We read all these stories the moment they popped onto our screens, just as we'll read all the space-exploration stories to come -- we love this stuff. But that said, those stories didn't deliver the same thrill they would have 25 years ago. And we doubt very much that the next quarter-century will be much different. (We assumed we'd see men on Mars by now; at today's pace, we'd be pleasantly surprised if our grandkids do.)
Start with the space shuttle. Without taking anything away from the astronauts, the biggest accomplishments of the Discovery mission were that a) it came back; and b) an astronaut pulled bits of cloth out from between tiles. Moreover, NASA had already announced future flights will be grounded because the agency can't keep foam from falling off fuel tanks.Of course, while we didn't get Martian colonies, personal rocket cars, cocktail bars on the Moon, food pills or 80-lane hamster-tube highways snaking their way beneath the glass domes of shiny 21st-century cities, we did get a lot of things down here on Earth:
When we were kids, computers were hulking things off in universities that chattered and blinked mysteriously before spitting out reams of paper. Today, we feel guilty about putting exponentially more-powerful machines than those out on the curb. Back then if you wanted cash you structured your day around when you'd stand in line at the bank; today your choice might be between deli ATMs or settling a debt via PayPal. We have Web-enabled phones in our pockets, instant messaging at the office and can shop in our skivvies at 3 a.m. Wonders upon wonders -- it's only up in the heavens that we're a generation behind.
Which brings us back, unhappily, to the future all those sci-fi books of our youth described. Looking 25 more years down the road, we fear we'll find an amplified, more-depressing version of today: Maybe Real Time 2030 will fret about how our college kids do little more than steal full-res holographic porn when they're not getting their financial identities stolen by cyber-jihadists eager to build more backpack nukes.
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