Welcome to the year 2015

Welcome to the year 2015. Sounds so futuristic, doesn’t it.

A while ago, last century, I wrote a short story called The Year 2031, about a space mission to Venus, published in 19 weekly parts in 1998 as part of my (still going) Toxic Custard weekly email newsletter.

Back in 1998, the year 2031 seemed way off into the future. It alarms me somewhat to find that we are now halfway to 2031.

Toxic Custard Workshop FilesThe Year 2031

Reading back over the opening paragraphs, clearly I am not the world’s best futurist, though so far, some of the predictions still look okay.

It was the year 2031. Nothing much had changed, really. Technology was faster, more sophisticated and cheaper, and people still didn’t know how to program their videos. Something new and incredible was being done with microchips every day. They’d figured out how to give everyone on the planet affordable Web access, and if they could just figure out how to give them all affordable food, the human race had a real chance of going places.

So far so good, I stand by most of this. We don’t have “videos” (VCRs) anymore, but I think people still have trouble with PVRs. I suspect the difference is fewer people now want to record TV at all, thanks to DVD box sets, and iView and other services allowing you to watch later.

The Middle East was still a powderkeg and nobody would back down over Northern Ireland. More significantly, McDonald’s was in real danger of reaching the critical mass of hamburger restaurants, and were about to begin their plan to diversify into pizza. Talentless saps still ruled the music charts. And everyone was still burning up the world’s increasingly precious oil stocks like there was no tomorrow.

Northern Ireland is pretty peaceful these days. McDonald’s probably reached Peak Burger some time ago, at least in Australia, and are exploring new ways to make money, including opening an experimental cafe in Sydney.

Peak Oil is a bit less certain, I think, but it’s certainly still being burnt up with little thought to its longer-term impacts.

But on the space exploration front, NASA was kicking arse. Although they’d developed computer graphics simulators so realistic they could virtually just simulate all their missions instead of actually conducting them, they knew that if anybody ever found out, the government would want all the money back. So they kept on sending up rockets.

In 2012, one entrepreneur had even organised a civilian excursion onto the moon. A kind of moon picnic for anyone who could afford the astoundingly expensive fare. It had been a bit of a disaster though – halfway to the moon somebody had pressed the wrong button, and the hundreds of sandwiches had gone flying off into space. Everyone had got back safely, but boy were they hungry when they touched down. Nobody had tried that since.

There are civilian moves into space, priced for the super-rich only, but they haven’t started yet, in fact Virgin Galactic had a setback last year which means it probably won’t happen any time soon.

A manned mission to Mars had finally gone ahead in 2015. It had proven beyond all doubt that there really were no little green men – not that we should discount the existence of red dust creatures or something equally improbable and not perceptible to man. After this, NASA started to look towards Venus for the next mission.

Still only unmanned missions to Mars so far. The current thinking appears to be that a manned mission won’t happen before 2025, and NASA isn’t looking at it until well into the following decade.

Admittedly it’s all a bit undergraduate, but re-reading the story today gave me a few laughs from jokes I’d forgotten I’d included.

You can read the whole 2031 story here.

Apologies for the colour scheme.

NASA to prove Herge right?

Tintin and friends landed on the moon in 1952, some 17 years before Apollo 11 got there.

Tintin and friends greet Armstrong

While writing the story, Herge and his team researched what the moon would look like on the surface, and as anybody who’s read the book would know, it’s uncannily accurate.

After Apollo 11 made it to the Moon, it seemed that Herge had got only one thing wrong: in the story, Tintin and Haddock observed stalactites and stalagmites in a lunar cave, and then after falling down a crevice found ice.

…the existence of ice on the moon came about at the insistence of [adviser] Dr Bernard Heuvelmans. Herge had agonised about the question, not at all sure if he agreed with the prevalent scientific evidence that the moon was an icy place, but Heuvelmans’ advice won the day.

— “Tintin — Herge and his creation”, Harry Thompson, p146

Tintin discovers water on the moon

Now NASA have sent a probe to the Moon which may prove Herge (and Heuvelmans) right after all — they’re looking for the presence of water and ice. It seems a rather unsubtle method — crashing the probe into the Moon’s south pole — but the expected debris cloud hasn’t been seen, and it may be a little while until they know if water has been detected or not.