I SPEND THE NIGHT IN

GQ (Australia) - - CHAMPION -

nearby Las Cruces, feel­ing frus­trated. Think­ing over my day, my big­gest mem­o­ries are of fire trucks and Twisties. We were promised rocket ships, and we got… fire trucks. The next day, I re­turn to Truth or Con­se­quences and find my­self sit­ting in a cof­fee shop, nurs­ing my grow­ing dis­il­lu­sion­ment, when I meet two peo­ple who were on that morn­ing’s Space­port tour. They’re on a self-di­rected “space road trip” across Amer­ica. They’ve al­ready checked off NASA’S fa­cil­i­ties in Huntsville, Alabama, the John­son Space Cen­ter in Hous­ton, and White Sands. She’s wear­ing a T-shirt that says “Mars or Bust”; he’s wear­ing one with a draw­ing of the so­lar sys­tem and an ar­row to Earth, un­der which is the cap­tion: “Ev­ery­thing Re­volves Around Me.” Her name is Dara Dotz. She’s an in­dus­trial de­signer, part of a team that just de­vel­oped the first 3-D prin­ter ca­pa­ble of work­ing in zero grav­ity for NASA. They fin­ished on bud­get and ahead of sched­ule. And now their prin­ter is up in space, hav­ing trav­elled to the In­ter­na­tional Space Sta­tion on a Spacex rocket. So Dotz has been busy mak­ing off-planet man­u­fac­tur­ing – some­thing es­sen­tial to the next phases of space ex­plo­ration – pos­si­ble. The guy’s name is Mickey Mcmanus. Later I learn that he’s a lead­ing light in a tech de­sign firm and the author of a book about the fu­ture of “per­va­sive com­put­ing”. I also learn of his favourite quote, at­trib­uted to An­toine St Ex­upéry: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up peo­ple to col­lect wood and don’t as­sign them tasks, but rather teach them to long for the end­less im­men­sity of the sea.” The two of them are smart and easy to con­nect with. And as we sit over our cof­fee, I feel a mis­guided sense of re­lief that I’m in the com­pany of co-cyn­ics. We share a few laughs about the empti­ness of Space­port, the lack of ac­tiv­ity. When I ask where they’re headed next on their tour, I throw in a lit­tle re­mark: “It can only get bet­ter from here.” They let it go. Mcmanus replies that they’re go­ing to make a stop in Ve­gas for CES. “I’m not sure which place has more suck­ers,” I say. “Ve­gas or here.” “What do you mean?” he asks. “I mean, this place. Do you be­lieve it all?” “Look,” says Mcmanus, “it’s im­por­tant that a place like this ex­ists. Be­cause un­less we build places like this, the fu­ture does not hap­pen. The trou­ble with places like these is that they raise ex­pec­ta­tions. And we live in a world where ev­ery­one wants what they want to see now. If there is wait­ing in­volved, peo­ple some­how think you’ve failed. But sci­ence doesn’t live on that timetable. And here’s the other thing: go­ing to the moon? Into space? I don’t care if you are NASA or Bran­son or Musk – it is re­ally, re­ally hard. And dan­ger­ous. And scary.” Dotz takes a drink of cof­fee. “I look at that place and I couldn’t be more ex­cited,” she says. “When I was a girl, all I wanted was to be an astro­naut. And I gave up on that dream. But if I were a girl now and saw that? I’d be­lieve. Just like I be­lieve in it right now. Are we close to go­ing into space, all of us? A lot closer than we have ever been.” We talk for an hour. The thing about peo­ple like Dotz and Mcmanus? They make you be­lieve. Call it a course cor­rec­tion. It’s easy to look at some­thing like Space­port and think it’s just a 21st-cen­tury ver­sion of a rail­road spur to nowhere. But spurs to some­where be­gin as spurs to nowhere. The hard part here is the time­line. This quest will not be mea­sured in years but in life­times. Right now, I feel we’re back where the US space pro­gram was in the days of Ham. Hokey as it sounds, yes, this is the dawn of the sec­ond space age. And we’re in a mo­ment when we’re strug­gling to fig­ure it out. The good news is that it’s not just NASA work­ing the prob­lem, but also peo­ple from Dotz, mak­ing 3-D print­ers for the space sta­tion, to Elon Musk. The bar­rier to en­try has been low­ered. ( And, as Be­zos and Musk have shown, so has the bar­rier to ver­ti­cal re-en­try.) And maybe the peo­ple who board Bran­son’s flights will be noth­ing more than wealthy Hol­ly­wood Hams (though they likely won’t end up buried in the car park of a mu­seum in New Mex­ico). But a fu­ture where we all – or our de­scen­dants – have the po­ten­tial to blast off af­ter they take the first rides? Who’s not up for that? n

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