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Transportation Technology

The End of the "Age of Speed" 531

Posted by samzenpus
from the taking-it-easy dept.
DesScorp writes "'The human race is slowing down,' begins an article in the Wall Street Journal that laments the state of man's quest of aerial speed: we're going backwards. With the end of the Space Shuttle program, man is losing its fastest carrier of human beings (only single use moonshot rockets were faster). 'The shuttles' retirement follows the grounding over recent years of other ultra-fast people carriers, including the supersonic Concorde and the speedier SR-71 Blackbird spy plane. With nothing ready to replace them, our species is decelerating—perhaps for the first time in history,' the article notes. Astronauts are interviewed, and their sadness and disappointment is apparent. In the '60s and '70s, it was assumed that Mach 2+ airline travel would one day be cheap and commonplace. And now it seems that we, and our children, will fly no faster than our grandparents did in 707s. The last major attempt at faster commerical air travel — Boeing's Sonic Cruiser — was abandoned and replaced with the Dreamliner, an airliner designed from the ground up for fuel efficiency."
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The End of the "Age of Speed"

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 14, 2011 @07:08AM (#35816314)

    it's bandwidth that matters.

    • Actually very true (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Chrisq (894406) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @07:37AM (#35816536)

      it's bandwidth that matters.

      A 200mph train link giving affordable travel between distant cities would be much more useful that a celebrity supersonic service.

      • by durrr (1316311)
        You mean IS more useful. See rest of the world for highspeed railroad, china and japan if you fancy lots of it and more coming in the near future.
      • by Herve5 (879674) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @08:34AM (#35817080)

        mod parent up.
        While our time saw the death of the only supersonic passenger plane (the french/british Concorde), years ago already, it also saw the dawn of superfast trains, from the japanese shinkansen to the french TGV to the german ICE.

        The french experience is, when you set up a fast train on a 500-km-like destination, you just shift 90% of the air traffic down to land.

        Fast trains are still slower than aircrafts, but if you factor in starting, and arriving, straight in city centers -and generally a much lower travel cost, this is definitely a move ongoing in many parts of the world.

        • by abarrow (117740)

          Absolutely. SF-LA = one hour on the plane, 5 hours in reality with all the TSA gropes, traffic from the airport and all the other bullshit. It's not that hard to build a train that can make the city center to city center trip in 5 hours or less.

          Sitting on a plane worried about when the guy in front of you is going to flip his seat back and crush your laptop screen. Compare that to walking up to board the train a few minutes before it departs, sitting in a nice comfortable seat and maybe even having reaso

          • I live in Sacramento, CA and it is officially faster for me to drive to LA (buena park, Disneyland) than to fly.
            We had a high speed rail on our ballet a few years back, and it passed, but because my state's senators and legislature can't seem to understand fiscal responsibility it was defunded*.
            Anyway, if we simply had high speed rail in this country between major metro centers that were too far apart to drive in 4 hours, but too close to make flying worth it I think it would be a real success.
            Say Sac to SF

            • Eh with you except for the social security bit.

              The problem with SS isn't that it's 'too expensive' - it's that it's an unmaintainable ponzi scheme. The money needs to be invested. Into what you may wonder - well look at Norway. They invest their gov money into corporations that offer public services.

              Imagine how well SS would do if it had invested the money into apple or microsoft or even simpler things like public utilities like water.

      • by Lumpy (12016)

        A 100mph really easy to make light train between close cities or even neighborhoods to the cities would be a great thing. for some reason here in the USA we are too stupid to build decent public transportation. Instead we clog 8 lane highways with Hummer H2's and Chevy Silverados with one person in them.

        And people wonder why the rest of the world looks at us with disdain.

      • by catchblue22 (1004569) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @09:39AM (#35817804) Homepage

        Trains are infinitely more comfortable than any other form of transportation, high speed or not. You can get up and walk around, go to the restaurant car, and stretch your legs out in widely spaced seats. The motion of the train is gentle and relaxing, and the view out of the train is often beautiful.

        Trains are sometimes perceived as being more expensive than cars, but that is largely because the government maintains the roads "for free", while train companies have to maintain the tracks and pay for it using fare revenue. It makes me angry that our society has chosen to let our passenger railway infrastructure to decay. Passenger rail is vital to our national interest, especially in this world of rising fuel prices.

  • So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gblackwo (1087063) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @07:09AM (#35816326) Homepage
    So we are choosing to be more efficient than fast?

    I used to speed a lot as a teenager- guess what? Now, I like to take my time, enjoy the travel, and save money on gas.
    • Re:So what? (Score:5, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 14, 2011 @07:12AM (#35816334)

      You are formaly declared as being halfway towards becoming a 'Grumpy old Fart'

    • So we are choosing to be more efficient than fast? What about the new Air Force mini shuttle, the Indian and Chinese space programs, oh.. and all of the newer, faster secret aircraft our own government has been developing over the last several decades? Does this author ever watch television?

      • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 14, 2011 @07:28AM (#35816446)

        We don't use them. Nobody uses them.
        This is about machines that are actually used. We don't fly to the moon anymore. We don't use shuttles anymore.
        Concorde was, for decades, the fastest any 'ordinary' person could go, and it's no longer here. There's nobody developing any alternatives to that.

        The world doesn't seem to need speed anymore. And that'd pretty believable; What's the use of shaving a few hours off your London-New York trip when you might as well just have a video conference with the people there? Transporting humans with speed doesn't seem to be important to the world. Instead, transporting data (And in a lesser amount; physical goods) faster and in more volume seems to be.

        Yes, there'll always be somebody pushing the limit. Be that some top secret military project, be that some suicidal maniacs on a salt flat. They will always be there. But this is about machines and methods that actually make it to the real world; And in the real world, who cares about speed?

        • by mangu (126918) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @07:42AM (#35816572)

          The world doesn't seem to need speed anymore. And that'd pretty believable; What's the use of shaving a few hours off your London-New York trip when you might as well just have a video conference with the people there?

          Yet the number of air travelers increase year by year. Personal travel IS important. In the USA, domestic flights carry from 1 million to 2 million passengers each day. And speed IS important. What's the point in sitting in an airplane? We would like to reach our destination as soon as possible, otherwise we would take a cruise ship, not an airplane.

          Unfortunately, physics is implacable, its laws are not subject to negotiation. Until we find ways to (1) move faster than sound without creating a sonic boom and (2) move faster than sound without spending much more fuel, we will be limited to subsonic travel.

          • The difference is that it's no longer wasted time. If you really need to make a spot decision, you do it remotely. If it can wait 5 hours for you to get to the site, it can probably wait 10 hours. If you're spending a few hours on a plane, most business travellers would pick the 7-hour flight where they get a meal, a comfortable chair, and space for their laptop, so they can work in reasonable comfort, than the 4-hour flight where they can't get anything productive done.
            • by AmiMoJo (196126)

              That is a borderline situation, but the further you go the greater the time saved. From the east coast of the US to Europe is about 18 hours or from Europe to Australia you could be looking at a 24 hour flight. There and back you are talking two days on an aircraft plus time lost at the airport, travelling, settling into the hotel, jet lag etc. I work for a company that produces building management software and a couple of projects a single day delay can have a penalty as high a £1,000,000, alth

          • by Grishnakh (216268)

            Yes, more people are traveling by air, but they're doing it as cheaply as possible. Airplanes actually travel slower now than they used to 20-30 years ago. LA-NYC flights take an extra hour or two than in the past, and that's not counting all the time in security. The airlines have required their pilots to slow down, so they can use less fuel, because passengers simply aren't interested in paying extra to have a faster flight. When people get on Travelocity or whatever, they automatically look for the c

        • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by robthebloke (1308483) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @07:43AM (#35816590)

          Concorde was, for decades, the fastest any 'ordinary' person with 4 grand burning a hole in their wallets could go, and it's no longer here.

          Fixed that for you. Easy jet is preferable for ordinary people, because it's affordable. Video conferencing is preferable for business, because it's cheaper than flights + hotel rooms. There is a common theme here - money! (and a desire to retain as much of it, as you can).

          • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Tom (822) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @09:11AM (#35817498) Homepage Journal

            You think money is the primary reason for video conferencing?

            I've done quite a bit of business travel, and I would take a good video conference any day over the travel.

            Fact is that of all the business trips I've made, only a fraction were really absolutely necessary, and I already tried to cut them down. From my experience with both myself and others, in decreasing order of relative frequency, these are the real reasons for business trips:
            1.) desire to feel important or demonstrate worth, including the nice hotel and other amenities.
            2.) side-reasons related to business but not officially stated, e.g. networking with customers or employees, judging something in person, meeting someone else over lunch or simply getting out of the office for a day
            3.) actual need of being there in person

            I did, in fact, set up a working conferencing system for four locations. It was very interesting to see how two of them constantly experienced inexplainable "technical problems" that the third could all solve or never had, despite them all being quite similar in both infrastructure and available technical support (the fourth was my own main office location). The two who just couldn't get it working were also the ones where, for the relevant persons, reason #1 was very obviously quite important.

            Money is an important part, but it doesn't tell the whole story, as any large company that has tried to cut travel expenses has found out the hard way. The main problem is that the rational, good people are the ones who are most likely to cut down on unnecessary - and sometimes even on necessary - trips. The ego-trippers and "networkers" will find or make up reasons why the trip is required. You'll do quite a bit of damage to your company if you don't realize that and take steps to make sure you eliminate #1 and #2 first, before you reduce the amount of #3 events.
            Also, unless you realize that a little bit of #1 and #2 is necessary. I went to quite a few company meetings where I had to give a presentation. I could have given them remotely, technically that wouldn't have been a problem. But a couple hundred employees really appreciated that I had taken the time and effort and come, and the feeling of being taken seriously is an important motivator. Likewise, your good networkers will accomplish more over lunch than in three meetings. Your first goal in reducing travel expenses is to create an atmosphere in which they can write "lunch with decider XYZ" on the form instead of making up a bullshit pseudo-reason. Once you have that atmosphere of mutual trust, you can start looking for bullshit reasons and eliminate those trips.

        • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

          by jedidiah (1196) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @08:02AM (#35816760) Homepage

          The world needs speed plenty. It just never bought into the marginal cost of going slightly bit faster.

          Being a discount "jet setter" is a big improvement over what it replaced, Concorde not so much.

          You also have to acknowledge the fact that our grandparents simply were not "jet setters" of any sort. It didn't matter if it was a 707 or Concorde or even some prop driven job. Air travel was simply not within their means.

          Now a smart shopper can go anywhere on the planet they want.

          THAT is a significant improvement that is not altered by the fact that the mode of transport is no longer considered glamourous enough.

          • Re:So what? (Score:4, Interesting)

            by nitehawk214 (222219) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @09:37AM (#35817776)

            Lets look at "average speed". Today air and high-speed train travel is more accessible to more people than in any point in history. We even have tourists in space (or at least on sub-orbital flights). So I would say the collective speed of the human race has only gone up.

            With more efficiency, we can get even more people up in the air and moving fast.

        • by AngryNick (891056)
          When it comes to travel, what we need today are faster ways to:
          -- get to the airport
          -- get through security
          -- get the plane in the air on time, and
          -- get through customs (when applicable)

          Last week I spent more in traffic driving to the airport 20 miles away than I did flying to my destination. Coming back, I spend 2x as much time going through US customs in Toronto and security as I spent in the air.

    • So we are choosing to be more efficient than fast?

      Nope. We've figured out by trial and error that traveling faster than sound isn't a good idea. It's expensive and makes people unhappy.

      With the laws of physics setting an upper limit on speed it makes sense to concentrate on fuel economy within that limit.

    • We are not really choosing to be more efficient then fast. Because energy isn't dirt cheap we have to make the trade off for it. Today it takes more energy (Man Power, Brain Power, resources...) to get energy thus making it expensive. Once we figure out the energy problems (Cost, Environmental Impact, Safety) we can go back to getting faster again.

    • Re:So what? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 (641858) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @08:16AM (#35816892) Journal
      No, we're still pushing up average speeds. Trains are now easily twice the speed that they were a couple of decades ago (in places with decent rail systems) and they carry vastly more people than the shuttle or concorde. Even if you measure passenger-miles, these two are largely irrelevant. Making a subway train 50% faster has a much bigger impact on overall quality of life than making a transatlantic flight 50% faster. 5-10 minutes off a daily commute is a much bigger win than 2 hours off a 5 hour flight that most people are lucky to make once every few years.
      • by steelfood (895457)

        I don't think that's the intention of TFA. It's true, the average speed of a human being has gone up. Air travel is now fairly ubiquitous where it once was a luxury. Same with bullet trains.

        But what TFA's author is lamenting isn't a decline in the average speed of humanity now, but the loss of the bleeding, cutting edge and the R&D going into pushing the envelope. Nobody's looking at supersonic travel. Space travel (real space, not high-atmosphere LEO) looks like it's just around the corner, but it's be

    • by Andy Dodd (701)

      In the era of tablets, laptops, and wireless Internet - speed matters less. Some people might want a longer train ride so they can get more work done!

  • TFA says:

      Not everyone rues the slowdown. "I think speed's overrated," says Bob van der Linden, chairman of the aeronautics department at the Smithsonian Institution's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, which displays many of the record-holding craft.

    Ask him again next time he takes a flight from D.C. to Hong Kong. On tourist class...

    • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @07:31AM (#35816472) Journal
      Given the seriously cramped conditions imposed by the Concorde's airframe design(it was necessarily narrow-bodied to reduce drag), and the further crunching induced by trying to get enough paying passengers into the sardine tube to justify the expensive flight, the trade off isn't as straightforward as one might imagine.

      From the perspective of comfort and productivity, if the same money can get you a cattle-class seat on a mach 2 bird or a cushy recliner, a power jack for your laptop, and an edible meal on a cost-optimized subsonic one, it isn't at all clear that you'd choose the former.

      Given that running the big, cost-optimized subsonic allows the carrier to adjust the split(not quite per-flight; but reasonably quickly) between comfort seats and low cost seats as the market dictates, while the small, supersonic one only allows choosing between expensive discomfort and really expensive comfort, the economics behind running the subsonic craft seem pretty compelling.

      While I expect that maximum achievable air speeds(and/or flight paths that incorporate very high speed excursions outside the atmosphere) will continue to advance for specialty applications, mostly military; such developments as "leg room", "laptops that aren't a pain to work on", and "sweet, sweet inflight internet" have likely sealed the commercial fate of very high speed air travel services.
      • by Xest (935314)

        I think you're probably being a little unfair on Concorde, it wasn't that uncomfy, having flown on it myself.

        Whilst you didn't have the space of a 1st class seat, or even an economy class seat near an emergency exit (yes, you usually get MUCH more leg room there) on classic subsonic airliner, it was certainly far comfier than your usual economy class flight, in part because the seats were just much more nicely designed than the cheap economy class crap you get to this day.

        It wasn't really just the cost that

      • by sznupi (719324)
        Military is also "stuck" (which is even more telling); the max speeds were set half a century ago, the average speed of human pilots maybe went somehow up - say, due to jets capable of supercruise... but that' the key thing here, "of human pilots" - because speed doesn't seem that important for the present wave of unmanned ones. And when the faster drones will show up...

        Ultimately, that's just the nature of human progress in the real world (vs. wishful fantasies) - extrapolating its rate into the future
    • by JamesP (688957)

      DC to Hong Kong - 8k Miles

      Definitely one of the worse, but try:

      London to Sydney 10k miles (done in 2 segments via Hong Kong or BKK)
      Sao Paulo to Tokyo 11k miles (2 segments as well via LAX)

      Or, for non stop flights:
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-stop_flight [wikipedia.org]

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 14, 2011 @07:13AM (#35816348)

    With the pat-downs and all the hassle at both ends of a flight, why would we need a Mach 2+ vehicle in the middle?

    • From London to Brussels, it was faster for me to take the Eurostar. The travel time was longer, but I only needed to be at the station for the Eurostar 30 minutes before departure, I didn't need to check my luggage and could walk straight onto a subway train at the far end. The faffing at the airport added so much time that it wasn't worth bothering with.
  • This is similar to developments in computer systems - the emphasis switched from faster processors to multi-processor, multi-core, etc. Interesting parallel. rgds Dave
    • In both cases the development ran into physical limitations. The speed of sound is no higher now than it was in 1970, so we've focused on being more efficient within the imposed limits than trying to break them.

      Cost is certainly a factor, but the near instant communication of the Internet has dampened the need for rapid physical travel, as well as the reality that nearly every aspect of modern airports are massive timesinks (changeover, security, luggage, etc.)... who really cares if the plane arrives 30 m

    • by jonbryce (703250)

      There we have the slight problem of the 30cm/ns speed limit.

  • by yelvington (8169) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @07:16AM (#35816368) Homepage

    There's not much point in plugging faster airplanes into a hub-and-spoke air transit system with chronic Air Traffic Control delays (assuming they're not asleep), 45-minute airport security lines and 20-minute waits for your baggage.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I traveled a lot in the mid-90s when my co had AmEx Travel people on premise who could cut boarding passes (REAL ones, not the oxymoronically named "e-ticket" crap) & all you had to do was go through metal detector & walk on plane. I once got to Hartsfield (Atlanta) for a 6:30 am flight, realized I'd forgotten my wallet but knew I had cash in my planner for cab & was meeting my director later, called AmEx who took care of the hotel & proceeded to make a 2-day trip to Houston & back w/no

    • I usually spend more time on the ground when I fly, than I do in the air. The airlines have managed to lose my luggage on all 3 of the last flights I took. So yea, I agree completely.
  • uh? (Score:5, Informative)

    by rbrausse (1319883) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @07:17AM (#35816370)

    a couple of unrelated decisions are a sign of ending "the age of speed"?

    at the moment China is constructing 17000 km of high-speed railways [wikimedia.org]; *surely* the beginning of an age of speed.

    sigh, media...

    • by necro81 (917438)
      Indeed.

      Another counter-point to their thesis: the development and imminent introduction of commercial space travel. Sure, it'll start off merely as suborbital flops for rich thrill seekers, but they will be (at least briefly) hypersonic thrill seekers.
  • My father use to play with engines as teenager, toying with engines, repairing, fixing then.

    I have grown repairing computers, fixing computer problems. I have absolutelly no fucking idea how to use a car, but I can write assembler sleeping (too bad dreams are stored on volatile ram).

    It make sense to me that if this how everyone roll, on the end, our whole thing ( I don't want to call it civilization ), become more computer "cool" and less engines "cool".
    Also, fast is not always the better thing. Theres so

    • by ciderbrew (1860166) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @07:33AM (#35816508)
      How old are you? The older I'm getting the more I want to play with engines and build things with wood and metal.
  • by wisebabo (638845) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @07:31AM (#35816474) Journal

    Well perhaps for the upper class Americans for whom air travel was a given back in the seventies travel hasn't sped up. But for the 10s or 100s of millions who are being introduced to commercial air travel for the first time, let me tell you their average speed has really taken off. Air travel has become affordable for the first time to a significant fraction of the world's population. Rising living standards and cheaper flights due to de-regulation has done the trick. Living here in Vietnam I personally have taken many airplane "virgins" for a ride. ;)

    (Due to an extremely fortunate set of circumstances, I must confess I was lucky enough to break the sound barrier in a Concorde flight way back when. It was interesting watching the digital airspeed gauge go higher and higher!)

    • by arisvega (1414195)

      True, plus add to that the new "tourists-in-space" endeavors and the mean speed gets even higher.

      Granted, those trips now are the exception and are pretty expensive, but there are some interesting side-effects on those 100km high zero-G dives: with some more planning, one can travel/send goods between continents at almost ballistic missile speeds- something that business travelers will certainly find very appealing. Okay, now expensive and a curiosity, but it helps those new "tourist-in-space" aviation indu

  • While it may be the first time in history that there is know know group of humans on earth traveling at or near our speed records or at least won't be when the shuttle stops, its not the first case of regression.

    As past societies declined people who commonly rode horses went back to walking, there is historical record of that. I think it could be argued that this might be more a symptom of the Pax Americana's end than anything else. Now that the great empire no longer has the capacity to project stability

    • You could argue that it is a case of wealth being held away from the pockets of the people who would be willing and able to spend it on researching and inventing. Most of the major brilliant moments of discovery and invention in the past were works of single humans funding (at least in part) and carrying out their own endeavours. Now wealth is held by large corporations who restrict the kinds of people who in the past might have been the inventors to specific paths, and overall this leads to little genuine

    • by imadork (226897)
      Would you really call it Pax Americana, given the lack of "pax" around the globe over the past 200+ years (and especially the last 100)?
  • I hope this applies to food [wikipedia.org] as well.
  • Meh... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @07:42AM (#35816570) Journal
    As much as I think space travel is cool, and the SR-71 was one of the more aesthetically pleasing aircraft ever, and similar sentiments, I can't really muster much pity for the disappointed astronauts and test-pilot types.

    There's a saying from the murky world of the intersection between market actors and regulatory agents: "Nobody screams louder than the guy whose subsidy is being cut."

    Astronauts, and their ilk, while they did the jobs we offered, fair and square, were (in terms of human speed) some of the most subsidized travellers in history. For a mixture of reasons, some more or less universal(scientific curiosity), some bound up in particular historical moments(Cold war dickwaving and spy games), we made comparatively massive investments in the velocity of a small number of pilots carrying out specific missions. I have nothing against the pilots, who largely executed their missions with skill and nerve; but that doesn't change the fact that those were some of the most expensive tickets in human history, made possible only by certain historical conditions. Those guys were playing with once-in-a-lifetime white elephants, not prerelease prototypes of consumer goods.

    (Now, unfortunately, our extraordinary subsidies projects seem to be focused on our parasitic layer of financial services con-men, an entirely crasser class of people, with far fewer virtues and far greater dangers...)
  • We know that we can travel faster, but the cost of such speed is not offset by an equal reward.
  • by BlackPignouf (1017012) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @07:44AM (#35816610)

    Well, duh.

    It's almost as if our average speed was linked to the availability of cheap energy and the days of cheap energy were coming to an end.

  • While I accept that the fastest modes of transport are disappearing, I think the mean speed at which people travel during a year is almost certainly higher now than it has been in the past. The change is that a lot more people are travelling pretty fast far more frequently... and, arguably, this is far more useful than a handful of people travelling very fast very occasionally.

  • by obarthelemy (160321) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @07:47AM (#35816622)

    The human race as a whole != the handful of people who go top speed. Ever heard of averages ? I'm sure the millions of people in China and India and other countries who are getting their first taste of cars, air travel, underground... more thank make up for the disappearance of a few outliers.

    Same as with money/health/culture/...: what counts in the end is not what the toppest top have/achieve, but what the masses do.

  • Keanu musn't let the bus go slower than 20 miles per hour!!!
  • petroleum is getting more expensive to dig up and process, as a function of more marginal types of deposits (oil shale, tar sands, etc), and just plain deeper to get to

    at the same time, india, brazil, china: approaching western standards of lifestyle and energy consumption

    this is a simple economic equation: decreasing supply, increasing demand, which means the age of cheap easy petroleum is over. and while we might be able to switch to electric cars relatively painlessly, i don't see electric powered aircraft in our future (battery weight/ energy density being the obvious issue)

    which means air travel, a mainstay of middle class lifestyle, might move back into the realm of the upper middle class and the rich as it was in the 1940s. simply as a function of fuel prices

    this doesn't have to do with speed, but it does have a lot to do with the related perception from the middle of the last century of air travel/ space travel becoming more and more ubiquitous and common place. think flying cars. but air travel is actually going to get less common, more rare

  • Good, as a species we're finally starting to grow up.
  • Traveling at high speed is inherently an expensive pursuit, in terms of energy, materials cost, and engineering. We've burned through millions of years worth of petroleum in the last century, like a kid burning through the cash in a found wallet. Other natural resources are becoming scarcer as well, with a greater population every year to support. If we're honest, eventually another resource - cheap labor - will be exhausted, too, as standards of living rise. The Chinese aren't going to build stuff cheaply

  • Look at the bright side: Future generations will envy our use of high-power combustion engines that they will see only in museums. It turns out that fuel is expensive.

  • The laws of physics shows that high speed travel demands a large energy budget. Atmospheric drag and the law of gravity can't be overcome. So forget civilian supersonic air travel, we can't afford it. While it's science fiction now, mag-lev trains traveling though a partial vacuum tunnel could give us supersonic travel between major cities.

  • This dream [popsci.com] has been around for a long time. [wikipedia.org] Time to start building them.

    .
  • by Cronock (1709244) on Thursday April 14, 2011 @08:21AM (#35816948)
    I believe the root cause is more the loss of ambition of the general population. The climbing average age in the U.S. means that older and, generally, less ambitious people are at the voting booths. Their overall selfishness in old age and their cliches of "not in my backyard!" and "not with my tax dollars!" has lead to a completely different social environment for the youth of America than they had. During the cold war money was dumped into education, and the payoff was a very prosperous and advancing America. These days you'd be lucky to end up in a school district where your teacher isn't personally having to buy all the classroom supplies. You end up with teachers that are stretched too thin, broke, unhappy, non-engaging, and generally unmotivated anymore to what they enjoyed before. This results in kids brushing off that subject as unimportant, whereas an engaging teacher could possibly unlock a savant. We've likely already lost some brilliant and innovative American minds to our lack of funding for education, likely now working some crappy cubicle job being reminded by 4 different bosses about TPS Reports, rather than working in theoretical physics and propulsion. Our society needs to stop hacking at the roots to "save" the tree.

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