When I was a youngster, I faithfully watched George Jetson pop the top of his flying car, drop off his family and jet off to Spacely’s Sprockets to put in a hard day’s work.
When he was done, he would get back in the same flying roadster, get a little automated pampering from his robot maid Rosie before he and his dog Astro would take a little walk on the space treadmill.
Now George Jetson and I both made our initial appearances back in the early 1960s, and since then, a lot of George’s futuristic landscape has come to fruition.
Since 1963, we have spent time on the moon, sent telescopes into the deep space, put a rover on Mars. And not unlike George, I certainly have spent a little time on the treadmill; along with that, it is perfectly normal to see a robot vacuuming up Astro’s fur around my house.
But the flying car was still the one missing element — or so I thought.
Last week, without any real prompting or planning, I happened to watch the launch of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket. It is the largest rocket on earth and SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk gave it about a 50 percent chance of actually taking off, and about another 50 percent chance that it would blow up in the first 30 seconds of flight.
However, for being one of the smartest people on the planet, he could not have been more wrong about his rockets. Not only was the test successful, both booster rockets returned to earth at the exact same time, exactly where they were supposed to, ready to be reused. They looked like a pair of Labrador Retrievers returning home to their master’s whistle.
For the first time in about a year, I felt a swelling of pride, not because my particular political party had come out on top or the other side had not, just because I was proud to live in a country where science and entrepreneurship could make magic like that happen. There were no losers at the Cape, only winners and the benefit would be for everyone.
I thought to myself, this is why we push math and science, and this is the ultimate use of technology, finding a way to forge a path to the future, not for posting hateful messages about servers and secret societies.
Most kids have trouble translating why math and science are important, and not everyone is cut out for a career in those fields, but sometimes it is nice to just sit back and think about the enormous amount of effort and work to accomplish an event like this.
And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better or any cooler, I found the secret prize hidden in the bottom of the cereal box.
In the cargo cone of the SpaceX Falcon was Musk’s own red Tesla roadster, driven by a space-suited mannequin he named “Starman,” after a David Bowie song. Once it was launched, Starman and his Tesla were sent out on a permanent elliptical between the Sun and Mars, with David Bowie’s “Life on Mars,” “Space Oddity,” and “Starman” playing on an infinite loop on the car’s solar powered stereo.
Musk hopes the car will remain in orbit for a billion years, and at some point, give an alien race something to scratch the their heads over.
It’ll reach its farthest point from the sun in November, and in September 2019, it will complete its first full loop around the sun. It will continue to complete one full orbit about every 19 months and from time-to-time be visible by telescope.
Musk did more than just donate the fastest electric car to the heavens, he helped get people thinking about dreams, problem solving, and unity again. He wants people to think about doing things that make our earth a better place.
For a long time our country has let petty differences and budget hawks dictate a culture that devalues arts, music and practical science in schools, in favor of the pursuit of test scores.
Test scores did not create SpaceX/Starman; dreams and imagination, coupled with people who love science and engineering did.
Thank you, Elon Musk, for inspiring us to dream AND think, and if Starman sees George Jetson, have him say hello for me.