Who has stolen the future?

The Mobile Phone - a drawing I did for a school project in 1974We've been living in the future now for almost twenty years, and I have to say it's been a big disappointment.

Some people might say that the rise of the internet is something that we didn't predict and which has gone very well thank you and which has led to all those people walking around with iPhones - a mobile, portable entertainment and communications centre in their pocket. Isn't that futuristic enough for me?

Frankly, no. Whilst I did make myself what I now realise was a toy laptop out of an old box file in 1973, drew a picture of a mobile phone (see above) in 1974 and always had a hankering for a wrist TV, to me the future was defined by one thing and one thing alone.


It's not surprising - one of my early coherent memories is being woken up in the middle of the night to watch Apollo 11 landing on the Moon, and I'm sure I got through more than one Airfix kit of the Saturn V and Eagle etc. Back then it was not unreasonable to assume that things would continue to develop at the same pace and that we'd now be taking package holidays on the Moon. I still have an old Observer colour supplement somewhere from 1969 which for a bit of fun is set "thirty years in the future" and describes just that, including advice about buying a second hand space suit.

On 8 September 1971 my dad asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. Have a listen:

BBC Moon by catmachine

Not an unreasonable ambition. So what went wrong?

I don't really know; I'm no economist or historian, but surely NASA's plans for a manned flight to Mars in the eighties weren't all pie in the sky? They seemed to have it all worked out, right down to the dates. This is what it said in the Brooke Bond Picture Card album "The Race into Space" (a slim volume I never let out of my sight):
The Manned Flight to Mars

I believed in it. According to "The Language of Space" (by Reginald Turnill, another book which I kept by my side in those days despite the fact that it had no pictures) by the close of the eighties we'd not only have been to Mars and back but have large space stations in orbit around both the earth and the moon and a permanent moonbase.

I don't know whether it was a failure of imagination or economy, but I've been left with the distinct impression that I'm living in the wrong universe, and that somewhere sideways in time there's another version of me who's been to Mars once, the Moon two or three times and the various space stations more often than I can remember.

Every so often I dream about it. The spacecraft always have clean white interiors and large windows through which sometimes I can see my destination looming - quite often Mars but once or twice it's been Jupiter.

After all in that world I've been an astronaut for fifteen years:

BBC Moon 2 by catmachine

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