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How the internet killed the space age

cyclomedia (882859) writes | more than 6 years ago

User Journal 0

Disclaimer: This theory came to me at about four in the morning, whilst emptying my 2 year old daughter's potty. I was obviously in some kind of semi awake lucid state. Anyway I've done zero research on any of the following ramblings, you've been warned...

Disclaimer: This theory came to me at about four in the morning, whilst emptying my 2 year old daughter's potty. I was obviously in some kind of semi awake lucid state. Anyway I've done zero research on any of the following ramblings, you've been warned...

The space race had it's origins in the Cold War of the mid twentieth century. The Russians had stolen a march on the USA with their orbital flights so the USA chose to aim higher; for the moon. This is all well known history but what happened to the space age that this foreshadowed? Instead of commercial interests the globe over jumping on the technology and propelling our species around the solar system only a handful of launch companies and satellite specialists popped up and, well, that's been about it until the X Prize came along about four decades later.

Correlation does not Causation make, but around the time the space age was peaking the information age was beginning. And when the fizz died down during the 70s and Apollo gave way to the Shuttle program the Micro Computer started to take over the world, leading to the global connectivity and desktop computing. The common meme is that as of the birth of the 21st Century the family car's onboard computer has more processing power than an Apollo lander.

Having no (nearby) interstellar neighbours to study we only have one emergent species to track, ourselves. But if there's a standard model for said emergence what order would these two steps take? The Bronze and Iron ages lead to each other through incremental technological capability. But what, ideally, would the Industrial Age lead to? (Excepting the SteamPunk fork, which might have been fun.) The required technologies of the Space and Information ages only overlap slightly, as demonstrated by the aforementioned Apollo vs Car meme, and satellite communication technology largely remained analogue until the Information age overtook it.

One indicator of what killed the space age can probably be found in an analysis of where the money is. Imagine the combined revenue of IBM, Intel, Microsoft and Google - amongst many more over the years - been invested into the space age. What would our world be like now instead? Would we still have the internet or would we have exchanged that for a permanently manned base on Mars? Interestingly without a Moore-driven technological explosion the Chunky Buttoned Star Trek future predicted at the time probably wouldn't be too wide of the mark.

Our largest clue is that the space age was very obviously invoked by the cold war, and earlier than the Internet's goal of being a nuclear-proof network. It's also easy to theorise that without this superpower tension the Information age might have evolved more directly from the Industrial age, with it's drive to quicker, better and more efficient production goals. So one way of looking at it is that we're behind in that regard, that the space race was a decade or two long distraction from our natural technological progression. And that the "correct" emergence path therefore is one of Industrial, Information and then Space. If that's the case then we as a species probably got it a bit backwards but we are human, after all.

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