I can still remember the first time that I flew on an airplane. I was a teenager, and I flew from Philadelphia to Denver to go on a ski trip with my brother. It was a weird experience. Even though all indications were that this would be fun, I didn’t know what to expect. As it turned out, the plane ride was less stressful than staring down from the top of a double diamond peak. Whoa Daddy! And it didn’t help as hip looking swingers zoomed by, seemingly unfazed by the prospect of what seemed to me to be certain death. Anyway, down I went … errr … face first, and more than once. But I did get beyond the initial disasters. And when I got home I could boast about my bold and amazing exploits.
Interesting - the plane ride was no big deal, but my personal challenge at the top of the slope was an eye opener. It was that personal sense of a new kind of threat that the plane toned down with smiling stewardesses and a meal and the ski slope toned up.
That sense of personal challenge was very similar to an experience that I had back when I was around 5 or so and learning how to swim. One day the instructor said “ok, line up along the side of the pool, put your hands over your heads, and lean forward so your hands hit the water first.” Hmmm … lean forward … and just fall? Yikes! I confess, I was not thrilled about the idea. All evidence suggested that it could be done. Others had survived it, and even seemed to enjoy it. But I had never done it and it looked decidedly scary. Plus, I had mastered the idea of gravity effects. Up to that very moment, I made a direct association between falling forward with stuff like getting bonked in the face, perhaps a nose bleed, along with possible bruised knees and perhaps worse. My prior experience told me what was waiting for me. Well, to make a long story short, I finally was coaxed in. But if I recall correctly, I was grumbling under my breath even as I hit the water, still expecting the worst. Later I told my mom, “It was no big deal.” Yeah, right.
I mention these to make a point about space. Outer space. We are all in awe of this because the large majority of us have never been there. Plus, from stories that we hear as well as movies like Gravity, the vehicles that take one to space and hopefully back, are not all that human friendly. Things look out of control. Weird and wild. Like my view down the ski slope or into the watery depths.
So we gawk at weird stuff like the recent news of the comet that flew by earth, headed towards a fly around of the sun. Or quantum mechanics calculations that suggest black holes are portals to other universes.
But several hundred years from now, someone might smile when he or she reads this - perhaps while dining in an inner orbit space trip (New York to Tokyo in 2 hours, 3 with the delays at the space ports that they still have not worked out). “My how primitive people were in 2013.” Just like you might smile about my misadventures. Those folks in the future will be on the other side of experiences that we haven’t had yet. Perhaps they will enjoy vacations in the chic Andromeda Galaxy and a bit of black hole skiing! Hmmm … I wonder what the chair lifts will look like.
I like that idea of experience as a gateway. We need to go through it before we understand it. Very interesting!
FOLLOW UP - We seem to be on the verge of a less scary but also novel experience - with drones. A short time ago, these were something that only the military used. Then we saw a few quadcopter drones. It was just this July that I saw an amazing video of a drone film as it was suspended just over Niagra Falls. And there is a very cool video shot from a drone showing sky views of Manhattan. And there is a lot more. Like this incredible video of a drone swarm that Lexus put out to persuade us that they are up on technology.
Now Amazon has just announced that it will start a premium delivery service via drone quadcopter. It is novel now, but after a few experiences, we will wonder how we lived without it.
“You mean, you didn’t have drone delivery back in 2012! Poor you!”
Yes, drones are here. They will do cool stuff, like fast delivery, airborne detection, rescue, and perhaps even micro drones will someday shoot down — or better yet vaporize —- pesky mosquitoes. Remember that buzzing sound that gets louder and louder just as you are nodding off? No problem. And there will be an annoying aspects. Is that a drone looking in the window, or am I imagining things? BTW, there has already been a drone quadcopter accident in New York. Should be interesting.
Tying all this together, I would not be overly surprised if drone technology makes space transport easier. My backyard quadcopter might evolve into a pilotless space vehicle. Don’t believe it? Well, just check out how primitive the Wright Bros. first plane looks to us. I don’t think that Wilbur and Ovrille — as clever as they were — ever dreamed of quadcopters. BTW, Michio Kaku is very good at talking about how these trends are evolving in a more general way. Better yet, he has a good sense of humor. Notice though, that some of the stuff he talks about back in 2009 already seems a bit quaint.
2d FOLLOW UP - If you enjoyed the above, there was a classic episode of the TV series Cheers that deals with our craving for and fear of the new in a very funny way. I highly recommend it.