Gerard K. O'Neill Collection

Gerard Kitchen O'Neill (1927-1992) was an experimental physicist, educator, inventor, entrepreneur, writer and novelist. Gerard K. O'Neill joined the Navy at age 17, served as a radar technician from 1944 to 1946, graduated from Swarthmore College in 1950 with high honors in Physics, and received his Ph.D. in Physics from Cornell University in 1954. He went to Princeton University in that year as an Assistant Professor, becoming a Full Professor of Physics in 1965. In the 1976-77 academic year he received the honor of serving as the Jerome Clarke Hunsaker Professor of Aerospace at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He retired from Princeton in 1985 as professor emeritus. Dr. O'Neill's main research area was high-energy particle physics and he initiated and led large-scale projects in accelerator construction. In 1956 he invented the storage-ring technique for colliding particle beams, a method which is now the basis for nearly every new high-energy particle accelerator. In 1976 he built his first Mass Driver prototype. Dr. O'Neill was a pioneer in the field of space colonization; his studies on the humanization of space began in 1969 as a result of his undergraduate teaching at Princeton, and one of his four books, The High Frontier, detailed his vision of humanity's movement into Earth-like habitats constructed in space. The High Frontier won the Phi Beta Kappa Award as the best science book of 1977. He also authored 2081: A Hopeful View of the Human Future, The Technology Edge: Opportunities for America in World Competition and co-authored a graduate textbook, Introduction to Elementary Particle Physics. In 1977 following the success of The High Frontier, Dr. O'Neill founded the non-profit Space Studies Institute. SSI's research included work on mass drivers and the Lunar Polar Probe (renamed Lunar Prospector and flown by NASA.) In 1967 Dr. O'Neill was a finalist, though ultimately not selected, for NASA's Astronaut Group 6, a group of scientist-astronauts to be given assignments in the Apollo Program. He returned to NASA throughout 1975-1977 to led studies on space habitats and space manufacturing; he testified twice before Congress during that time. In 1985, he was appointed by President Reagan to the National Commission on Space. In 1983 Dr. O'Neill founded the Geostar Corporation, a satellite based positioning and communication system, based on a patent issued to him. In 1986, O'Neill founded O'Neill Communications, Inc. which developed LAWN, a local area network device using radio waves and still in use today. At the time of his death, Dr. O'Neill was working on a form of high-speed ground-based transportation he called "Magnetic Flight" with another company he founded, VSE International. Dr. O'Neill was an instrument-rated pilot with some 2,500 hours of time in powered aircraft and held the Triple Diamond Badge of the Federation of the Aeronautique Internationale for sail plane flights. He was active in ultralight aircraft aviation and a member of the Experimental Aircraft Association. On most of his travels in connection with research and lectures, he piloted his own small plane. Dr. O'Neill died from leukemia in 1992; the Clementine Mission of 1994 was dedicated to him.