Monday, May 9, 2011

Fantasy Then; Reality Now

On my morning walk today I was startled by a sound a Very Large, very ecstatic, bumble bee. Adjusting my visor and sunglasses, I finally picked it out of the overcast. What the heck was that thing? It was soaring and circling and dipping and rising at quite a rate of speed. Suddenly I remembered a scene from an icky 1975 cult sci-fi satire, Death Race 2000, in which the racers were strafed by just such an aircraft.

It took some Googling, but I found it: a Rutan Long-EZ,G-WILY. Yes. And it wasn’t such a new-fangled thing after all. The design, according to Wikipedia, was first offered to home aircraft builders in 1976. Obviously it was at least on the drawing boards before director Paul Bartel hollered, “It’s a wrap!” No doubt the writers and producers expected WILYs to be in every garage by 2000.

But it did make me think about what futurists imagined way back when, and what has actually transpired by now. I mean, how much does the Apollo rocket resemble that ship of Flash Gordon’s? Nevertheless, it did happen, which in turn made me think about folks who don’t imagine anything of the sort.

Take that time back in my NASA days. I was helping a Boeing engineer set up his new office space when said PhD ambled out and plunked an open tome on my desk. “We need a new dictionary,” he muttered, and returned to his boxes.

I looked at the entry marked by a slash of yellow highlighter. “Rocket ship,” it read: “An imaginary airplane.”

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