Gerry O’Neill: The High Frontier
The High Frontier is a documentary film subtitled The Untold Story of Gerard K. O’Neill. The film documents the life of Gerry O’Neill and his influence on modern space exploration, told through the eyes of his family, peers and members of the younger generation whose lives and careers were inspired by him (so called “Gerry’s Kids.”). Notably Jeff Bezos has discussed Gerry’s influence on his space ambitions and referred to Gerry’s work in his high school valedictorian speech.
The documentary pays tribute to the life and work of Gerry O’Neill, telling the little known stories of the enormous impact he made on the modern world and the space industry.
The Settlement of Space
Gerry O’Neill became interested in the possibility of humans living and surviving in outer space during his time teaching physics at Princeton University. O’Neill researched the possibilities and presented his findings on the futuristic idea of humans settling space in paper written in 1970.
O’Neill struggled for several years to get this paper published. Despite submitting it to several different magazines and scientific journals, including Scientific American, the paper was rejected many times over the period of four years by reviewers. In September of 1974, it was finally published in Physics Today.
During the time spent waiting for publication, O’Neill regularly lectured on the idea of space settlement at Princeton and at other universities in the United States. Many attendees of these lectures, including staff as well as students, became enthused by the ideas espoused by O’Neill. O’Neill believed that it would be possible to build self-sufficient and pleasant dwelling places for humans in space within two decades of writing his first paper, which he stated would solve many of the problems being experienced on Earth.
In 1974, O’Neill led a two-day conference attended by representatives of NASA and held at Princeton. Following the eventual publication of his paper The Colonization of Space, O’Neill held a much larger conference in May 1975 at Princeton on the topic of space manufacturing.
In June of the same year he led a study for NASA, which took place over 10 weeks and explored permanent space habitats. In subsequent years he would lead further studies at NASA Ames on space manufacturing. Throughout the late seventies, NASA supported the work of O’Neill with grants reaching as much as $500,000 per year. Despite this support, O’Neill became frustrated with the restrictions of government-funded research, caused by politics and bureaucracy.
In 1977, together with his wife Tasha, O’Neill established the Space Studies Institute at Princeton as a non-profit, private organization to fund and support research into space exploration, with a focus on developing the technologies required for human settlement and manufacturing in space. In the first year, this organization received almost $100,000 in funding from private donors.
Particle Physics Research
In addition to his interests in space exploration, Gerry O’Neill was also a respected physics professor at Princeton with a focus on high-energy particle physics research. In 1956, he theorized in a published paper that particles could be stored in a storage ring for a few seconds after being produced by a particle accelerator. In 1965, in collaboration with Burton Richter, the first experiment in colliding beam physics was conducted by O’Neill. Many believe that should O’Neill not passed away an early death from Leukemia, he would have been a leading candidate for the Nobel Prize once the efficacy of particle accelerators became well known in the 1980s and 90s. Regardless, O’Neill’s legacy in space is unmatched and he has inspired two generations of space advocates.
About The Production Team
Space investor and philanthropist Dylan Taylor, who serves as Chairman & CEO of Voyager Space Holdings and was formerly a Fortune 1000 executive and Director at Jones Lang LaSalle, Colliers International, UMB Financial and other multi-national firms, is the executive producer of the film and has a strong professional and personal interest in space exploration and settlement. In 2020 he was awarded the industry’s top award for Business and Finance by the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
Will Henry has served as associate producer of the film and works for the Denver based production firm Multiverse Media in collaboration with Morgan Brook Films and Morgan Brook Capital. Will’s film career has spanned nearly ten years and he is an award winning film maker.
Post production has been handled by Subtractive, a world leader in film and psot production for the Space industry. The film features many notable interviews including Peter Diamandis, Rick Tumlinson, Laetitia Garriott, Virgin Galactic astronaut Loretta Whitesides, the late Freeman Dyson, author Frank White and many others