholds. But Criswell’s proposal was for the year 2008. It wasn’t just an open-ended aspiration — someday, the Olympics should be in space! Since he chose a specific year, we can assume that he truly believed that we could have a two-mile-wide space station capable of holding thousands of people and hosting a major sporting event. Mind you, he proposed this in 1988 — more than fifteen years after the last man had walked on the moon, and a decade before assembly of the real-life International Space Station began. (By way of comparison, the longest dimension of the delay-plagued ISS is today 0.067 miles.) How wonderfully and optimistically out of touch with reality.
Now, if Criswell had suggested Space Olympics in the year 3022, that would be a different story: