Greetings From The Future!

Dear younger David:

Greetings from The Future! Well, the future for you, the present for me. Although, actually, I’m writing this post one day and post-dating it to publish another, so kind of the future for me, too. I know that means nothing to you, but we’ll get back to that.

So our dad just picked up a paperback copy of the Arthur C. Clarke novel 2010: Odyssey Two.which, not so coincidentally, happens to be the year that I’m writing this from.

If I recall, you haven’t yet seen either of the movies, but you’ve made a rather impressive start for an elementary school student at reading 2001: A Space Odyssey. Be proud, it’s a tough book.

It’s also, it turns out, utterly unreliable. From where you’re sitting, in the early 80s, and being an elementary school student, and an overly optimistic one at that, you don’t yet have any concept that there’s is no way we’re going to have lunar bases or interplanetary missions by 2001.

Sadly, here in 2010, it’s no better. The Leonov spacecraft remains as far out of reach today as the Discovery was in 2001. No missions to Jupiter, I’m afraid. Or Mars. Or even the moon. We’re even about to stop flying the space shuttle, something that will become more imaginable to you in two or three years, I’m afraid. The future of NASA is rather wide-open right now. Which is not necessarily a bad thing — there are a few certainties, but that means there’s a lot of possibilities.

There were some things Clarke got right. There were even some interesting things he got wrong. That joint U.S.-U.S.S.R. mission in 2010? The fall of the Soviet Union is closer in time to you than it is to me. Practically just around the corner, and the great futurist couldn’t see it. Politics are even more unpredictable than science, it appears.

None of that is to say that there haven’t been huge leaps forward in technology in the years between us. It’s just not in the way you would hope. There’s a guy out there named Steve Jobs. I would tell you to read about him, but, to be honest, I don’t remember now how you would do that. You won’t have the internet for years. You don’t even have Wired magazine. Looking back, it’s such a different world that it’s hard to imagine. Anyway, point being, computers are going to do things you can’t even imagine. And, get this, the most amazing part of life in 2010 is the telephone. Yeah, I know, just hear me out. OK, imagine your telephone. Now, imagine there was no cord on it. Now imagine it was smaller. Now imagine it could play games and take pictures and make you as close as human beings can come to omniscient.

But if you’re like me, and, pretty much by definition, you are, all the little ways life is better are only consolations against the future that didn’t happen — the leaps and bounds in personal technology are nice, but you were hoping for leaps and bounds through the solar system.

There’s hope. Last week, this company called SpaceX put a capsule in orbit and brought it back down. No people on it, but it’s a vehicle that could carry people. On the one hand, it doesn’t compare to Apollo, decades ago. Or even Mercury, yet. But it’s a private company doing it. It’s a huge step closer to people like us making it into space, and its a huge step closer to people making money in space. And when there’s money to be made in space, there’s going to be money spent getting into space. And when that happens, space is going to open up like never before. So maybe it’s not what you were hoping for. But it is cool, trust me. And, hey, you can trust me — after all, I’m kind of an expert, thanks to … but that would be telling.

And, in the meantime, there will be more Star Wars movies. But, then, you’ll have to wait a long time, and they really won’t be worth it. So never mind. But, hey, I’m about to go see the new Tron movie in a few days. That’s gotta be worth something, right?

Take care. Have fun. Hug your grandmother for me.