One of the reasons we read science fiction is to find out what happens next. My favorite science fiction sub-genre is near future, precisely because I want someone to tell me what to expect a decade from now, a year from now, a month from now. Half the fun is discovering the future through speculative fiction. The other half is watching it come true. That is why I started writing this series of blog posts about near future developments, starting with last year’s Greetings Carbon Based Gases. Today’s topic: the gravity well.
Tonight, sometime between 2227-0030 GMT (6:27-8:30 p.m. EDT), SpaceX will launch a “flight proven” rocket for the first time. “Flight proven” is Elon Musk’s euphemism for “used.” It was only last April when the rocket in tomorrow’s launch performed its last mission, The CRS-8:
If and when that rocket launches successfully, today, Musk will have accomplished something thought impossible not too long ago, even quite recently. As we reported in 2012, it costs $10,000 per pound to launch something into orbit. At least, it did back then. Today, Musk says he charges $2,500/lb and aims to have that down to $1000/lb this year, when the Falcon Heavy comes online. Knocking one zero off of NASA’s flight costs is a remarkable achievement, but Musk has predicted he’ll do it again ($100/lb), and some have even speculated a fantastical cost of $10/lb in about 8 years.
Even if that last prediction doesn’t pan out, the consensus seems to be that $100/lb is the point at which many of our sci fi fantasies could come true. That’s good news for science fiction writers, who Neal Stephenson has said have been too pessimistic, as of late. So, what can budding new sci-fi writers reasonably predict in the wake of tonight’s launch?
Ryan Faith over at Vice had one idea of how it would go (bolded emphasis added by mois):
“SpaceX wants to get prices down far enough to encourage new users because that’s how they can really start incorporating space in the economic mainstream. Such a change could allow for economies of scale, getting a meaningful slice of global capital flow, industrial synergies, and more.
Once you get to that point, you can start talking much more seriously about building big space stations — the kind of thing dreamed up by 2001: A Space Odyssey. It wouldn’t be like the International Space Station, but more like a big Hilton with a fancy cocktail bar. Granted, drinks at that interstellar cocktail bar could be twice as expensive as normal because of shipping costs — but hey, the views of Earth would totally make up for it.”
In the spirit of Mr. Musk’s iterative approach, I will add more ideas as the evening wears on. Please feel free to add more in the comments section.
As I type this, it is T-minus 2 hours to the launch window, so I’m going to hit “publish,” for now. Check this post for post-launch updates.
UPDATE: In case you missed it, watch the day’s coverage of the launch here: