“Where’s My Jet Pack?”

A storm in Saturn's atmosphere as captured by the Cassini probe in 2011.
A storm in Saturn’s atmosphere as captured by the Cassini probe in 2011.

Leo McGarry lamented the rise and fall of space exploration on an episode of The West Wing. His generation, he told Josh Lyman, was let down after astronauts walked on the moon.

Leo:  My generation never got the future it was promised. Thirty-five years later, cars, air travel’s exactly the same. We don’t even have the Concorde anymore. Technology stopped.

Josh:  The personal computer?

Leo:  Where’s my jet pack, my colonies on the Moon?

I’m content to live out my life without Buck Rogers, but I’ll never give up on the space program. I’ll always find inspiration in their endeavors. The trick is not to demand the future, but to seek it.

My generation (Much younger than the McGarry generation) got its thrills from the space shuttle, the International Space Station, Hubble, Spitzer, and unmanned vehicles. Now that the shuttle fleet is retired, we’ve rekindled our childhood excitement with brilliant color imagery from the Saturnian probe Cassini, the Mars rover Curiosity, and scores of other unmanned spacecraft and platforms presently operating beyond our Terran sphere.

I’m a big fan of the Cassini probe, perhaps our most accomplished investigator since the days of Viking and Voyager. The spacecraft was launched when I was in high school. Today, the spacecraft has lingered between great Saturn and its moons and given particular attention to Titan. Once attached to wayward Cassini, the Huygens probe was dropped on Titan in 2005 for surface and chemical study. Cassini’s imagery from close flybys of this system are simply astounding and a must-see for any enthusiasts.

A variety of exciting projects is underway at NASA, JPL, Baikonur and the European Space Agency. Other countries are actively pushing the boundaries of research, engineering and space flight. Of course, the wild cards are independent developers responsible for the next spacecraft, engines, and equipment. We also haven’t heard the last of the great Mars adventure or lunar colonies.

The future will appear by its own volition, jet packs and all.


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