Week in the Future

by by Barry Elkinton & David Adler


Private finances will be key to the future of space exploration. We’ve known that for a while now. National governments just don’t have the bankroll these days, and rich dudes really seem to like launching things into space. It’s kind of like owning an ice hockey team, but with rockets.

What we didn’t know, but probably should have guessed, is that reality television will be along for the ride. At least that’s the idea behind Mars One, a Dutch organization planning to send four astronauts on a televised one-way trip to Mars by 2023. The plan is simple: by creating a massive international media spectacle, kind of like the Olympics, the group hopes to raise enough money for the mission. According to the organization’s website, every step of the process, “from astronaut selection to training, from lift-off to landing” will be put on television. Viewers around the world will get to vote on which astronauts get selected. Once there, the astronauts will be there for good— regular shipments of supplies will be provided—  while their lives are continuously broadcast back to Earth.

As always, there are the naysayers. In December, Wired gave the project a 2 out of 10 on its Wired Science Private Space Company Plausibility Score, citing doubts about whether reality television can raise the billions of dollars required to finance the mission. Then there’s the issue of technology. Granted, the one-way aspect makes things a whole lot easier; we’ve gotten pretty good at landing things on Mars— it’s the whole getting back to Earth thing that everybody wants to avoid. Still, even if Mars One dodges that headache, the prospect of keeping four humans alive on Mars indefinitely remains a tricky matter. Sure, they can live in their landing vehicle, and yes, supply drops are hypothetically possible, but the margin for error still seems pretty slim.

In recent months, though, the project has been gaining steam. In late January the first round of investors and sponsors was announced. A few million down, a couple billion to go. Then, on March 11, the group announced it had awarded its first technology contract to Paragon Space Development, who will be working on life support systems for the project. This seems like an important first step.

Technological and monetary questions aside, all that really remains is astronaut selection. In February, a Huffington Post poll found that seven percent of Americans would volunteer for a one-way trip to Mars, so there should be plenty of willing candidates. The group says that 1,000 people have already applied. And they’re not looking for specialized knowledge—the selected astronauts will get eight years of training—but rather just general awesomeness, with a special emphasis on the capacity for self-reflection. So think about applying, or, at the very least, block out your Tuesday evenings for the next decade. 8pm EST, be there! –BE


Back in 1946, detective dick tracy dragged his trench coat through Chicago’s dark alleyways and whispered through the side of his mouth into his 2-Way Wrist Radio: “HEY CHIEF, BETTER SEND OVER THE EXAMINER AND THE PHOTOG.”

Two decades later, in the pilot for the television show, the 2-Way Wrist Radio became the 2-Way Wrist TV; the Chief’s face was just one button away. But, alas, the show was never picked up, and Tracy’s watch became just one of the many aspirational technologies of the mid-century, the stuff of science fiction and comic strips. Flying cars and jetpacks and house-cleaning robots—anachronisms all. But, turns out, Dick Tracy is back.

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Breaking: On wrists and noses and eyeballs and torsos, the future will be worn. ABI Research announced earlier this month that there will be 485 million annual purchases of wearable computing devices by 2015. Mobile technology is yesterday; welcome the rise of corporeal technology.

Wear your calories:

(i) Jennifer Darmour’s Move—a pilates shirt that vibrates at the hips and shoul

ders when you are in the wrong body position. Redefining the word “niche,”

wear the Move to work for a more interesting day.

(ii) Oakley’s Airwave Ski Goggles—built-in GPS, enhanced display of terrain,

connects right to the iPhone for urgent email queries. Remember: these are for

the slopes only.

Wear your health:

(i) Frog Design’s Airwaves—a pollution mask that filters air while measuring its

quality to generate data on global air conditions.

(ii) Second Sight’s Argus II—mount a tiny video camera on a pair of glasses and

implant a microelectrode onto the eye to give blind patients color and move

ment. Our very first (USDA approved) bionic eye.

Clearly, wearable tech is finding its identity somewhere between assistance and indulgence. The New York Time’s application on Google’s Glass headset flashes breaking headlines depending how you tilt your head. Apple’s upcoming “smart watch” is an iPhone on your wrist, the 2-Way Wrist revival.

All of it is pretty cyborg-y, or, at least, a stride toward it. Clunking around, metal and flesh, flesh and metal. But let’s not forget about the Dick Tracy tragedy—we all certainly thought we would be riding Segways by now, didn’t we? Turns out, some shit we just don’t need, and most of it, really, is too ugly to wear.—DA