NASA’s chief scientist, Ellen Stofan, recently said humans will set foot on Mars by the mid-2030s. If this were to occur, there’s a good chance many boomers will be around to see it happen.
That got me wondering: What else will come to pass before the last boomer becomes a memory? I turned to two science fiction authors who make a living thinking about the future and asked them for their thoughts: Kathleen Ann Goonan and Allen Steele.
Kathleen Ann Goonan’s first of seven novels, Queen City Jazz, was a New York Times Notable Book when it was published in 1994. She has developed a reputation for convincingly real portrayals of nanotechnology and how it may be used in the future. She speaks widely as a futurist and is a professor of the practice in the School of Literature, Media and Communication at Georgia Tech.
Goonan thinks there’s a good chance that boomers will live significantly longer than expected, based on “what we’re learning about longevity and our increasing ability to respond rapidly to trauma.” And, she added, “because this is the ‘Century of the Brain,’ it seems likely that information garnered by the U.S.’s BRAIN initiative and the European Big Brain Project will lead to a new understanding of how learning occurs and how we can harness neuroplasticity to all be as smart as we were in our 20s.”
In the last few years, I’ve been to two major conferences where starships have been discussed.
— Science fiction author Allen Steele
Scientists, Goonan said, will likely overcome the political and practical issues involved in cloning organs for transplants, which advocates are calling “therapeutic cloning.” And, she maintains, the ethical issues that arose over human stem cells (which can become any other kind of cell) derived from embryos may no longer apply. Stem cells can now be derived from skin cells and have been used to grow new heart muscle cells. With minds and bodies restored, many boomers may live to see humans on Mars, even if it doesn’t happen as soon as the mid-2030s. Goonan actually thinks it probably won’t happen until “around 2060…via private and government-supported initiatives.”
Mars And Beyond
Allen Steele, who has spoken before Congress about space travel, is an award-winning author of 20 science fiction novels and numerous short stories, including in his popular Coyote series. He’s gratified to see that a manned expedition to Mars is being taken seriously now after decades when the idea was off the table.
Even more interesting, said Steele, is the serious consideration NASA and other space organizations are giving to interstellar travel. “In the last few years, I’ve been to two major conferences where starships have been discussed not as something belonging to some distant Star Trek future but as something that could be built by the end of this century,” Steele said.
With the barrage of exo-planets (planets around others stars) being discovered, it seems likely that a world inhabitable by human beings, within 10 or 20 light-years away, will be found with the next 30 years, Steele forecasted. NASA’s Stofan has predicted that scientists will find “strong indications” of life on other worlds by 2025.
International And Corporate Cooperation
Such signs would spur an interstellar space race, but a more cooperative one than the Moon Race of the 1960s, because of the vast expense and complexity of such an endeavor, Steele said. Undertaking space exploration could help rebuild international cooperation that started with the International Space Station. For manned missions to Mars and beyond to truly make a difference, he noted, international cooperation will be crucial. And so will corporate support.
“I’d like to see a Mars spacecraft that has not only the American flag on its side,” Steele said, “but also those of Russia, Japan, China and India. And the corporate logos of eBay, Amazon and Microsoft, to name a few.”
Corporations will likely be key drivers of technological and scientific advancements in the near future. Here on Earth, for example, the Google driverless car has been getting a lot of attention lately. Will boomers be around for the day when people no longer control their cars on the highways of America? Probably.
Goonan said that the idea of the driverless car, “introduced on national TV by Disney in the 1950s, may finally become a reality, if people can give up the idea of personal control of their vehicle — (but) that’s what makes driving fun!”