This week I sat on my couch watching TV. Nothing unusual about that, it’s one of my favourite places.
What was slightly unusual was that I watched live, in high definition, while four astronauts launched aboard the latest Space X Crew Dragon space vehicle, a commercial partnership between NASA and Space X.
I watched live, in high definition while the launch rocket returned safely to earth, landing on a drone ship in the north Atlantic Ocean after depositing its cargo in space.
I watched live as the Crew Dragon orbited the earth a couple hundred miles above the surface, and at thousands of miles per hour.
27 hours later I was back on the courch and watched live, in high definition while the ship approached the international space station, a football-field sized mechano set similarly orbiting the earth, docked and the four went aboard to greet three other astronauts already on the ISS.
As an aside, there are only 6 sleeping cabins on ISS, so one of the new arrivals has to sleep on the Crew Dragon which will remained docked at the ISS until next March. I guess it’s like a visitor sleeping in their caravan parked out on the driveway!
All this happened less than 60 years after the first manned space flight, 12 years after Space X flew its first rocket into orbit, five years after they first successfully landed a launch stage rocket, and six months after the first crewed Space X test flight.
By any measure, the pace of development since Yuri Gargarin did a lap of the earth in his Vostock spacecraft back in 1961 is astonishing. It’s a testament to human ingenuity, determination, technology, ability to learn and problem solve, ambition, creativity, collaboration, desire to explore and a thousand other things.
Honestly, as I sat there I was gobsmacked as I processed what I was watching. Sure none of what I saw was the first time you could live-stream a rocket launch or watch video from the ISS, but I guess there are moments when you realise the significance of what’s happening.
As I watched, enthralled, my 13 year old wandered past. I called her over, told her what I was watching, how amazing had been the technological growth and how astonishing it was to be able to sit on the couch in Brisbane, watching all this unfold in real time hundreds of miles overhead.
She said “What’s the big deal dad? It’s just some people going to space.” and went back to reading her book. She barely feigned interest for 10 seconds.
This is the same kid who will never know life without the internet, or mobile phones, or streaming video. Youtube started two years before she was born. She beat the iphone into existence by a handful of days.
It’s no insult to her of course, she only knows what she knows. She’s only lived the life she has. She has never known any different.
To me though, it was an extraordinary thing to watch. And I was left pondering the meaning of it all.
Just how much further will human ingenuity, ambition, creativity (and yes, greed) take us over the next 60 years? I’ll be approaching my 110th birthday by then, so I’m not sure I’ll see the answer, but can you imagine what we’ll be up to if the rate of change continues?
I put that experience alongside the global scientific community’s response to the COVID19 pandemic and the phenomenal rate of development of treatements, medications and vaccines for a disease essentially unknown 12 months ago.
When we collectively put our mind to something, there’s almost no limit to what can be achieved.
My last thought was to wonder what other things could be figured out if only we could genuinely turn our collective will and wisdom to it. World peace. Global food security. Clean energy. Heading off the looming environmental catastrophe. Calorie free chocolate that tastes amazing.
So many possibilities.
And in 60 years time, some 13 year old will say to their dad “What’s the big deal?”