Life in a Doughnut-Shaped World: NASA Artwork From the 70’s

In the 1970’s NASA and Stanford University held three space colony studies. Attendants of the course produced artistic renderings that showed what could theoretically be possible in a future inter-planetary world. This doughnut-shaped world was a pristine, insular and remarkably beautiful space sanctuary called the Stanford Torus. Click on the images below to magnify and view slideshow…

All images are Creative Commons and courtesy of NASA on Flickr.

Facts about the Stanford Torus

  • A torus or doughnut-shaped ring, that is 1.8 km in diameter
  • This proposed design was put forward to theoretically house 10,000 to 140,000 people.
  • Sunlight would be provided to the interior of the torus by a system of mirrors.
  • Part of the ring would be dedicated to agriculture and part to housing.
  • Total mass: 10 million tons (including radiation shield (95%), habitat, and atmosphere)
  • Habitation tube diameter: 130 m (430 ft)
  • Spokes: 6 spokes of 15 m (49 ft) diameter
  • Rotation: 1 revolution per minute
  • Radiation shield: 1.7 meters (5.6 feet) thick raw lunar soil


In the excellent film Elysium starring Jodie Foster and Matt Damon, an elite group of French speaking people live on a doughnut-shaped space station, whereas the poor, tired and powerless masses live on a post-apocalyptic earth. Aside from being a socialist analogy and a rollicking good film, the fictive space utopia looked exactly like the NASA photographs, which was far from a coincidence.

Neill Blomkamp, Director of the film was inspired by these 1970’s drawings when he conceived of the film’s aesthetics.

“Back in the ’70s, people were actually discussing the idea of leaving Earth and building space stations for us to potentially live on one day,” the movie’s director Neill Blomkamp said in the film’s production notes. “One of the top answers to that challenge was the Stanford Torus. I like the idea of taking this well-known concept and caking it with wealth, diamonds and Bel Air-style mansions — the idea, the image of putting these exorbitant, ridiculous mansions on a doughnut-shaped space station is hilarious to me, and it becomes something I want to make a movie about.”

Is the Stanford Torus possible?

According to science website i09, the space disc portrayed in the film Elysium would lack the shield necessary (at least according to current thinking) to block debris and radiation.

Everybody living on Elysium would suffer from the effects of radiation poisoning constantly.

Read More

Elysium Space Station Fiction or Possibility?

Wikipedia: The Stanford Torus

Flickr: More NASA Space Colony images


Published by Content Catnip

Content Catnip is a quirky internet wunderkammer written by an Intergalactic Space Māori named Content Catnip. Join me as I meander through the quirky and curious aspects of history, indigenous spirituality, the natural world, animals, art, storytelling, books, philosophy, travel, Māori culture and loads more.

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