The Science Fiction Around Me
I got a little weepy watching the Crew Dragon launch today.
The technology in my life might as well be science fiction. The laptop that I’m working on now to write this article is a science fiction fantasy. That I can close my laptop, and move to my tower computer to continue writing this article while I charge the laptop, that’s also science fiction. The phone that I carry with me is definitely science fiction to the boy inside me. The laptop that I use for my day job uses a VPN, connects to multiple apps over a gigabit connection, and allows me to work from home. All of that is science fiction.
I have the weekend about me, and serendipity led me to the Crew Dragon launch today. I just happened to get a clue of the launch on my laptop, so I went to YouTube, played the streaming video, and then I “cast” it to the TV. That last sentence is science fiction. As a boy, I could not imagine a life where I could work on a laptop, play a video on it, and then tell my laptop to play that video on a TV. Who knew we could do this someday in 1980? 1990? 2010?
As I write this, I’m playing the live stream of the DEMO 2 mission today. They are on a 19-hour journey to the International Space Station. While I was playing this stream live, a commentator said that I can go back in time in the stream to see what I missed. I didn’t miss much right after the launch. Much of the journey is just waiting while mission control monitors conditions aboard the craft. The crew and mission control will execute several burns on a schedule to further manage the trajectory and orientation of the spacecraft. Everything runs on a schedule in a space mission.
I had known about spacecraft as a boy in the 70s. I watched Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon when I a young boy. I remember it distinctly, seeing black and white images of a man hopping down a ladder on TV. I heard the static, his voice, and watched him bounce around in a weaker gravitational field.
Space travel has made huge advances since then. I could not imagine a rocket that landed itself upon return until I read Tintin — Destination Moon, by Herge. SpaceX now has rockets that land themselves upon return.
When I watched the launch today, on TV, with my family looking on, I was not just excited, I was kind of weepy. I saw a modern, state of the art spacecraft at work, today. I also saw an ace team, with a wide range of demographics, working together. The SpaceX and NASA team is young, old, of many colors, and they all brought a variety of experiences and disciplines together to make it all work.
I admire them for they are living their dreams of working on a space mission. I can hear their enthusiasm in their voices. It’s like watching a great actor revel in the role he or she is playing on the movie screen. Except that this isn't a movie.
If you would like to check in on the mission, you can watch it here:
I love the style of those suits and the screens and the gloves. I love that this is not a science fiction movie. I love that these people are so dedicated to their art, their craft, their trade. I see them as great professionals who followed their hearts to do that which they love to do.
All of that technology and hardware is still science fiction to me, yet it is real. I can verify it by looking it up on Google. I can watch videos of past missions on what is perhaps the greatest library of videos ever assembled, YouTube. I can share any video, any time with someone else. I can read countless articles on these space missions, the collaboration of NASA with SpaceX, and the people who make history happen.
I write this article not just to share with you my wonder for the space programs, both public and private. I write this article to finally have some good news to talk about. I write this article with some gratitude that the Trump Administration has so much enthusiasm for the space program. See, I don’t hate Trump, I just disagree with many of his policy positions. It just so happens that I agree with him on the policy position of providing generous funding for NASA and encouraging space exploration the way that he has.
It seems such a small thing relative to the rest of my life, but I’m glad to be watching history unfold today. I just saw the astronauts floating around the space capsule a few minutes ago. They played with a sparkling stuffed dragon and did flips in space. I could see the excitement and enthusiasm in their faces. They were like little boys marveling at their experience floating in space, knowing full well that a very sophisticated wall separates them from a completely uninhabitable void outside.
I am also glad to see some good news, a small oasis of relief in a desert filled with bad news. I see the news of the protests, the pandemic, the lockdown, and the stories of millions of unemployed people. The video streaming before me, and the journey of the astronauts to the space station, provides some respite from all of the bad news. The pandemic has touched this mission, evidenced by images of nearly everyone in mission control wearing masks and observing social distancing protocols. Despite all of that, they are getting important work done.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” — Arthur C. Clarke
Watching all of this happen fills me with the wonder of magic. My personal experience with computers, phones, and automation fills me with wonder. The images of rockets flying into space, ferrying people and cargo into orbit, and docking with a space station, all reminds me of the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey. That was one exciting and magical movie.
Science fiction to me is magic with an explanation. Technology is science applied to the problems we want to solve. The video of astronauts flying to a space station, leaves me feeling a little giddy. I’m happy to be sharing this journey with the astronauts above me, and with you. I am aware of all of the science fiction around me.