Publisher's Note: A formidable future

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By Tom McDonald

Do you ever think about the future? Well, don’t dwell on it for too long, or you’ll have to rethink it all over again.

That’s how fast it’s changing.

Think of history as a line. Up until modern times, it was pretty much a straight line, in which one event led to another in a relatively predictive manner. Things didn’t always make sense at the time, but they usually did when we looked back on them. The line of knowledge and invention angled upward, but it was still basically a straight line.

Or, think of it like this: 1+1=2+1=3+1=4, and so on.

Nowadays, however, the line is curling upward. Exponential growth has consumed just about ever discipline known to humanity. It’s now more like this: 2x2=4x4=16x16=256 ...

A couple of years ago, Time magazine ran a cover story that said that children today can realistically expect to live to be 120 years or older, because of modern medicine. About a month ago, in another Time cover story, a futurist predicted that virtual immortality could well be achieved by mid-century, via a small computer plugged in to our upper spine.

That same article, by the way, pointed out that with the exponential growth of artificial intelligence, computers will surpass the capabilities of all human brains combined by the year 2045. I was reminded of that the other day as I listened to an NPR segment discussing how to program ethics into tomorrow’s computers. That’s going to be a critical issue for humanity’s survival.
256 times 256 ...

Several days ago I traveled to Truth or Consequences for a press association meeting. After the meeting, we were given a tour of the spaceport being built about 30 miles outside town. It was another glimpse into the future.

There, blended into some of the most desolate landscape in New Mexico, commercial enterprise is catching up with technology. And soon enough, it will surpass all previous applications, at least in terms of efficiency of use.

Once its construction is complete, Spaceport America will be the first spaceport in the world built specifically for commercial purposes. It will launch aircraft and spacecraft both vertically and horizontally, with the most well-known launches being for high-dollar tourists.

A massive “mother ship” will carry a six-seat spacecraft to the edge of earth’s atmosphere, then release the spacecraft, which will use a rocket booster to break through to outer space.

The six tourists will then enjoy a couple of orbits around the earth and return to earth. The price tag for their two-hour adventure will be $200,000 per person.

We were told on the tour that 450 people have already signed up for the space flight. Virgin Galactica, Richard Branson’s space-carrying enterprise, is hoping to have 500 signed up before its first launch in 2013.

Of course, space travel is nothing new. NASA and other government-run operations have been sending manned spacecraft into orbit for decades. What is new, however, is the planned frequency of these flights: two per day, everyday.

Let’s see now: At $200,000 per seat, times six seats twice a day — that’s $2.4 million in revenue per day. I asked about expenses (so I could get an idea about the venture’s expected profit margin) but no one could or would give me any specifics, except to say that an engine will burn out with each flight. That means that someone is going to build (or rebuild) the spacecraft’s engines at a rate of two per day (possibly in Las Cruces, one reporter told me).
The spaceport itself is expected to employ about 150 people.

Wow. Job creation. Seems that not every antiquated notion will be obsolete in the future unfolding before us.

Tom McDonald is editor and publisher of the Optic.  He may be reached at 505-425-6796, ext. 237, or tmcdonald@lasvegasoptic.com.