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Jeff Bezos' space colony plans are straight out of 1970s science fiction

The Blue Origin billionaire wants to send us all into space. Humans have been dreaming about that for a long time.

Jeff Bezos laid out his vision for futuristic colonies in space, including off-world habitats designed as National Parks and recreation worlds. 
Blue Origin

The planet is getting hotter, the world population is growing and we're on a fast track to sending 1 million species into extinction. So how will the human species endure and grow when our home planet struggles to put up with us any longer? 

If you ask Jeff Bezos, the answer is to live in space. 

At an event in Washington DC this month, the CEO of Blue Origin outlined his plans to expand the human race beyond the confines of this planet. 

"If we're out in the solar system, we can have a trillion humans in the solar system, which means we'd have a thousand Mozarts and a thousand Einsteins," he said. "This would be an incredible civilization."

So where would that massively increased population live? To answer that, Bezos has taken a leaf out of the '70s sci-fi playbook with a plan to build advanced human colonies, floating in the dark abyss of space. 

In this week's episode of Watch This Space , we take a look at Bezos' vision to expand into space (with Blue Origin's help). And it turns out, this isn't exactly new territory. 

Now playing: Watch this: These rotating space colonies could be your future home
Artist Rick Guidice painted this image of a Bernal Sphere in 1976 -- the central sphere was designed for human habitation, while farming regions were located in the "tire" rings.

Artist Rick Guidice painted this image of a Bernal Sphere in 1976 -- the central sphere was designed for human habitation, while farming regions were located in the "tire" rings. 

Rick Guidice/NASA

The concept of space colonies goes as far back as the writing of Jules Verne and Russian rocket scientist Konstantin Tsiolkovsky in the late 19th century, when the concept of sending humans to space was still a science fiction dream. 

By the 1920s, scientist John Desmond Bernal laid out more specific plans for a space colony with a design now known as the Bernal Sphere -- roughly 10 miles across, the sphere would float in space and provide residential areas and farming regions for human inhabitants. These Bernal Spheres provided an early blueprint for what would become a big idea in science throughout the 20th century. 

In the 1970s, the idea developed further when scientist Gerard O'Neill proposed what's become known as the O'Neill Cylinder or O'Neill Colony -- a massive cylindrical colony that rotates in space to create artificial gravity and that supports roughly a million humans.

Artist Rick Guidice's concept for a cylindrical space colony, designed in 1975.

Artist Rick Guidice's concept for a cylindrical space colony, designed in 1975. 

Rick Guidice/NASA

Even NASA got in the game when it called on the brightest minds at Stanford University to design a colony as part of the NASA Summer Study in 1975. Over the course of 10 weeks, a group of professors, students and volunteers designed a ring-shaped colony (also known as the Stanford Torus) that could "permanently sustain life in space on a large scale."

The Stanford Torus wasn't a half-baked concept. The team came up with a scientifically detailed support case for the colony, including detailed costings, financial benefits and even some very specific plans for a propulsion system consisting of a "pellet launcher" that shoots pieces of moon rock. 

Rick Guidice's visualization of the colony created as part of the NASA Summer Study with Stanford University. 

Rick Guidice/NASA

When he took to the stage in Washington, Bezos name-checked the "manufactured worlds" first conceptualized by O'Neill, saying it would be possible to create colonies with mass transit, agriculture and residential space, and even specific colonies designed for recreation or zero-G flight. 

Bezos also unveiled a lunar lander, known as Blue Moon, that would help provide the early infrastructure on the moon to begin humankind's expansion into space. 

But the futuristic space colonies? They're a long way off. At the event in Washington, Bezos laid out his ideas for a multigenerational drive toward space colonization, admitting he wouldn't be the one to actually get us all into our futuristic habitats.

"Who is going to do this work?" he said. "Not me. These kids in the front rows -- you guys are going to do this and your children are going to do this."

So before you get too excited about living in a transparent cylinder in space, just remember it's not just around the corner. And considering that the fully budgeted plan put forward by NASA and Stanford more than 40 years ago is still a pipe dream, it might be a while before you call the movers' truck to help you relocate into space. 

To learn more about Blue Origin's big plans to live off Earth, check out this week's episode of Watch This Space. You can catch the whole series on CNET and YouTube