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Geek Time | November 24, 2014

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Amazing Times

Amazing Times
John Bullock

Back in the 1900s when I was but a child, I harboured vague dreams of going to the stars. The Space Race was long gone by the time I came into the world, and America was already on the path to shunning it’s former moon walking glory (not the Jackson kind), but enough residual wonderment from the days of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins was floating around to influence child-me.

Of course, I quickly realised that the chances of getting on a space shuttle for a British child of average intelligence, fitness and work ethic, were next to none. That added to the fact that I was born over a decade after the last manned Moon mission, and there seemed no burning desire to go back there, my thoughts of space travel were relegated from aspirational dreams to daydreams and, ultimately, turned into fiction writing.

Still, that was back in the dark ages of the 1980s and 1990s.

I’m constantly amazed by the promise of technology in this day and age. It seems like every advancement humanity makes in one field or another, is a big step on the road to yesterdays Science Fiction. 3D Printers, Quantum Computers, Augmented Reality. Heck, even tattoos that vibrate when you get a phone call; it’s all amazing stuff, and it all carries with it the promise of more amazing things to come.

Now, scientific breakthroughs are not something you can buy. You can’t just say, “I want a Faster-Than-Light Space Vessel, here’s my cheque book, go to it!”, and expect to have one built in your lifetime. Breakthroughs often happen by accident, but I feel there is a yardstick by which we can accurately judge our technological progress as a species. That yardstick?

Crazy Rich People!

“What should I spend my money on today?” (Courtesy of Time)

When you hear stories like Richard Branson buying his own island, it’s easy to shrug it off as the kind of thing a very rich person would do, and in today’s world of ubiquitous news coverage, we hear about this kind of thing more and more. Worse still, it has desensitised us to the outrageousness of it all. I mean, seriously, Richard Branson own his own island!

For this reason, I believe we’re not giving certain Crazy Rich People’s exploits the awe and wonderment that they deserve. For example, Two and a Half Men star, Ashton Kutcher, has booked his seat on a future Virgin Galactic flight.

That’s the one that goes to space!

Courtesy of Virgin Galactic

Most of us dismiss this as something a Crazy Rich Person does because their bank is complaining about the stress all their money is putting on the vaults, but think about this for a moment. With enough money, anyone can go into space. No years of dedication, no aptitude tests or gruelling physical training. Just cash. And the cool thing about what money can buy, is that it generally gets cheaper over time. What costs a quarter of a million dollars today might cost a few thousand dollars in ten years time.

Let’s look at another one.

James Cameron, director of such well known films as Titanic and Avatar, took a trip to the bottom of the ocean. For fun! He took a one-man submarine to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. To put some perspective on that, the Mariana Trench is deeper than Mount Everest is tall. Successful and rich Cameron took it upon himself to go and find out what’s down there.

Nothing much, as it turns out.

Still, I implore you once again, don’t write this off as the actions of a Crazy Rich Person just trying to remove some zeroes from his bank account, thus making his monthly statement small enough to fit through the letterbox and think no more about it. Instead, consider the fact that a man with no related expertise can, with enough money, take a trip to one of the deepest parts of the ocean just for the heck of it.

James Cameron after returning from the Mariana Trench (Courtesy of The Guardian)

Still not convinced? Well James Cameron isn’t the only one paddling around in the waters. Jeff Bezos, founder of a little website you may have heard of called Amazon, has found the discarded launch engines of Apollo 11. That’s right, the one that went to the moon first. He now plans to hoist them up out of the water like the proverbial Atlantic. Just. Because. He. Can.

We truly live in incredible times. For most of the people reading this article, we live in a country where it is in our own power to make our own fortune. And, in today’s world, our fortune is all we need to make crazy stuff happen.

Here’s a thought to leave you with. Elon Musk, founder of private space rocket company, SpaceX, has said that he would like to retire on Mars. Far from being the crazy guy on the street corner, Musk has his own space company, his own fortune, a lot of drive, and he is only 39 years old! Who can dismiss his dream of seeing out his life on the red planet?

And if he can do that, what else will we see in our lifetimes?

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