Future gadgets for the high-flying space tourist
By Tom Bailey. Illustrations by Gustavo Torres.
If we’re going to colonise space to save mankind, we might as well do it in style. Inspired by Ballantine’s Space Glass, Shortlist’s Technology Editor Tom Bailey dreams up eight things you’ll need to cut a dash in orbit…
In 2012, the space probe Voyager 1 became the first man made object to explore beyond our solar system. Launched back in 1977 by NASA, the journey took 36 years (to be fair, it was a 12 billion mile trip). And while we don’t yet know what lies beyond our galaxy, it proved a giant leap towards interstellar travel.
But if we are to live, travel and holiday in space in the not-so-distant future, will it actually be an enjoyable experience? After all, man cannot live on breathable air and drinkable water alone. So here we’ve compiled our ultimate list of space-age home comforts. From a stylish timepiece to a luxury interstellar jet; an organic garden to a next-generation smartphone, these are the comforts that we’ll need in writing before we drift away from earth…
Fun fact: Oral B’s latest electric toothbrush contains more computing power than the navigation equipment in the Apollo 12 moon rocket. But that only increases our bafflement that, in 2015, an iPhone battery can barely last a single day. It would fare even worse in space. The lack of gravity would see its battery expire just after breakfast. It wouldn’t survive the temperature changes, either, which can swing from a chilly -270 degrees Celsius to a volcanic 120 degrees when in direct sunlight. Few materials that could be found on earth resist those extremes, so it would make sense to switch to holographic smartphones; a device that would materialise in thin air and yet still be ‘there’ when you touched it. That way we could FaceTime our friends back on earth, sharpening up out aim by playing a Space Invaders app, and keep tabs on the latest interplanetary pop-up restaurants.
A traditional bionic bar
What makes a good bar? A skilled, friendly barman, certainly. Deep armchairs that you can sink into whilst putting the world to rights are a must. But beyond that, everyone has different tastes. Some like a projector showing the Champion’s League; others a selection of classic board games and house-made pork scratchings. But that’s the beauty of tomorrow’s interstellar bars. They could combine the atmosphere and style of your favourite Edwardian snug with tomorrow’s have-it-all technology. Bionic barmen already exist, in the shape of the Makr Shakr. Each of its robot arms function as a mechanised mixologist — patrons simply tap an iPad to order your preferred drinks. They’re so precise, in fact, that they can even garnish an Old Fashioned with a cherry. Just imagine a tailored experience, staffed by ‘bots who make the perfect drink every time, and patron who could control everything via their iPads. You could crowd-source the best whisky for the bar, collectively choose the music and even device the closing time. If that doesn’t enable humanity’s future in space, we don’t know what will.
Dining in space would be a tricky business. Never mind sweeping up the crumbs — you’d have to catch them first. But, joking aside, food is a subject that NASA takes very seriously; an errant crumb could contaminate delicate scientific instruments. Hence ‘space meals’ — the adult baby food in pouches that astronauts squeeze directly into their mouths. The food isn’t expensive, but firing a tube of meat paste up to the International Space Station is. The ‘postage’ costs about $10,000 per lb of food. So forget that. Instead, we’d like to grow our own fresh fruit and vegetables. We’d built a compact vertical garden inside our (oxygenated) space home, which could be watered and cared for by A.I.-controlled sprinklers and sun lamps. And alongside our astro-garden we’d need a super-chilled fridge to keep the kale harvest fresh. The odd steak would nice as well. Heavy on the Himalayan rock salt — zero gravity really does dull the senses.
Zero-G 3D Printer
Man has long dreamed of colonising outer space. But will the tranquillity of the solar system soon be spoilt by a chain of intergalactic superstores? Let’s hope not — and that we’ve learned a few lessons about sustainability from our experience on earth. With that in mind, a 3D printer would be a must. Not only would it be able to fabricate replacement parts for our space station, but it could print out replacement human organs (the cost would be covered by our travel insurance, of course). Bioprinting technology already exists, and is capable of using live cells as ‘ink’ to print spare tissue, so printing human organs should soon be possible. The other useful thing about 3D printers is that they can also print food. The Foodini, for example, can print out a superbly-juicy hamburger using cartridges filled with organic meat and spices. Of course, we’d have to be careful. We wouldn’t want to get the organ printer mixed up with the food printer.
Private Space Jet
The exploration of space in the 1960s was a remarkable page in history — a tale of triumph, despair and extraordinary courage. But while the ‘space race’ might not be splashed all over the newspapers these days, engineers are designing and testing more new manned spacecraft than at any other time in our history. One of our favourites has to be the Sierra Nevada Space Systems Dream Chaser, a kind of private space jet for tomorrow’s intergalactic billionaires (we can dream). Designed to shuttle between earth and a luxurious pied-a-terre in orbit, it features fin-like wings that fold up, allowing for the fitting of non-toxic propulsion rockets. The ride is smooth enough give the top speed of 17,500mph. So smooth in fact, that passengers could sip a fine Ballantine’s whisky. We’d spec out our Dream Chaser out with a panoramic glass roof and a cocktail cabinet. We’d like a humidor, too, but cigars and rocket fuel don’t really mix.
Luxe Hibernation Suit
Just as Concorde made it possible to cross the Atlantic in half the time of traditional airliners, new space technology has cut the time it takes to reach the international space station from two days to six hours. Still, if we want to explore the further reaches of the solar system, scientists say we’ll need to master the art of hibernating. Clearly, with journeys stretching into months and years, we’ll need more than just a good movie and two fingers of whisky. So while we’re napping, we’d like to be wearing a bespoke sleep suit. The durable Kevlar exterior would be extravagantly lined with Loro Piana’s superfine vicuña (sustainably harvested from a hornless gazelle that resides in the Andes). How soft is vicuña wool? Well, put it this way: it’s six times as expensive as cashmere. Nano-sensors would monitor our vital signs during the journey, while built-in virtual reality goggles would transport us to a sunny roof terrace in LA or a vibrant gaming arcade in Tokyo.
Robot Personal Trainer
It’s not strictly true to say that there isn’t any gravity in space. In fact, there is a small amount of gravity — scientists call it microgravity. The only reason that orbiting spacecraft don’t come crashing down to earth is that they are moving forwards at 17,000mph. Nonetheless, the effect of weightlessness on the body can be extreme: muscles lose mass and bones weaken. NASA estimates that astronauts lose up to 15% of their muscle volume on a mission. So if we are to prevent future space sojourns resulting in atrophy, we’ll need a luxurious space gym. Pumping iron in space is something that NASA encourages. Its iRED resistance device has pistons that simulate free-weight training. But it’s a fairly agricultural device. This is the future for heaven’s sake! Why can’t we have a robot personal trainer — worn like an exoskeleton — that works out our muscles for us? And could it not scream clichéd motivational aphorisms like, ‘Your body achieves what your mind believes’?
As any horology geek will tell you, the first watch to be worn on the moon was an Omega Speedmaster. But while it proved super-reliable — not to mention stylish — NASA’s shuttles required something even more accurate. They used Bulova Accutron clocks, a curious Cold War technology that kept time using tiny tuning forks that vibrate 360 times a second. If you do ever visit the moon, look out for one — it was abandoned on the lunar surface by the crew.
But that was half a century ago. The modern interstellar explorer has a much wider choice of timepieces built to function without gravity. Perhaps most impressive is the MB&F Space Pirate. Its tourbillon movement is made to keep time in weightless environments and it benefits from a radiation shield. Oh, and the design is inspired by 1970s cartoon <Captain Future>. OK, so it costs £150,000, but there’s nothing we’d change about it. Save for adding a laser. Because lasers are cool, right?
We’ll take whisky with us.
For more information on Ballantine’s Space Glass explore our Medium publication.
Illustration Credit: Gustavo Torres, as seen on Vice Motherboard