What if NASA's predictions had come true?

Credit: Maxwell Paternoster

From the APR/MAY 2006 issue of Seed:

Russia recently announced plans for its version of a space shuttle, supposedly launching in 2011, flying two to four times a year and servicing the International Space Station. Sounds unlikely, but Russia doesn’t have a monopoly on outlandish predictions for space shuttles and space stations. Since Apollo, NASA administrators have spun some wild tales about what the agency would be able to achieve, and by when. So we asked Zev Borow to write a timeline based on NASA’s own prophecies over the last 30-plus years, and to describe how things might have gone had their predictions proved accurate.

1975 NASA launches a six-man space station as a proof-of-concept for a larger 12-man space station, and afterwards decides that from then on concepts should be “proved” with large charts and graphs and artists’ renditions that include tanned astronauts of all races and creeds.

1978 The first space shuttle is built, and starts launching 60 times a year. At first, shuttle travel is efficient, even glamorous. But then, blaming the Arabs, NASA stops serving full meals and prohibits firearms. Soon astronauts are wearing sweats onboard, and headsets are $2 each and infested with lice.

1981 The first permanent space station is complete. Time-shares are snapped up by Björn Borg, Linda Ronstadt and Jerry Brown, Jim Brown, and Peter Frampton. The scene at the pool is awesome. 

1984 Commercial shuttle flights begin, using privately-built spacecraft. Those in coach are defibrillated for peeking through the curtain to first class.

1985 Large-scale space manufacturing begins, with companies opening zero-g factories with NASA’s assistance. Several union organizers go on tethered space walks, never to return.

1987 The second permanent space station comes online. With 43 Philippe Starke-designed rooms, it is the first “boutique” space station to cater to both Euro trash and space trash.

1995 Construction begins at each of the two permanent space stations of a huge spacecraft, to take the first men to Mars. The project is temporarily sidelined when Earth is attacked by Martians. Things look pretty bleak for the good guys (us Earthlings), until someone realizes that the Martians are allergic to peanuts. Deadly peanuts. Once again teaching mankind a lesson. A deadly lesson. And that lesson is: Think twice about attacking Earth if allergic to peanuts—sucker aliens!

1998 The first commerical space station comes online, offering space vacations, and the tag line: “What happens on the space station, stays on the space station—as long as you don’t happen to be caught by cameras filming The First Commercial Space Station—the first reality TV show filmed in space! The first show where things stop being real, and start being real—in space! Commercially! Also, Richard Branson wins Emmy for best reality performance by an animatron.

1999 First manned mission to Mars. Things are quiet. Too quiet.

2001 The first Mars base is established. Commercial flights to the Moon begin. The Machines gain consciousness. Tang® is discovered to cause shingles. And it is revealed that pens that can write upside down in space were in fact first pioneered by 12th-century Chinese eunuchs.

Originally published May 8, 2006

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