It seems like not but just a year ago, I was already forgetting to write a new year’s prediction blog post. If that didn’t make much sense, then likely neither did my predictions post from a year ago. I started it with the line “In the year 2525…”, yet the post referred to predictions for the year 2026. I wasn’t mad. Just using poetic license to twist that into a reference to an old Zager and Evans song – a decade plus 500, minus 1.
Back to this year, 2017 and the impending 2018. Here’s both a bit of a 2017 retrospective, and what I think we need to be looking forward to in the not too distant future:
On January 24, 2017, the Mars Opportunity rover (remember Spirit and Opportunity?) hit its 13 Earth year mark on the red planet, making it a teenager. It was originally allocated just a 90 day exploration period. During those 13 years, she’s traveled on the Martian surface farther than any other non-terrestrial land robot, taken pictures of both of Mars’s moons, Phobos and Deimos, Earth, and of course a lot of Mars stuff. So far, no Mars people though. There currently are no plans to discontinue operation of Opportunity. However, at this point, it’s done so much work already, it’s kind of bored so it mostly joy rides around looking for Mars burger joints, and will probably continue to do so well into the next decade.
February 2017 – I’m not sure what month to call this one, so I’ll just arbitrarily call out February as the month that 4K TV became mainstream. It wasn’t but a year prior that most of the experts were decrying 4K as an unnecessary boondoggle that would never really come to be. Like we’ve never heard that before… 4K TV is here. It’s here to stay, and in 2018, it’ll be standard on all but the super low end TVs. A decent set of 4K content will be available in 2018 too.
March 30, 2017 – The “used car” market hit the space industry when SpaceX relaunched a previously used first stage booster. The Falcon 9 booster had launched and landed in April 2016. It’s not really a first reuse, as the US Space Shuttles relaunched the shuttle and it’s solid fuel boosters many times, but it feels more significant in that it’s a private company, and it’s pretty much the whole first stage system that was soft landed, refurbished, and reused. SpaceX has a goal of being able to refly a booster 24 hours after a landing. I think they’ll do it, but I don’t expect to see it done until 2019 or 2020. Their next big milestone should be a launch (either successful or unsuccessful) of their Falcon Heavy in 2018. I give it a 90% chance of at least leaving the launch pad before blowing up, and a 40% chance of getting all the way into space. SpaceX has loaded it with Elon Musk’s Tesla roadster, which will be aimed toward Mars. They haven’t said if he’ll be in the driver’s seat or not.
April 1, 2017 – The first fully autonomous cross-country passenger car demonstration got off to a promising start. However, after 2,488 mostly uneventful* miles, the vehicle left a supercharging station while the manufacturer’s safety crew was still in the restroom. The car reportedly turned off the GPS tracking module somewhere East of Grove City, Ohio, so any location data is currently anecdotal in nature. However, it was reportedly sighted the next day near Wardenclyffe, in New York, the original destination. Based on sightings since that time, the car has crisscrossed the US at least seven times as of this writing. After numerous failed attempts to predict the vehicle’s route, the event’s project manager expects the car to continue it’s lonely trek for several more years when the batteries can no longer hold enough charge to get to another station, or the tires wear down and go flat.
May, 2017 – Nothing happened in May of 2017. Nothing. It was boring. Okay, so the regulation requiring registration of personal drones was overturned in court in May 2017. That’s cool. But, apparently, new legislation in December reinstated the requirement to register. I don’t have a drone, so I don’t care.
June 20, 2017 – While the world contemplated the effect of gravity waves on space time, a more practical time event occurred in June of 2017; the summer solstice, and longest day of the year, coincided with the 20th day of the month. Prior to that day, the Earth had been gradually increasing its distance from the sun. On the 21st the Earth started getting closer to the sun, begging the question: “is the Earth going to crash into the sun?” In years prior to 2017, it was common knowledge that the Earth, being in an elliptical orbit, varies in distance from the sun over the course of the year. However, with that knowledge now lost to the past, no one knows what will happen. In 2018 we must live in fear for half the year that the Earth will fling itself out of Sol’s orbit into the cold dark of space, and for the other half year worry that we are facing a fiery doom by spiraling into the sun. We should have the answer again no later than the middle of the next decade.
July 17, 2017 – The story goes that a security robot, in the employ of a Washington DC office building took its own life by leaping into a water fountain in the building lobby. Rumor has it, that it was more of an attempt to cool off after a long shift, than a protest of poor working conditions. While the system doesn’t need external cooling and was within standard operating temperatures, that doesn’t account for the “physiological” component of temperature. Myself, I don’t think it’s either case. The fountain had a set of steps down into it that the robot failed to navigate. I think it’s a simple example of the Dalek/stair paradox. While it is true that the new series Daleks can fly, those ones aren’t real.
August 21, 2017 saw the first total solar ellipse, with a path of totality completely within the USA, from coast to coast, since 1979. While it was pretty cool, the biggest disappointment came when the expected 2 million visitors to Oregon (that’s a 50% increase in the state’s populate shoved into the 20 mile corridor of totality) did not, in fact, turn the state into a burned out dystopian wasteland. When the next total eclipse passes through the USA, on April 8, 2024, the US department of Transportation has promised to pre-stage an million extra vehicles, many burning, wrecked, and randomly strewn about.
On September 15, 2017, our old friend the Cassini space probe was deliberately crashed into Saturn, after 13 years of studying our solar systems second largest gas giant, its rings and moon system. Cassini was sent to such a demise to prevent accidental contamination of any of its moons that might harbor signs of extra terrestrial life. However, NASA will be stunned years later when the probe is found entering Earth’s orbit with a giant placard fixed to it saying: “dispose of your garbage on your own planet Earth man!”
In October, 2017, scientists beamed a message at Luyten’s star (the a red dwarf star system GJ273, with two planets, one possibly capable of sustaining life in a form that we can understand.) The star is 12.36 light years distant, so we can’t expect a response for 24 and two thirds years. However, in late 2018, we’ll find that a direct response will be even longer in coming when we receive a preemptive first contact message from the planet noting that if we choose to contact them, to make sure and point our message beam to where the star will be in 12.36 years relative to Earth, not where it is now. The embarrassed “experts” that sent our message will quietly re-aim the transmitter and resend the message.
November 16, 2017 – Creepy / cool robot company Boston Dynamics released a video of its Atlas robot doing a back flip. I was going to get all snarky, like “ooooh, a back flip. Like I could do one of those when I was four.” Except I remembered that I couldn’t do a back flip when I was four, or ever, for that matter. Their robots are just mind blowing. I turned down an opportunity to tour their facility a few years back. I still can’t believe I didn’t jump at the chance. What a bonehead I was. Maybe I can get another invite in 2018?
In December 2017 Bitcoin reached a hundred gaseventybillionoid dollars, dropped down to half a hundred gaseventybillionoid dollars, and then went mostly back up again. Of course, that brought it to mainstream news, brought in options traders, and at least two pundits for each dollar it’s worth telling the world that Bitcoin has gone mainstream and that now’s the time to get into it. I don’t know if anyone remembers basic economics, but volatility on that scale makes it pretty much unusable as a real currency. It makes it a pretty decent investment for the people that got in early, but little more than a valueless bubble for the late comers. I wish I’d bought some a few years ago when it crashed after one of the other bubbles it’s had in its short life. Someday cryptocurrency will likely be a viable means of commerce, but today is not that day.
Can you have a poetic licence if you’re not a poet?
* see cornfield incident in Nebraska