A week ago today I stood nearly ten miles away from the launch of Space Shuttle Atlantis, on its way to the International Space Station. Despite the distance I “felt” the launch in a number of ways. Unless you have experienced a launch it’s hard to describe the physical impact of such power, shaking the ground, vibrating every molecule around you, imagine a continuous clap of thunder lasting for more than a minute is the closest way I can attempt to describe it.
But the launch also effected be emotionally, I felt the same way watching the last three Concordes landing back at Heathrow together when they were retired from service.
As a child growing up in the seventies I expected my adult life to involve jumping on and off supersonic aircraft, perhaps flying to a spaceport somewhere to fly into orbit, instead I got the 8:20 South West Trains Service to Waterloo.
Perhaps it was always science fiction, but as a boy growing up watching Thunderbirds and Tomorrows World, if you had told me that society would develop and then lose supersonic transport and that by 2011 NASA would no longer be able to put Americans into low earth orbit I would not have believed you.
My hypothesis to this rather sad state of affairs for a geek, is that we allowed ourselves to over engineer solutions producing an era of machines that are so complex that economically they are unsustainable.
For example to launch Atlantis required tens of thousands of people to work at facilities all across the United States for four months to service the shuttle following it’s previous mission. This means that each shuttle missions in pure operational expenses costs hundreds of millions of dollars. Concorde was also a “hanger queen” requiring far more maintenance than conventional airliners.
Both Concorde and the Shuttle will not be directly replaced, instead in many ways less capable and simpler systems have and will take their place.
In the field of geospatial technology will we see the same trend ? Complex highly engineered solutions replaced by less capable and simpler systems, there is some evidence to suggest that trend, on the other hand Arc/Info in it’s various forms is only a year younger than the space shuttle programme and looks like it will outlive it with ease…
Is Google to ESRI as Scaled Composites and SpaceX are to NASA? I’m not sure but the old guys can always learn new tricks, while for the new guys there is wisdom to appreciate.
Written and submitted from home (51.425N, 0.331W)