More About Knowing The Future

As a writer it only happened to me once, I envisioned something in the future and that vision actually came true.  For other writers it happened routinely.  In the eighteen-hundreds, Jules Verne predicted space travel, submarines, helicopters.  H.G. Welles foresaw wireless communication, genetic engineering, atomic bombs.  Arthur C. Clarke wrote about satellites, social media, artificial intelligence.  Most frightening, George Orwell saw a future in which “Big Brother Is Watching You” by way of telescreens that keep every citizen under constant surveillance by government authorities.  My vision of the future was far less dystopian.  In fact, back in the time of moon landings and space shuttle programs, I foresaw a future in which astoundingly wealthy private citizens would usurp NASA and turn outer space into a fun, fantastical tourist destination.  Hence, with a hint of immodesty, it was yours truly who invented Elon Musk, Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos.  My interest in outer space was piqued when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon.  However, it wasn’t until the introduction of the shuttle program that I had my first inkling to write a screenplay about the turnover in space exploration to private entrepreneurs.  The invention of an airplane, i.e., space shuttle, that could take off and land after a trip to outer space brought my story idea out of the realm of science fiction into possible if not probable.  I was living in the California canyons when the first space shuttle Columbia launched from Cape Kennedy.  Realizing that in two days it would land on a dry lakebed at Edwards Air Force Base, a mere eighty miles from where I lived, I said to myself, “Whoa, I have a chance to see the first spaceship land on planet earth.”  Aware that my low-slung sports car would be no match for off-road ruts and potholes I borrowed a jeep from a friend, stocked it with food and water, and headed into the Mojave Desert.  Two hours later I approached a narrow dirt road marked with two signs informing, “This way for Shuttle viewing,” and another, “Beware of Sidewinders.”  The next morning, I awoke in the jeep to see that the handful of vehicles from the night before were now surrounded by two hundred thousand people searching the sky for signs of a descending spacecraft.  With the double crack of a sonic boom the space shuttle appeared high in the sky joined by two fighter jets guiding it towards the landing zone.  Directly over our heads the enormous Columbia floated down toward its final touchdown.  The crowd roared a Super Bowl roar and continued to cheer until an endless procession of RVs, cars, and vans slowly eked its way down a narrow dirt road, moving so slowly that I decided to spend the rest of the day in the desert and exit once everyone else was gone.  Hours later, I easily made it down the dirt road, merging onto a local road leading past an unremarkable motel with a modest sign outside, “Welcome NASA Headquarters.”  Curious, I pulled in and entered the lobby that displayed another modest sign, “Congratulations To Us All.”  Through a doorway leading to the motel’s swimming pool, I saw a fairly large group of people celebrating.  Familiar with the art of crashing parties I sauntered in, only to be quickly stopped by a group of stern officials.  They asked unflinchingly, “Are you with NASA?”  “No.”  “Are you with Rockwell International?”  “No.”  “Do you have anything to do with the space program?”  I answered boldly, “I was one of the nuts out there in the desert.”  The group looked at each other, conferred, then pronounced, “That makes you one of us.  Come join the party.”  Until late that night I mingled with scientists that designed the space shuttle, physicists that figured out how to get it to the moon and back, and, most enjoyable, two dazzling young men dressed in blue flight suits, astronauts set to fly the next space shuttle, today’s jet pilots that intercepted and guided the Columbia back to earth.  In contrast to the scientists that spoke to me in academic scholarly terms, the astronauts answered my questions with boyish simplicity.  For instance, when I asked a scientist why he became interested in the space program, the answer came back, “My quest was to further understand the basic building blocks of the cosmos.”  The same question to an astronaut, “As a kid I always wanted to fly a rocket ship.”  I asked a scientist how fast the shuttle was going when it re-entered from space, “Low-earth Mach number M approaching twenty-five.”  The same question to an astronaut, “She came in shit hot.”  In planning my screenplay, I managed to wangle a behind-the-scenes tour of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory where they were building in a sterile clean room the lunar rover.  I was also invited to witness a NASA reporter-eye view of the launching in Florida of the space shuttle Challenger, and, as a special bonus the night before, the launching of an Atlas rocket at the original Cape Canaveral.  By the time I was ready to start writing my screenplay, I’d discovered two fatal flaws for future commercial space flight: 1) the re-entry of a reusable spaceship crashing through the brutal forces of earth’s atmosphere caused prohibitively espensive damage to the craft’s exterior, 2) while the notion of space tourism sounded exciting, the reality was that once on the moon life would become boring to vacationers, trapped in a stuffy, clinical space station, lectures on fibrous refractory composite insulation, robotics with no arms or legs that would make kids want to go home immediately to play with their Lego Robo toy.  Dean Jensen, the trillionaire hero of my screenplay, hires Bess Carlton, genius scientist, who develops an indestructible new alloy capable of traveling to the ends of the universe and back without getting so much as a scratch.  As for the dilemma of keeping tourists entertained once on the moon, Dean Jensen, hopeless dreamer, builds the galaxy’s first outer-space amusement park, complete with Anti-gravity Scooters, Black Hole mystery rides, Laser Blasters, and an enormously bright neon sign almost visible to the naked eye on earth, signaling both the name of the amusement park as well as the title of the movie, “Moonland.”