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US exits Paris accord? To the space plane! Yeah, right

Commentary: Projects like Stratolaunch, SpaceX and Blue Origin might be flashy, but it's not clear how they benefit real, ordinary humans.

Technically Incorrect offers a slightly twisted take on the tech that's taken over our lives.


That is one large plane.


I'm supposed to be impressed.

No, I am impressed. 

Six years ago, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen announced his Stratolaunch project, revealing a picture of a space-traveling plane that looked like two planes stuck together with a rocket in between.

On Wednesday, the actual plane rolled out of the very large hangar for the first time, still looking like conjoined aeronautical twins, but with no rocket-shaped thing in the middle.

As intriguing as the Stratolaunch project might be, however, I can't help but wonder how much of tech moguls' space ambitions are ego trips (or even mere moneymakers), rather than meaningful steps toward improving humanity's ultimate lot.

I have a problem, you see. I'm feeling slightly Hawkinged.

Famed astrophysicist Stephen Hawking says we've got only 100 years left on this planet before we have to get out, having ruined it with our selfish ways. How much will these supposedly Space Age machines begin to help with that?

Elon Musk's SpaceX and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin rockets, for example, make for spectacular viewing. Allen's claims of his plane being the biggest, with its 385 foot wingspan, incites some oohing and aahing. All tech moguls' projects seem to make for spectacular PR-ing, too. 

But when will real, ordinary humans benefit? And how?

Stratolaunch, SpaceX, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, however, recently tweeted, "By the end of this century, I hope that hundreds of thousands of people will have the chance to become astronauts."

Hope. And by the end of this century, Hawking claims we'll have only 17 more years to get out of here. 

Currently, many of these rockets and advanced aircraft are set to send payloads, not people, into space. Blue Origin does promise to send people to the moon next year, but moonshots seem so very '60s somehow, unless we can invent some radical new way for a lot of us to stay up there (and doesn't the moon sound like fun?). 

For now, Stratolaunch only intends to launch satellites into space from an altitude of 35,000 feet. This might allow for better internet or more sophisticated monitoring of just how swiftly the Earth is being ruined. But Stratolaunch's maiden flight isn't even anticipated until 2019. 

Perhaps I'm being too pessimistic. But when I see in a press release that Stratolaunch CEO Jean Floyd says the aircraft will "provide more flexibility to customers," I see a business enterprise, rather than a creation that will fundamentally change humanity's trajectory.

This isn't to suggest these things aren't, at least, a small step forward. 

It's just that I fear we're a long way back, thanks to human complacency, government inaction and, perhaps, scientific thought not advancing as swiftly as it might, given our parlous state. 

Of course, this is only relevant if you accept Hawking's doom-laden scenario -- and I try to ignore it every day. Then again, I hear the US has withdrawn from the Paris climate accord. So perhaps he'll be revising his prediction to 80 years, instead of 100.

Technically Incorrect: Bringing you a fresh and irreverent take on tech.

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