Thursday, July 21, 2011

a great leap backwards

'That's a small step for Man, a giant leap for mankind,' fluffed Neil Armstrong when he was the fourth person to step on the Moon in 1969. (The first three were Lionel Jeffries, Edward Judd and his girlfriend in 1900 of course).

1969 was the same year that Concorde was launched.

Perhaps 1969 was the peak year of human progress. US oil peaked the next year. Since then we've been treading water and now it seems like the whole world is drowning.

Yes, the final space shuttle flight has just landed, the shuttle, like Concorde, now destined for a museum. So what's happening?

Firstly the US is the world's poorest country, it really can't afford to continue in space.

Secondly, and more importantly, peak oil is clearly on us. The space programme has been fueled by oil, not nuclear power. Even the US can't justify the spiralling cost, even if it is putting it on the national credit card.

Obama, despite appearances, isn't stupid. He knows the reality of the energy crisis. He knows that there's little point in wasting vast amounts of increasingly scarce energy on a project that's doomed to failure precisely because of the nature of the energy crisis.

Sci fi writers have always seen our future in space, the human race gradually spreading out amongst the stars. Sadly it's not going to happen, at least not in the next few millenia.

Firstly we have to find a way of continuing technological progress without easy oil. That will take centuries. We're going to go through the most enormous upheaval over the next couple of decades as climate change and peak oil REALLY kick in. Civilization will practically collapse, we'll all return to subsistance farming and perhaps, if we're lucky, driving trams or steam trains, making furniture or frowing wood. Probably for centuries that will be all we do. The space race will become a distant fairy tale. We'll be too busy surviving to build spaceships. But eventually, once we've all adjusted and once we start progressing again in a solar economy we may find a way to get out into space again. And this time it won't be a race with an end. We really will get out amongst the stars.
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