The Humanity of Space
Whether you believe in it or not, everyone is intrigued by magic. If you were given a magic wand for a day, what would you do with it? What if you found a magic lamp, and a genie emerged to grant you three wishes? Magic as a thought experiment is a creative tool that activates our imagination and enables our minds to be unimpeded by perceived boundaries of what is possible within our universe.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” — Arthur C. Clarke
Arthur C. Clarke, arguably the most famous science fiction writer in history, proposed a trio of adages, the third of which states that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic”. It’s difficult to disagree with this. Last century, science fiction writers did their best to take our imaginations on adventures, exploring the results of the most far fetched and apparently inevitable technologies.
Today, despite the fact our “hover boards” still have wheels on the ground and flying vehicles aren’t the norm (yet), a lot of imagined technology explored by science fiction writers has already arrived, and in many cases we can reflect and laugh at the proposed technology because it already seems so old by today’s standards.
Humankind is defined by the technology that we have collectively developed. This is, quite literally, what makes us human. Our path of evolution over millions of years has been forged by our ability to develop new technologies and evolve with them, whether it be cooking food, communicating through language, and maybe soon, living in space. In a way, humanity is the universe’s way of exploring and understanding itself.
We are not only inspired by rockets and satellites themselves, but by the opportunities that our imaginations unlock when we see a rocket tearing through the stratosphere, when we switch from considering the scarcity of living within a confined bubble, to the abundance of the infinite universe.
To be human is to strive and to build a better place for all — a utopia. Technology is our way of leveraging our available resources in pursuit of achieving our magical visions.
Our Giant Leap
Recently, we’ve used our knowledge of science and engineering to make robotics more ubiquitous and useful for increasing numbers of people. Technologies based in hardware, software, or a combination of both, are able to automate tasks and ultimately empower people to achieve more as an individual average person. Electric toothbrushes, cyclone vacuum cleaners, self cleaning ovens, virtual email assistants and autonomous vehicles are all small examples of this.
Today, we’re at the cusp of a great paradigm shift. The ability to design and build powerful robots is well within reach of the average person. Technology has become so advanced that an individual can today launch a piece of technology into space, with commercial potential, for less than the cost of a fast food franchise. Over the last few decades we saw “software eating the world”. Many of our lives have been enriched by the abundance brought directly to us through the internet and the virtual universes enhancing our physical reality.
Despite all the magic the software boom brought to our fingertips, it hasn’t changed the tragedy that we remain physically limited by the resources within the confines of our Pale Blue Dot.
However, entrepreneurs and minimally funded teams today are inventing the infrastructure that is enabling humanity to truly break free and to access the boundless opportunities that we were promised during the space race.
Billion dollar companies are being forged by passionate entrepreneurs building satellites out of smartphone electronics. With spacecraft and satellites getting smaller and more powerful due to terrestrial technology advances, entirely new space launch markets are emerging with startups experimenting with new ways of sending small payloads into space, such as small rockets from hot air balloons.
An economy destined to encompass numerous industries in orbit is starting to form. Pharmaceutical companies are looking to leverage the conditions of space, such as micro gravity, to research and manufacture new medicines. Small teams beyond the traditional aerospace titans are developing novel propulsion systems to eventually build ‘space tugs’ so that old satellites can be recycled or moved into different orbits. In fact, some companies are creating orbital refueling stations, so that satellites don’t need to be launched with 50% of their weight being fuel that dictates the end of its life.
The entire space economy is being transformed thanks to minimally funded entrepreneurs and advancing robotics technologies, and this is leading humanity towards the ‘cislunar’ economy — an extraterrestrial economy of organisations conducting trade between many different industries, in the space between the earth and the moon.
If you’re a big thinking scientist, engineer or entrepreneur today, you’re well placed to lead the charge for humankind to take its great leap into the infinite.