Whatever happened to the future?
I never thought I was going to get flying cars. I never thought I was going to get a jetpack.
But I did think I was going to get a future in space.
Of all the things that we were promised in the 1950s and 1960s, space flight, especially within our solar system, was the one thing that was actually within our reach.
And it never happened.
People who write about the future that never came often throw in the flying cars, the jetpacks and other fits of wishful thinking as a way of discrediting those of us who truly want to know why the realizable ones never happened.
Why did they never happen? Why did we go from “we choose to go to the moon and do these other things not because they are easy but because they are hard”* to “Hey, let’s make it to low Earth orbit and call it a day”?
Project Orion would have given us rockets at least ten times as powerful as a Saturn V. Instead, we got the space shuttle, an admirable work horse for low Earth orbit, but not something to build a future on.
Even then, when opportunities presented themselves, they were missed were shameful. The large fuel tank that the shuttle used for less than 9 minutes of each launch was jettisoned and fell back to Earth, discarded. This was, by definition, an airtight environment, and at least part of it was only used to hold liquid oxygen and wouldn’t have been hazardous for humans to rescue. In fact the structure of the liquid oxygen part of the tanks would have made it usable without modification. It was a ready-made human space habitat (or even habitats on the moon).
Instead we just threw it away, not once, but a hundred and thirty-four times!
I know there’s renewed interest in space, partially from governments and partially from the private sector. And it’s good to see smaller countries getting motivate abut space. But it’s all too little too late. What should have happened twenty years ago, won’t happen for another thirty or forty. Yes, I might still be here, but I won’t be in a condition to go to space.
– – – –
*We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one we intend to win. --John F Kennedy, Sept. 12, 1962