I have a vision of the future. An idea of what our post-modern world will look like in ten, twenty, or fifty years from now, when we’re old and gray and our children are running things far more capably than we ever could thanks to the efficiency of technological toys they’ll no doubt take for granted (I assume everyone in the future will be wearing Google glasses and riding segways… basically, a generation of Gob Bluth lookalikes). To be fair and give credit where credit is due, I am not the original dreamer of this dream. The dream has taken shape and been molded from the images I’ve seen on my TV screen over the course of my life. But those dreams are starting to become reality, and much faster than I expected.
For years now I have assumed that our future would end up a lot like the films Alien, The Fifth Element, and Soylent Green. The average Earthling spending his days trapped in any one of a thousand tiny cube- apartments, which in turn are contained in massive towers that reach into the skies for miles. Maybe the lucky few who escape the cramped environment of the cities make their way onto space-transports, in an effort to mine and collect raw materials shipped to all-powerful conglomerates for minimum wage and a class-dictated bonus situation.
Which is pretty much what’s happening (albeit without the malicious facehuggers) with two present-day companies – Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries (DSI). Both are currently driving to create the tech that would allow them to be the first asteroid mining concerns, and according to their websites and press releases, they are making significant headway.
DSI made news two weeks ago when they announced they plan to send out small satellites, called “Fireflies” (tip of the cap to Joss Whedon who continues to influence generations of nerds), to prospect near-Earth asteroids within the next two years. The extraction process would continue by launching slightly larger “Dragonflies” that would collect samples that would be returned to Earth for analysis, and finally by large-scale commercial operations that would commence as early as 2020.
Planetary Resources is also working on robotic space craft that would do similar jobs by 2015, and until now they’ve been the leaders in the race towards asteroid-mining. Their list of financial backers include Larry Page (co-founder and CEO of Google), and Eric Schmidt, Google’s executive chairman. Also on board in a more advisory capacity is James Cameron (who of course directed Aliens).
A further sign of things to come is the recent petition that was put to the White House by the American people, who asked ever-so-politely that their government build them a fully-operational Death Star. The White House declined to move forward with the project, citing potential construction costs of $850,000,000,000,000,000 as one of their key reasons for not building the planet-destroying space station. It should be noted, however, that the official White House rejection letter was maybe the greatest piece of writing ever to come out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, which may point to a more open-minded generation of government. Unfortunately this won’t help a recent similar request to begin work on a Starship Enterprise.
And then there’s the intrepid Elon Musk, founder of Paypal and (more importantly) of SpaceX, a private company which is currently focusing on building reusable launch vehicles and space craft for delivering personnel and payloads to the International Space Station. In May of 2012, SpaceX became the first private entity to successfully send a space craft to the space station. Musk has stated that the company was built with the goal in mind of helping create the first permanent human colony on Mars.
That’s his job. Trying to put men on Mars.
Onto 3D printing, which might be one of the more accessible and practical tech advances for the average man. Once the stuff of Star Trek lore, this new process has made it possible for anyone to create their own components with raw materials. I must have been asleep for the decades that his technology was developing, because though it has been evolving for years, it has very quickly exploded into commercial application. In 2002, scientists made a miniature kidney that was able to produce animal urine (yay!). In 2008, they made a printer that in essence could replicate itself by re-printing the majority of its own components, which shouldn’t worry mankind at all. And post-2008, man has been able to print prosthetics, blood vessels, and even planes and cars. Hopefully, synthale and Milla Jovovich won’t be too far behind.
And if that’s not enough proof that the imagined sci-fi futures of our childhoods is actualizing – last September, a Chinese businessman tried addressing the insane smog issue in his country by starting production of soda cans filled with clean air. For just 80 cents you can buy your very own can of air, which comes in a variety of flavors (like “Pristine Tibet “and “Post-Industrial Taiwan”). I feel like I’ve seen this before. Oh, right.