The other day a friend saw that cool reusable Falcon 9R rocket video and he wondered where the hell are the spaceliners of the future — the epitome of them all being Pan Am’s space clipper Orion, from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001. I think about that myself many times. Why haven’t we advanced in propulsion technology? We are not thinking big enough.
We are still using brute force to put humans in orbit, rehashing old technology already polished by Sergey Korolyov, Von Braun and the Apollo engineers. There’s no heavy investment in alternative propulsion technologies, and politicians keep ignoring what could be one of humanity’s greatest economic and technological booms since the industrial revolution.
Top images: Orion from the Space Air Show — a site you must visit if you don’t know it.
It’s all about the money and humans’ inability to focus and plan on anything beyond five years, a natural brain limitation we have to live with. Instead of thinking in decades and generations, we think about the next two, three or five years, at most. Everything, from politics to economics to media to technology, is tied to some short-term cycle — elections coming every two years; industrial roller coasters of supply and demand; smartphone, smartablet, smartass releases.
These timeframes and our lack of long-term vision puts the use of our limited resources into shortsighted goals. There are no big plans backed by big economic resources since the time of Apollo.
Suborbital airliner concept by Lockheed Martin
These are also the factors that make us so shortsighted about the environment or planning worldwide, long term strategies to end with the many endemic evils and sicknesses that destroy the lives of humans, animals and plants throughout the world.
The Orion, from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Instead, we focus most of our economic resources on squeezing industrial resources that are variations of early 20th century technology. Or worse, making big bucks on stupid apps and social networks. Instead of making science the source of our wellbeing and the scientific method the rule to bind it all, we just drag our feet and keep thinking with the same selfish parameters used by 15th century humans. Only a few scientists — compared to those of us who do nothing but watch Game of Thrones and tweet — dare to think bigger, battling against all obstacles.
I’m pessimistic today. The future will never come to us this way. At least not to any of the people alive on Earth today. Paraphrasing Eddie Izzard, we got the doors from Star Trek. the ones that go swooooosh — and that’s about it.
The Rockwell X-30, a testament of an era when America dreamt big.
Another view of the Rockwell X-30, showing its scramjet technology.
Different views and concepts for the German SpaceLiner, a suborbital, hypersonic, passenger transport being studied by the German Aerospace Center.
The British Skylon. Not a passenger plane, but at least thinking differently.
Different concepts for spaceliners by the great Robert McCall.
Europe’s Suborbital Space Plane by EADS (Airbus Group)