Are we going backwards?

Is anyone else slightly disillusioned with the state of the world today? I mean, don’t get me wrong, human beings have done wonderful things. We’ve managed to make computers small enough to fit into your pocket, but powerful enough that they can do almost anything a full sized computer can. We can fit more data into a space barely bigger than a credit card than once upon a time could be fit into a whole room. From sitting here where I’m sitting now, I can (for the right price) gain access to any scientific journal, any book, any music that has ever been published in the world, and if I can’t have it delivered straight to my screen, I can expect most things to be delivered to my door within three working days.

But seriously… This isn’t exactly the fourth great and bountiful human empire. Frankly, I’m a little disappointed that in the 27 or so years I’ve existed on this big ball of rock and gasses, human technology has, in many ways, stagnated.

Take Concorde here. A flight from New York to Paris on one of these beauties used to take under 3.5 hours. Over twice as fast as it’s best competitor and significantly quicker than any “modern” aircraft can manage. In fact I still remember, as a child, listening out for the sound of Concorde breaking the sound barrier as it passed overhead. Concorde was a wonderful piece of engineering which, at least for civillians, has yet to be surpassed. Yet this technology lies decaying slowly in a hangar somewhere. BA decided not to sell them when they were decomissioned (despite offers from Virgin) and now the only options for supersonic passenger travel are to spend millions refurbishing the near-derelict Concorde fleet or to spend billions developing a new version. Human technology, now lost. What a waste.

And what of the Space Shuttle? NASA are agonising over whether to push their luck and keep the shuttles flying or to decomission them in 2010 and leave the ISS out of their reach for years while they build a replacement spacecraft. Frankly, I’m not too enamoured with the replacement they’re building. The Orion looks suspiciously similar to those old Apollo craft they used for the Moon landings. Haven’t we moved on at all in 50 years? Is there no design of spacecraft they could chose other than pressurised tin can with a rocket engine? Why haven’t they already built the Space Shuttle’s successor vehicle? And as for the ISS, in terms of design, style, engineering and construction, it could most readily be described as Mir v2.0.

I’ve heard it said before that the Apollo missions were driven by “the kind of single mindedness a nation normally reserves for war”. Therein, I fear, is probably the main reason why human technology is stagnating. It seems, us dreamers are going to have to wait until the private sector can afford to work on these problems, because the governments are quite content to chase their tails.

About Invader Xan

Molecular astrophysicist, usually found writing frenziedly, staring at the sky, or drinking mojitos.
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