From time to time I find myself in conversation with someone who finds it odd that I’m such a rabid aviation advocate. I take no offense, of course. They’re right. I am a rabid aviation advocate. In fact it’s my considered opinion that aviation and the technologies it produces are critical to the long-term survival of mankind.
Yes, you read that right. I’m in the camp that thinks aviation will ultimately prove to be the salvation of humanity. I’m a true believer.
Brace yourself, it’s gonna get weird.
A few years ago I published a series of five novellas. Collectively they’re known as The Lifeboat Augusta series. Shorter than a full-blown novel, longer than a short story, this collection was intended to be something you could read on your commute, or as you prepare to drift off to sleep at night. They’re not particularly lengthy, but the story can be interpreted either as frivolous entertainment or an earth-shaking reality check. It’s your choice.
The five editions came to life as eBooks and audio books, because they’re intended to be a casual experience. Something you can read on your phone, or listen to in the car as you go about your business.
In a nutshell the story is this: A calamity befalls the earth. A small, select group of humans, mostly female, launch into space in an effort to survive the disaster and re-populate the planet. The story unfolds from there. It’s not a bad bit of entertainment either, even if I do say so myself.
Here’s the thing: It’s not really about re-populating the planet. You see, in real life the planet will die. Whether by manmade mistakes or by natural processes, there is no doubt the Earth will eventually become unlivable.
Of the entire animal kingdom it is only humans that might rise above the tragedy and survive. With our big brains and almost unlimited capacity for adaptation to circumstances by finding creative solutions to seemingly insoluble problems, humans could outlive the planet.
Amazing but true.
The challenge for us is considerable. Because as individuals we would have to begin thinking about the greater good, which includes educating ourselves and our progeny to be able to actually do something of worth other than taking and passing pointless standardized tests. We need skills, knowledge, and vision. We also need to develop the ability to work together, even when we don’t want to. Even when we don’t particularly like the people we’re tasked to work with.
These are all traits necessary to be a pilot, by the way. They’re also beneficial to engineers, mechanics, IT professionals, medical teams, and the like. Are you beginning to get the drift of this?
That sounds pretty fanciful, I know. Most who read to this point will be disgusted to have wasted their time on such drivel. But those who persevere will find something of value in these words, because there is historical precedent to this wild-eyed nonsense. Very good historical precedent, as a matter of fact.
Imagine if we’re not talking about a five year, or a 10 year, or a 100 year timeline for this to come to pass. What if we set ourselves to the task of actually planning for success on a timeline that allows for the development of technologies, materials, and processes that don’t exist yet. What if we planned for a 500 year research and development project? What if we funded it on a global basis, or at least as many partners as were willing to take such a bold step? What might happen?
Well, let’s look at our own history and see what might happen.
In 1519 Leonardo da Vinci died. His imaginings went with him to a large degree. He hadn’t flown, but he’d imagined it. He never developed the technology or materials that might make it possible – but he did the thought experiments that set those ideas in motion.
Ferdinand Magellan set out for the Spice Islands (Indonesia) in five of the finest ships in all the land. Sailing ships that topped out at perhaps 6 knots on a good day. Surface vessels that leaked like a sieve and housed more rats than crewmembers. Humans traveled at the speed of horse or foot. Fire was the primary source of heat and light, world-wide.
We’ve progressed considerably over the past five centuries, but the real progress, the leaps that led to the aerospace industry, are all quite recent.
Only three generations ago my great-grandfather and his family lived near where I live today in central Florida. They had no electricity, no running water, no paved roads, had never seen a car, and pre-dated Orville and Wilbur by several decades. My great grandfather ran a sail boat from Cedar Key to Key West that ran at about the same speed Magellan’s had nearly 400 years earlier.
That’s not ancient history. That’s recent. When I was young I actually knew the children my great grandfather raised.
To me, aviation isn’t just about having fun, or earning a living, or expanding the potential of those involved in it. It does all those things, true. But aviation represents the first major step toward the stars.
Neal Armstrong began his piloting career at the controls of a 65-horsepower Aeronca Champ. He eventually commanded a rocket as tall as a skyscraper that went to, landed on, and returned from the moon. One leads to the other, if you want it to.
Could humans outlive the Earth? Oh, yeah. That’s absolutely possible.
Will we? That remains to be seen.
But I’ve got no doubt that any of us who wish to have a chance will take a serious look at aviation, aerospace, and what it takes to live and work in space for the long-term.
The future’s coming y’all. Get on board and get busy. It’s gonna be weird, but wonderful.