I watched Alfonso Cuarón's fabulous new movie Gravity some days ago. Going to watch the movie was a conscious attempt to get away from the quotidian mess that increasing envelops us here in Tulsa and nationally.
The dreary, semi-incomprehensible and potentially catastrophic Fed shutdown/impasse on Capitol Hill counts as item one. The mess-up that threatens to upend the United States economy and throw us back into recession via a failure to attend to the federal debt ceiling crisis is a second whacko event.
The latest United Nations climate report contains atrocious news for the planet and says we are not doing even a fraction of what's required to halt our descent into a hellish world. And anemic sales tax receipts at City Hall promise to arrest public service delivery and restart our seemingly endless discussions about the cost of cops and firefighters -- yikes!
But I'm sorry, I'm getting into the weeds here. I don't really want to talk about any of this stuff. I started by talking about the wonders and outsized potential of space represented in the Gravity film, and I want to get back there, and I will.
But then I did some daydreaming about possible economic futures for Tulsa. I was thinking especially about aerospace and northside development. Here's a part of my little imagining:
Dateline: February 2040
Imagine a T-Town in 2040 in which bold options available via PlaniTulsa -- Tulsa's still out there, but in hibernation, citizen-spawned development effort -- take hold in the form of some audacious departures from orthodox development strategy.
In this conjuring, Tulsa North is packed not with sterile copies of nationally-branded mall stuff and big box offerings (can you say south Tulsa?), but with more vital, decidedly distinctive and locally-owned outlets, niche retail spots with a focus on local foods and culture, a host of small performance and entertainment venues, and a mix of smallish, high quality homes.
There is also lots of high quality rental housing -- including a bunch of intergenerational units and top notch "micro lofts."
Can you say, think differently -- think a leapfrog path?
Dateline: April 2023
BuildFish, a Tulsa-based synthetic biology company, announced this morning that one of its product animals, Lepton 2, already an international racehorse sensation, will be competing in the Kentucky Derby/Mod Race. Lepton 2 was spawned at BuildFish's horse systems facilities at its Tulsa/Southern Hills "2" Creature Fabrication unit. Initially financed by a compact of local investors with seed capital from the kfund in 2015, the firm is managed by Tulsa's Pan Labor Confederation and Tulsa's John Hope Franklin Charter High.
Dateline: March 2045
The Green Country Aerospace Consortium said today that it has struck up an alliance with AstarA -- the fast-growing lunar tourism venture. A spokesperson said that 25,000 passengers are expected to visit AstarA's moon base at the crater Copernicus or participate in the firm's "round the moon," trans-lunar orbital tourism program by the end of 2050; the new tourism project will start at the end of the year.
OK, dream over -- back to ground.
The movie is not a classical endorsement of space exploration; in fact, the astronaut character portrayed by Sandra Bullock -- the driving force in the film -- says at one point that she "hates space."
Who wouldn't at that moment, given the travails that visit her and her compatriot, head astronaut George Clooney?
The film is fantastic and only contains a couple of technical flaws, both of which have been humorously looked at by astrophysicist Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson.
Tyson is quoted as saying that it would've been nigh on impossible for the Clooney and Bullock characters to get from the Space Telescope -- which has an equatorial orbit and "flies" at about 350 miles above sea level -- to the International Space Station (ISS), which has a very different orbit and is about 150 miles lower, altitude wise, than the Space Telescope.
But this "thing," and a Bullock "hair thing" that I won't go into, are not problematic in terms of the narrative arc of the film, nor to any of the other well-represented technical and scientific elements of the characters' voyage.
You see, the world of Gravity is one of the best, in the opinion of some keen science fiction/space critics, since Kubrick's grand 2001. It is an intriguing reminder of what could be ahead for humanity. Imagine a real space-faring pathway for this country: one that can produce sustained growth and employment, one that might spark the meta-adventure actually required to reanimate the human spirit and push us to the next stage in human social, cultural, economic and technological evolution. And if you don't believe me, you can talk to Neil deGrasse Tyson and other folks about it.
So, are we going to continue to wring our hands on a week-to-week basis and wonder what American Airlines and its merger partner are going to do to our T-Town aero workforce? Or, are we going to seize the day? How about a T-Town conference to identify how we can plug into the civilian drone revolution and the next phase of the American space program?
In Oklahoma, there are a slew of contracted academic/NASA projects underway at OSU's mechanical and aerospace engineering department: Dr. Jamey Jacob, a prof there, has briefed me on this smallish but inventive haven for space commercialization and development projects.
These efforts might soon have real impacts on employment and industrial activity in our state. One of the projects has to do with a series of human habitat developments that might be employed for long-term solar system exploration: trips to Mars and perhaps later to Jupiter's moons. Such human environments could also be used to sustain space miners and mineral exploration efforts of the kind envisioned by Planetary Resources, an incredibly well-funded, if still morphing, asteroid mining project fueled by talents like filmmaker/explorer James Cameron, planetary scientist Sara Seager, Google chief Eric Schmidt, Excel developer/space tourist Charles Simonyi and business polymath Richard Branson -- a huge project announced recently.
Meanwhile, SpaceX, the fab public/private space commercialization venture spearheaded by biz phenom Elon Musk, is using its $1.5 billion-plus contract with NASA to ramrod a whole series of early-stage efforts involving a shuttle-like vehicle capable of conveying American astronauts to the International Space Station. The trial of the firm's mini-shuttle is slated for some point in the middle or late part of next year.
So here's the point. We need to stop navel gazing and think about stuff that can keep our spirits and minds alive and foster a cooler future: gravity, you see, is an enabler, not a downer.
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