I love rocket launches. They are loud, carry cool things into space, and last a surprisingly long time considering how fast the rocket is already traveling when it clears the tower. But I think we’re going to look back on this era of space travel and marvel that launches & rockets were our only means of getting things into and around space (planetary gravity assists notwithstanding). We’re already moving in that direction; the initial tests of a space sail inspired by Carl Sagan have been promising. Another space propulsion idea is to use spinning space tethers to whip smaller, slower space vehicles from relatively low altitudes to higher orbits or even to the Moon, Mars, or beyond. This video from Kurzgesagt explains how these tethers work and what we could do with them.
I believe Neal Stephenson wrote about space tethers (or something very similar) in Seveneves.
In the first line of Seveneves, Neal Stephenson lays out the event that the entire book’s action revolves around:
The moon blew up without warning and for no apparent reason.
Mild spoilers, but fairly quickly, scientists in the book figure out that this is a very bad thing that will cause humanity to become extinct unless drastic action is taken.
In the novel, one day the moon breaks up into 7 roughly equal-sized pieces. These pieces continue peacefully orbiting the Earth for a while, and eventually two pieces collide. This collision causes a piece to fragment, making future collisions more likely. The process repeats, at what Stephenson says is an exponential rate, until the Earth is under near-constant bombardment from meteorites, wiping out (nearly) all life on Earth.
I’m currently reading Seveneves and The Underground Railroad is next. More convinced than ever that a) Barry and I would be good friends if such an opportunity arose, and b) he should be reading kottke.org if he isn’t already. He could peruse it between his fifth and sixth almonds at the end of the day. Think about it, Mr. President.
Perfect eyesight. Curing cancer. Designer babies. Super-soldiers. Because of CRISPR, genetic engineering might make tinkering with life as easy as playing with Lego.
Imagine you were alive back in the 1980’s, and were told that computers would soon take over everything — from shopping, to dating, and the stock market, that billions of people would be connected via a kind of web, that you would own a handheld device orders of magnitudes more powerful than supercomputers.
It would seem absurd, but then all of it happened. Science fiction became our reality and we don’t even think about it. We’re at a similar point today with genetic engineering. So let’s talk about it.
Relatedly, I’m finishing up Neal Stephenson’s Seveneves right now and while it starts out as space science fiction, much of the book is concerned with the sort of genetic engineering issues discussed in the video.
Neal Stephenson has made the first 26 pages of his upcoming book, Seveneves, available on his website. About the book:
A catastrophic event renders the earth a ticking time bomb. In a feverish race against the inevitable, nations around the globe band together to devise an ambitious plan to ensure the survival of humanity far beyond our atmosphere, in outer space.
But the complexities and unpredictability of human nature coupled with unforeseen challenges and dangers threaten the intrepid pioneers, until only a handful of survivors remain…
Five thousand years later, their progeny-seven distinct races now three billion strong-embark on yet another audacious journey into the unknown… to an alien world utterly transformed by cataclysm and time: Earth.