Time will explain it all. -Euripides
Way back in 1963, at the dawn of America's space program, officials of the now defunct General Dynamics Astronautics Facility in San Diego, Calif., commissioned a unique collection of predictions about space travel and life in the distant year 2063. These predictions, written by famous scientists and other well-known Americans of the era, were sealed in an aluminum time capsule and buried beneath the west ramp entrance to the research facility. The July 1963 public ceremony burying the time capsule marked the fifth anniversary of the then high-tech facility.
Sorry to say that this once proud General Dynamics San Diego space research facility is no more-it has vanished, now covered by a multi-lane freeway constructed in the late 1990s. The precious time capsule is also gone forever; it was mistakingly discarded, along with building debris, when the plant was razed to make way for the superhighway.
Thankfully, General Dynamics preserved its collection of 2063 predictions in a privately published volume, titled "2063 A.D.", that numbered less than 200 copies. With the diligent assistance of the interlibrary loan desk of the Ilsley Public Library in Middlebury, this writer secured one of the few remaining copies of the rare document; the borrowed copy is housed in a special collection at the University of Rhode Island Library.
Until the 1970s, future predictions in the U.S. tended to be wildly optimistic-flying cars, vacations on the Moon, hotels under the ocean, and other Jetsonesque lifestyle luxuries and gizmos. These "paleo" predictions rarely took into account the narrow views of most elected government officials, a fickle and easily distracted public, or the technical and financial challenges of progress (such as fusion power or trips to the Moon and nearby planets). No matter, the General Dynamics predictions provide a fascinating view of 1963 as much as they do about the future world of 2063. Martian life, teleportation, one-world government, and trips to distant stars are just a few of the topics noted in "2063 A.D."
Here are a few predictions with their assigned prognosticators. You can decide if you believe their ideas will become reality by 2063:
•John Glenn, astronaut, ex-senator, and 1984 presidential candidate: "We will have discovered natural resources we did not know existed in the year 1963... and (discovered) an anti-gravity system."
•William Pickering, astronomer: "There will be travel at relativistic (light-speed) velocities to the nearby stars."
•Fred Whipple, astronomer : "The control of fusion in 1977 and the use of ordinary hydrogen in 1995 led soon to a comparatively infinite supply at relatively low cost."
•Ester Kisk Goddard, rocketeer, and wife of rocket-pioneer Robert Goddard: "The planetary system of our Sun will have been explored... (but) of the hopes for a one-world concept... one must be less optimistic."
•Lyndon Johnson, U.S. president: "Weather control, global communication, global navigation, regular travel... between places on Earth and space stations and the planets, and international policing against space and terrestrial conflicts."
As an experiment in both writing and creative thinking, teachers today-in 2009-might enjoy having their students "journal" their predictions about what our world will be like a century hence, in 2109. Home time-capsule kits are available for purchase on several websites (see: www.heritagetimecapsules.com for an example), so students can bury their own school capsule outside and mark it with a large stone or a heavy engraved object such as Heritage Time Capsule's time-capsule medallion.
Who knows, maybe a few time capsules buried by Vermont students today will out last General Dynamics' short-lived "2063 A.D." time capsule? And don't fail to anticipate mundane happenings that can affect the shape of things to come, things rarely predicted by futurists-such as a run-of-the-mill highway project in the 1990s obliterating your 1963-2063 time capsule.
What's in the Sky: This weekend look for the beautiful ringed planet Saturn to the lower left of the Moon. Saturn is a little brighter than the "nearby" star of Regulus. Even through the eyepiece of a modest telescope, you can view the spectacular ring system of Saturn.
Lou Varricchio, M.Sc., is a former NASA science writer. He is NASA's Solar System Ambassador in Vermont is a senior member of the U.S. Civil Air Patrol in Vermont.