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Losing the Race

2010/03/18

NextStage: Predictive Intelligence, Persuasion Engineering, Interactive Analytics and Behavioral Metrics This year, 2010, marks the last year of the US space shuttle program. It is also suppose to be the year we make contact. To do that, however, we first had to find the monolith on the moon in 2001, which meant we needed to have active moon bases prior to 2001, which meant a functional space station and mass transit orbital transport systems, and that brings us back to the US space shuttle program.

For the past few years the space shuttles have been little more than transport vehicles bringing people and goods to and from the existing space station. Okay, we got that part right. Not “mass transit” and close enough for, as they say, government purposes.

Still waiting for my flying car and all that other stuff, though.

The US is losing the race to…well, to everywhere, me thinks. Technological superiority is becoming less of a concern than risk avoidance. It would be one thing if “risk avoidance” meant “let’s make sure we do it right” but more and more often “risk avoidance” means “can we minimize our legal exposure?”.

The easiest way to minimize legal exposure is to…well, to do nothing. Do nothing, know nothing, see nothing and people can’t come at you because you’ve done nothing to stand out, to excel, to draw attention. You receive no accolades (except perhaps that “30 years of service” kind and I respect people so able) but you’re also no target.

So the US is losing races in several disciplines because to excel is to be vulnerable, and not to the limits of technology but to the excesses of abrogation. The spirit of national ambition has been subsumed by the fear of irrational litigation.

But other countries do not have such fears. “Space will be colonized — although possibly not by us. If we lose our nerve, there are plenty of other people on this planet. The construction crews may speak Chinese or Russian-Swahili or Portuguese. It does not take “good old American know-how” to build a city in space. The laws of physics work just as well for others as they do for us.” Or so said Robert A. Heinlein several years back.

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