Walking around yesterday I thought about my second great love (my first being freedom), and one of the three original goals I set for my life: space travel. I got to thinking about all those books I loved reading and how the future is almost certainly not going to be like that. The future will not be like The Stars My Destination, Harvest the Fire, Starship Troopers, or The Zero Stone. The future will not be like Star Trek (except maybe Deep Space 9 which was boring and grim and I never watched more than a few episodes) or Firefly.
It has to do with a phenomenon called Dunbar's Number, and a disturbing trend seen with the rapid advancement in technology and the social order.
John Stringfellow in 1848 built a steam-powered flying machine that was the absolute apogee of steam technology. While it did fly it was not powerful enough to carry a person. On 17 December 1903 the Wright brothers made what is recognised as the first piloted powered flight in a heavier-than-air vehicle.
NASA became operational 1 October 1958. 20 February 1962, a little over three years later, John Glenn got into orbit. 12 September 1966, eight years later, Gemini 11 completed the farthest ever orbit of the earth, never to be exceeded, and successfully created artificial gravity with the Agena Target Vehicle. 20 July 1969, ten and a half years later, Apollo 11 lands on the Moon for the first time. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin finally demonstrated that that light in the sky is a real place, and people can go there. 11 December 1972, Apollo 17 spent the most time on the Moon. Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt spent three days there, and when they left they became the last men ever to land on another celestial body, and the last to leave low Earth orbit.
The past 41 years have been spent doing high school science experiments at 200 km above sea level (and the Russians tried to see if they could kill people by keeping Valeri Polyakov in space for over 400 days. I think he was crippled for about a year after he returned).
Also in 1969 plans were drawn up for Big Gemini, which was superior to the Space Shuttle in every way, but they were scrapped. In 1972 Pioneer 10 was launched. Along with Pioneer 11, and later Voyager 1 and 2 - launched in 1977 - they demonstrated the possibility of sending unmanned spacecraft outside the solar system (as of August 2012 Voyager 1 became the first, and so far only, manmade object to leave the solar system).
NASA had plans for a Mars mission set for 1986 with a colossal football field sized NERVA nuclear rocket, that was successfully tested on the ground (they were buried underground with just the tail spouting highly radioactive jets into the air. At least two men died and had to be buried in salt mines in multi-tonne lead coffins.). The mars mission was scrapped when Congress decided killing Vietnamese people was a better allocation of the $10 billion necessary to build and launch the full size NERVA rocket. There were plans to send manned missions to the moons of Jupiter by the 1990s and Proxima Centauri by the early 2000s using nuclear rockets that were built and successfully tested in the 1960s and 70s. These too were scrapped.
The technology to go to the stars existed 40 years ago and has never been used for political reasons. Yesterday I had the feeling that, like freedom, once the initiative for space travel is lost it can never be gotten back. We will probably never land escape Earth orbit again. (Although the Chinese have plans for a colony on the Moon, let's face it, China is over. The Chinese economy is a house of cards built in mid-air waiting for a stiff breeze and some common sense to knock it over. Without the hundreds of billions in government spending, building ghost cities in the middle of nowhere, the Chinese economy will collapse and then the hundred million surplus men will become the largest demonstration of pure anarchy in history, as, like the man who castrated himself this past week, they have nothing else to live for. It is impossible to build a civilisation on population control and sex-selective abortion that produces 9 males for every 1 female. Sure, the military may crack some skulls and force its way to the Moon, like pretty much everything the Soviets ever did, but the Chinese dreams of empire and space travel are made of gossamer and the dreams of children.)
But there's something bigger than that. A new direction society has taken that threatens the very idea of space travel. As I said earlier:
There is the interesting side question of modern Western society, indeed any extremely affluent society, as to whether it does, in fact, represent a diseased PBC and not merely an alien one. All extremely affluent societies throughout history have been plagued by extreme narcissism and apathy, which is displayed in declining fertility rate. Some societies, such as Japan, are so affluent that they are literally on the fast track to extinction because they simply stop breeding. A PBC that cannot produce children above replacement rate (2.1 births/woman) has no survival value and would, by the above criterion, represent a disease. After the inevitable collapse whatever society that arises to fill the void would be made of individuals who possess viable PBCs. As I mentioned in "Affluence and Apathy", there is a healthy form of affluence, though it has never seemed common enough to prevent an entire affluent society from collapsing. It would be possible for healthy affluent to form a viable society, and so I would classify healthy affluent as alien, though it has never happened before and probably never will.
The United States is the most affluent society ever. One third of the population is obese, including poor people. And along with affluence comes extreme narcissism and apathy, but there is something more. Something that was engineered by the power elite during the Apollo program. The creation of the welfare state coincided with a fundamental shift in the perception of sex in society. Both happened together because the government was setting itself up to become the new parent. No-fault divorce, ever expanding welfare programs, and the shift away from sex for procreation to sex for fun changed the way people viewed their place in society (to be sure, people had sex for fun since the beginning, but men always wanted sons as a matter of pride and women always wanted men around to provide for their children, and in the 1970s there was a shift away from that to "we'll hold off having kids until we're 40, if ever, and just enjoy our permanent adolescence now!"). Now, with the redefinition of marriage away from providing for children to some vague conception of love/lust, the coup d'état is now complete.
The US Department of Education was created in 1979. Before that all schools were run locally, with education tailored to the needs of individual students. Since there has been a shift in a one-size-fits-all education policy, with "no child left behind." The DoE is a gigantic indoctrination program, and they're not even covert about it. Common Core is demonstrably indoctrination. School officials in Memphis provide breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner to kids, and admit that if they had rooms for beds the kids would sleep there permanently. The government sees the only role of parents to be breeding. Once the children are born, they belong to the state.
How did this all begin? Urbanisation. Cities are a statist's best friend. It has to do with a fundamental limitation of the human brain. The human brain seems to be able to hold detailed interpersonal information on at most 150-200 people. There appears to be a correlation between the size of the neocortex of primates and the maximum number of individuals a primate can keep track of and maintain social relationships with. This is Dunbar's number. This is what kept population size limited during almost all of prehistory. (If humans have been around at least 200,000 years, and writing was invented only 5,000 years before present, then prehistory makes up 97.5% of humanity's entire time on the Earth. The earliest cities appear 12,000 years before present, 7,000 years before the start of written history, so cities make up 3.59% of the duration of prehistory. 94% of the time humans have been here was before the first city was built.)
When people live in small communities people care about one another because people can keep track of everyone living in the community. In a city of hundreds of thousands or millions of people this is impossible. People stop caring about the other denizens of the city, and the social structures that keeps a community together never form. The vacuum left over by the lack of a stable community is filled by the government. Private charity gives way to the welfare state, and education becomes indoctrination.
Technology isn't helping either. In 1980 the average person had 3 close friends. In 2011 the average person had 0 close friends. The advent of smart phones, social media, and people taking pictures of their sandwiches and posting them online has served to destroy human interpersonal communication faster than urbanisation ever could. People, for the most part, and especially the Millennials (the first generation to grow up totally under government indoctrination), are not connected to anyone anymore except the government.
Human sociality is necessary for space travel. Big giant space projects like the colonisation of planets require thousands of people working together, billions of dollars, and the support of entire societies. People stopped caring about space travel, and space programs died in the 1970s. Without all three elements of properly sociable, funded, and motivated people, then landing on Mars or going to the stars is impossible. We appear to have topped out: humans have developed to a certain point, but there is a definite limit to that development, and we're right about there.
Humans appear doomed to low Earth orbit. The future in space I dreamed of as a child seems like it may have evapourated along with the sex and welfare revolutions.