For many of us, we are familiar with the Cloud City from Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, but in our future it might no longer become a thing of science fiction and just become a reality. In order to materialize that reality, lots of studying would involve analyzing the climate, the sun, the winds, and the political implications of these flying cities.
Speculations have been posited by NASA that cloud civilizations might appear in planets like Venus, primarily since it has a denser atmosphere and yet a hotter surface than its brother-planet Earth, but what about Earth’s own skies? More specifically, cloud colonies would need to be established in the lower stratosphere, which is where the fundamental elements of the climate can be monitored there, containing chemicals such as ozone and methane.
The facilities that would be built to inhabit this part of our planet would include blimps, air-ships, and floating stations. Of course, the irony occurs when a field so expansive can be so limiting, in terms of the technological facilities that would be created. In the case of the Argentinian-Italian artist Tomas Saraceno, he proposed using solar balloons to explore the atmosphere and possibly inhabit it. The science behind solar balloons originated in the 1970’s by the CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales), which is reliant on the radiation of the sun to lift into the air. Of course, any chemical lighter than air would be needed to lift these new cities, such as helium, hot air, and/or hydrogen.
Saraceno provides an interesting perspective into the concept of cloud colonization, since he was directly involved with a team in taking many disposed plastic bags, cutting them, drawing on them, and sewing them together to create a floating museum (which succeeded in floating). In 2007, the Aero-Solar Museum lifted into the air. This levitation was made possible by no form of fuel, rather directly from the sun’s heat penetrating the surface of the museum; while using the same scientific explanation as to how hot-air balloons are able to take off. If this can occur in this museum, Saraceno argued that it would be possible to create 200 kilograms of hot air per 2 people, which would lead to the creation of floating gardens and eventually floating cities.
Since he is an artist, he has provided a more interdisciplinary approach to the atmospheric science field by creating Cloud-City, an installment in that Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which envisions the intricate maze-like pathways that might be seen in a future flying city. I can definitely envision having to walk through a pathway like that in order to enter different sections of the same city. He started this research with his collaborations with people in the scientific community by “…asking architects, engineers, and scientists in diverse fields to imagine with him what a different reality might look like.”
Such an expansion on scientific innovation could bridge together the mythologies of the past with the innovations of the future, since flying cities were once the staple of mythologies, such as the Hindus who believed in the vimanas, or flying palaces and chariots. Perhaps these cities might be called vimanas, assuming the major religious authorities in Hinduism at that time period would approve of the neologism.
If not, then we can just draw upon the Greek language that has become so characteristic of scientific nomenclature. Suggestions would include ouranopolis, meaning “sky-city,” or nephopolis, meaning “cloud-city.” Since human habitation in the sky would be possible within the stratosphere, which is where the clouds are, then nephopolis would be the accurate neologism that would be used to designate this new form of settlement.
And just like how Venusian nephopoleswould adapt, the Earth nephopoles would need to adjust to the winds that blow in the isospheres, more specifically winds such as the ones from Saraceno’s experiment from January to July which blew at 25 miles per hour. Because of the winds that would become strong, the habitations would need to be stable, so domes would be created in which the actual cities would be founded and the gardens would be grown. I could just imagine looking out at the stratospheric horizons of blue-and-white, while I look below to see the cushions of helium and hydrogen that maintains the floatation of the nephopolis in where I live.
Of course, as Ryan from Star Wars Headquarters points out, that the Cloud City of Bespin has a crew to monitor the maintenance of the city’s engines. If that were to be the case, then the governments would revolve around maintaining the flight of their cities. Specifically, entire branches of the nephopolitan military (an air force to be exact) would be dedicated to preserving the city in order to ensure it does not collapse. Although Saraceno optimistically stated that although these nephopoles would interfere with the air space of every sovereign nation, the skies belong to no one. However, that would be true if there is no multitude of flying fortresses vying to hold a grip upon their space. Not only would the threat come from other nephopoles, but also the threat, if the human race really does use solar balloons, of the very notion of nighttime, which would inspire the most profane mythologies of destruction associated with the lack of sunlight. So another branch of the nephopolitan military would involve creating as much floatable light as possible in order to stay afloat (literally); or they might rely on the heat produced by the solar fluxes and the remaining infrared radiation at night. So basically, I would need to work on writing the instruction manuals needed for the various of applications to be used in the city, while enrolling in a floating technical college where I can rub shoulders with engine-maintainers, helium-capturers, and climatological surveyors.
Although there would be complications that would arise from the founding of nephopoles, there would equally be the awareness made towards the environmental damage we as humans cause, especially the prevalence of wasted plastic that motivated Saraceno to launch his experiment in 2007. So far, hints have been provided by nature itself as to how humans can inhabit the skies and possibly reduce fossil fuel emissions. Inhabiting the skies would definitely provide a much deeper connection between life on the surface and the rest of the Earth.