End of an Era

Futurist Zoe Brain laments that, sometimes, the Tea Leaves show things that are not all that comforting. Here’s what appeared recently, in her Earl Grey…


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It was some 550 years ago that the first great age of exploration ended, when the Chinese Ming Dynasty stopped all intercontinental trans-oceanic expeditions — expeditions that had explored much of the Pacific, and reached all the way to Africa. A nation that had built up seafaring technology far ahead of anything the world would see for hundreds of years abandoned it because it had ‘better things to do with the money’.

The USA had a commanding technological lead in crewed space vehicles in 1975. But, by 2015, it had no capability at all. By announcing the cancellation of the ‘Space Exploration Initiative’, the Obama administration merely recognised that, while the technology was there, the whole space program had become merely a way to ration Pork from the Pork-Barrel, with project after project being cancelled half-complete, as the money was re-allocated to different Congressional Districts in turn. The money that was saved added almost one per cent to the funding of the new Educational Initiatives — and every bit helped.

This did not mean a great deal to the average American, although it was a blow to national pride. But, by then, U.S.-based private corporations were starting to institute commercial space flights for the ultra-rich — at first, sub-orbital hops and, ten years later, launches to hotels in Low Earth Orbit and trans-polar flights from New York to Tokyo for those to whom time was money and an hour worth a half million. Additional traffic was generated by the increasing number of Chinese orbital construction facilities starting in 2025. These were built with components ferried up by un-crewed Heavy Lift rockets — which still had a distressing tendency to explode now and then — but the crews were taken up in comfort and safety, mainly by American commercial spacecraft.

It was only with the first commercial fusion plants coming on-line in 2050 that the importance of the 15-year-old Chinese Lunar Colony became obvious. He3 was needed by the new technology as fuel and the only large-scale commercially practicable source was refined lunar soil. All that was needed to deliver the refined product was a simple-to-construct solar-powered magnetic catapult to launch the one-ton canisters back to Earth. The Moon became the new Saudi Arabia.

The Era of Space Exploration was over — the Era of Space Development had begun.

“In German — or English — I know how to Count Down…
And I’m learning Chinese,” said Wehrner von Braun…

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