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Posted at 01:00 PM ET, 04/17/2012

Space Shuttle touches down — this is the wrong future


It’s nice to look up together. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite) (J. Scott Applewhite - AP)
The Space Shuttle discovery just flew over the city and touched down for the last time at Dulles.

Now it’s joining a museum. The museum is full of other flying machines and space devices — relics, in another word, of what we once thought the future was going to look like.

And wouldn’t you know, I missed it. It’s like the Ray Bradbury short story set on Venus, where the sun comes out only two hours every seven years and you’re stuck in the closet for the duration. I think the only solution is another multi-billion-dollar space program.

But thinking of Ray Bradbury makes me wonder.

Once, if you asked people what the future held, they said something along the lines of, “Flying cars and Mars colonies.” Rockets everywhere! Robots! Alien copilots! Slipping the surly bonds of earth, or the mildly irritable bonds of earth, and touching the face of who knew what.

There was a time when our imagination was directed outward, beyond the rim of the starlight to galaxies far, far away. Now, we barely look up from our smartphones long enough to see the shuttle fly over. The closest we get to starships is when Nicki Minaj sings about them.

When we pictured museums full of space shuttles, it was with the understanding that the air would be full of newer, more operational space shuttles. But somehow that half of the equation fell away. There’s so much cool futuristic stuff here. Why leave the planet? I’m in the middle of a game of Draw Something.

It’s not as though Futuristic Events aren’t happening.

Buzz for a performing hologram of Tupac is blowing up.

Holographic performers? Autotune? Cyborg presidential candidates? All very well, but I miss the vintage future of space cowboys and rocket launches.

We’re surrounded by futuristic gadgets, but we take them for granted. Voices in our phones answer our questions. We have Segways! The Internet exists. And yet — if we want to get off the planet, we’ll soon be dependent upon the benevolence of Rebel Billionaire Richard Branson and SpaceX.

Innovation these days happens silently. There is no moment when you show up at the craft guild and notice that a power loom has replaced Swift-Fingered Wilhelm. Instead, everything is continually evolving around us. Phones upgrade. We take it for granted that in a few years whatever we are holding will be obsolete. But the price of that constant innovation is that the Big Moments are fewer and farther between. Apple debuts a new phone. Holotupac shows up in your town. But seldom do we all get together and squint into the morning sky.

Is this how the future looks?

By  |  01:00 PM ET, 04/17/2012

Tags:  space

 
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