Predictions and Wishes

At a recent speaking engagement, I was introduced as an “expert”.  Scary title, that.  At another place I was introduced as “highly experienced”  which is a polite way of saying “old”. 


These put me in mind of Clarke’s Law.  Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the inventor of the geostationary satellite, author of innumerable books both non-fiction and science-fiction, and one of the truly forward thinkers of the 20th century.  Clarke’s first law has to do with predictions and experts.  He came to an interesting conclusion after studying the predictions of experts over the previous centuries.  To get you in the right frame of mind, consider some of these real predictions by well respected experts of the past:


Rail travel at high speeds is not possible because the passengers, unable to breathe, would die of asphyxia – Dr. D. Lardner, 1835


I can accept the theory of relativity as little as I can accept the existence of atoms and other such dogmas – Ernst Mach 1912


Our future discoveries must be looked for in the sixth decimal place – Nobel Prize laureate A. A. Michelson, 1894


Aerial flight is one of that class of problems with which man will never be able to cope – Simon Newcomb, 1903


The [atomic] bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives – Adm. William Leahy to President Truman, 1945


The popular mind often pictures gigantic flying machines speeding across the Atlantic carrying innumerable passengers in a way analogous to our modern steam ships.  It seems safe to say that such ideas are wholly visionary and even if the machine could get across with one or two passengers, the expense would be prohibitive to any but the capitalist who could use his own yacht. – William H. Pickering, 1910

And so on.  You get the point, and there are plenty of other predictions we can laugh at today. 


So Clarke postulated his first law: 


“When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right.  When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”



Everybody is making up Christmas lists or maybe New Year’s Resolutions and wishes for what might happen in 2010 or later.  I think I will avoid such lists. 


In hopes of proving Sir Arthur Clarke correct, and based on my status as an aging “expert”, I would like to make some predictions (tongue firmly planted in cheek – hoping that reverse psychology will make the predictions fail):


1.  Human spaceflight was a passing fancy and its disappearance will hardly be noted by historians nor missed by the general public.


2.  Human beings will never again set foot on the moon nor travel to Mars or any other celestial body.


3.  The study of engineering and technology will become a thing of the past as the world’s standard of living returns to that of the 18th century.


4.  The popular entertainments of the day will so capture the imagination of the public that they are rendered incapable of any real productivity and spend their time in the pursuit of gossip about actors and sports figures.


5.  Constant exposure to digital toys will decrease the human attention space to milliseconds preventing any useful thought or accomplishment.


6.  Without any unifying goals, the world becomes increasingly balkanized into clan-like groups who turn to violence over ancient insults, real or imagined.


OH NO.  What an awful set of predictions.   The Grinch or Ebenezer Scrooge could not have done better.  But there they are, and I want credit for having made them.  If they come true, then I should be remembered for having predicted them.  If they don’t come true, I’ll be just as happy to join the company of William Pickering and A. A. Michelson!


Now for what I really wish for at this season  (not a prediction, lest I jinx it!):


A commitment from all the space faring nations of the world to join together – with adequate resources – to explore in detail the entire solar system in our lifetime; including the first permanent human habitations (colonies) on the Moon and Mars and outposts at other strategic points in the solar system; a well established and effective transportation system to link this community together; and a strong technology development program to enable it all.  Such an international effort would unite the peoples of the earth in cooperation to achieve a historic and noble goal and would result in innumerable benefits from technology and medical advancements, stronger economies and new industries, and serve to inspire our children to study the hard subjects and to follow their parents in achieving great things.


This may be too much to wish for; some may call it unrealistic, but human progress has only been truly made by unrealistic people.  Now my wish is that we buckle down and do it!


My very best wishes for each of you to have a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

21 thoughts on “Predictions and Wishes”

  1. May your wish come true and may you and your family have a wonderful and prosperous new year!

  2. It would be amazing to see the combined resources of the worlds space agencies coming together to set a series of goals for the next 10 years seperate from any polictical bickering.

    What a force of nature such a beast would be. What it might be possible to achieve….

    Oh well. Dreamtime over I guess!

    Thanks for your insightful blog and may Santa bring you & your family everything you wish for this Christmas.

  3. Like you, I hope that none of your predictions listed above come true.

    I would love to see Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek become fact. But since I am a few years older than NASA (less than 5 years), I doubt that I will see warp drives or transporters in my lifetime. But one can wish and dream.

    Until then, I’ll be entertained by the exploits of Kirk and crew, Picard and crew, and other captains of the Enterprise.

    Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


  4. Thank you for your contributions and integrity. Definitely one of the good guys.
    Merry Christmas Mr. Hale.

  5. It was an honor and a privilege to have had the opportunity to work on every manned space program except Mercury. One of the highlights of my career was being able to work with Wayne Hale during the post-Columbia return to flight as the Manager of the Boeing STS Integrated Systems Safety organization. I sincerely hope Wayne’s predictions prove to be as wrong as those he sited and that his wish comes true. On this, the 41st anniversary of humankind’s first direct exploration of another heavenly body (see, there are visionaries and leaders in the agency, who even now are proposing bold, bodacious, and, even cost effective, projects. Let’s hope that the Agency, and the Hill will allow us to implement them. I would be extremely disappointed if we went another 40 or more years watching and not doing. (I promise that my ghost will come back and make life miserable for any leaders who lack the vision and foresight to allow us to reach for the stars.)

    Wayne, thank you for your leadership and your vision

    Peace —

  6. I would like to control more robots on the surfaces of distant worlds

    leveraging human ingenuity before habitation

  7. Your wish can’t come true if only because 1 particular country has fulfilled your predictions exactly, excluding itself from any international space program. At least that country has a great mcmansion entitlement program.

  8. Now that a healthcare law looks like being in place before the State of the Union address and it is predicted to save $130 billion over the next decade and a trillion in the following decade, President Obama has budget to spend on science and technology.

    Thus my prediction for January 2010 is that we will see President Obama sign Healthcare Bill in to Law and then several days later go to up to Capital Hill and make a speech praising the Healthcare Law and propose his vision for space exploration.

    His vision will be for an international exploration of the solar system within the bounds of restricting arms technology transfer. The US will rely on the Russians for human launch services after 2010 until US commercial launch services are ready on the basis that ISS will be back on earth if the Russians don’t co-operate. This would result in every Russian enterprise associated with the State being sued for their assets even if the ISS causes no damage descending. It would also be the permanent end of co-operation in space with Russia by the US and anyone who wishes to be a partner of the US. The President is also helping them cut the cost of Government by agreeing to cut back excess nuclear weapons by an order of magnitude.

    I further predict that Ares I will be gone, Orion survives, we get Ares V Lite and a technology program from some of the savings from the healthcare budget.

    However, after several months of reflection I think we should keep the Ares I program even though Augustine could find only 12 flights for it in the next two decades. Ares I is a technology and human test bed for Ares V Lite. Ares V Lite uses much of Ares I first stage technology, Orion was designed to sit on top of Ares I and both still have adequate mass margin, Ares I development continues to proceed for at least another month, Ares 1-X was a success, much Ares I technology could be utilized by commercial operators, the J-2X has much in common with the RS-68 and expands the capacity of the Ares V Lite above RL-10 options, Ares I upperstage tank technology is very much a test bed for the Ares V Lite Core tank.

    The Ares I program keeps critical private sector skills going while Ares V catches up.

  9. Wayne,

    Your wishes echo my own; my only concern is that it is quite possible that ‘predictions’ 4 and 5 have already come to pass.

    But here is wishing that your wishes and dreams for a future rich in engineering and exploration is on the horizon. Much joy and happiness to you in 2010.


  10. I agree – but if it’s colonies we want then we should direct the program to produce them. Otherwise all we will get is exploration missions and maybe small outposts in our lifetime.
    Having a goal of building a colony on Mars makes sense, and though it will take time, will united the world’s spacefaring nations to a single purposeful goal.

  11. Savio’s Laws for anything complicated and expensive – 1. Double your Budget 2. Double the timeframe it takes to accomplish. Colonies on the Moon and Mars – not in my lifetime and I am middle aged. Effective Transportaion Systems – maybe in my lifetime. At best I see us humans going back to the Moon by late 2020s or even 2030s to visit. Mars maybe by 2060. Colonies on Moon and Mars – beyond 2100 I think.

  12. Wayne,

    The Rover ‘Spirit’ on Mars is not going anywhere, but for a few small pieces of equipment found on construction sites it could get it self out of the bog.

    What all rovers for getting round moons and planets need is a couple of arms with a footplate to enable a backhoe style motion to lift wheels out of a bog or jam and move the rover sideways or back/forward a wheel diameter or so. One arm at the front and another at the rear would easily free Spirit with a dozen or so motions.

    Another suggestion, in addition to the arms, rovers could have spring-loaded ‘anchors’ on the front and rear which can be fired four or five vehicle lengths, then winched back until they dig in (or re-fired until they do dig in) and then pull the vehicle out of the bog or jam. The anchors would need a release mechanism.

    The rover would need to be able to abandon the arms and anchor & cables in the event they trapped the vehicle.

    Rovers for humans would have the additional flexibility of sending a person outside to assist with the extraction operation.

  13. I think it is just a matter of time, with the time being a matter of various national initiatives. National initiatives are a product of chaotic political processes. Fortunately, there is a random element to these. We will get there, old friend. Best holiday wishes for your family and friends. Keep the faith and keep posting these essays.

  14. Wayne, this was a good posting, and I join you in hoping that all your predictions will be wrong (for the sakes of all mankind!). But I do have one quibble, with one quotation you cited.

    The late Dr. William H. Pickering (d. 2004), who was the Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory when Explorer 1 was devised and flown, was born in 1910, and as such would almost certainly have not made a quote about trans-Atlantic flying machines of that sort in 1910, even as a particularly precocious infant in his native New Zealand.

  15. I wonder if the space treaties that reserve space and its environs for exploration not exploitation is the reason nobody with the money resources to invest want to go there. Even if we found diamonds and gold on the moon I understand the treaties would prohibit exploitation the same way Antarctica is protected.

  16. My spaceflight prediction…
    The ability to travel at the speed of light will coincide with the ability to take a hot shower in space and the recovery of the market. : ) When we reach that point I will sign up for space flight : )

    Though I seldom post I do get a kick out of this blog. It's like hanging out with a bunch of people who are smarter than I am.

    Here's to a great 2010!


  17. Mr. Hale, your posts have been an inspiration throughout a very difficult year. Thank you, Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you and to all the readers of this blog.

    May these predictions prove to be wrong!

  18. Imagine all the people
    exploring space in peace…
    Some may say you’re a dreamer,
    but you’re not the only one.
    I hope some day they’ll join us
    and the world will be as one

    A little late but… happy new year!

  19. Wayne, this is the first time that I have stumbled across your blog and I am clearly already addicted. I wish all the senior leaders of NASA would give us a window into their thoughts like this!

    I had a ancient, stereotypically crazy nuclear engineering professor at the University of Michigan who used the same Arthur C. Clark quotation in one of his lectures but he said he couldn’t remember where it came from. It always stuck with me as an extremely empowering thought for a young and highly motivated engineer to keep in his bag of tricks. I have used it several times as a strengh builder to continue exploring paths that much more “experienced” engineers said wouldn’t work.

    The funny thing is that after I read the very first prediction, I had already decided that I would include that quote as a comment to your blog entry, but you beat me to it!!

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