Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Time Scale of Space

Interplanetary Spacecraft
When is the space future supposed to happen? The question is raised by comments on the last couple of posts, especially some of Jean Remy's observations. Among space minded people today a sense of frustration and stagnation is pervasive. But this is largely a result of distorted historical perspective.

We entered space with a spectacular splash, due to particular circumstances, AKA the Space Race. Rather than working up gradually to a lunar expedition by building an orbital station first, as expected in the 1950s, we took it in one straight shot, then woke up with moon rocks in our pockets and a great big hangover. We did what? We went where?

Just as unexpectedly, satellites took over most of the jobs that the 1950s assigned to a space station. Instead of having immediate (and valuable/profitable) tasks, such as weather observation and telecoms relay, a space station is needed only for long term development. The same can be said of human spaceflight itself. Robotic spacecraft serve our current practical needs very well, and they are carrying out our first reconnaissance of the Solar System faster than anyone in the 1950s dreamed. We are not sending people up to watch hurricanes, we are sending them up to learn how to live and work in space.

True, there is a short-term crisis in US human spaceflight - our current architecture is nearing retirement, and its replacement is over budget and behind schedule at best, at worst a major Washington boondoggle. This is a temporary and parochial concern. Abandoning a reusable shuttle in favor of an 'old fashioned' capsule also feels like retrogression, but it merely accepts a reality: The Shuttle, like the Great Eastern, was too much too soon. The technology is not mature enough for an efficiently reusable vehicle, and the traffic does justify one.

Meanwhile people like Burt Rutan are experimenting with lower cost approaches to launch and initial ascent. Whether or not suborbital tourism succeeds as a business, and it might, this work will pay off when the launch market reaches the point of demanding reusable craft.

So what might we expect from here?

The current year round population in space is six. Suppose it were to grow, through the usual fits and starts, at an average 4 percent per year. First we'll try this out on the past. Run backward from 2009, this growth rate gives us three people in space in 1991 - about when Mir entered full service - and one person in 1963, soon after we started traveling in space at all. As predictions of the past go this is imperfect but not bad.

Now let's apply it to the future. Over the next few decades, growth is glacially slow:

2025: 11 people
2050: 30
2075: 80

So two generations from now there are still only 80 people living in space - barely enough for a robust orbital station and minimal outposts on the Moon and Mars. The space population passes 100 in 2081, and by 2101 there are a shade over 220 people in space - just enough, perhaps, to support the sort of travel infrastructure that the movie 2001 pictured for a century earlier.

But in the 22nd century, compound arithmetic starts to kick in:

2125: 568
2150: 1513
2175: 4034
2200: 10,753

More than ten thousand people in space is a lot. At this point the human Solar System begins to resemble our familiar image - large orbital stations; regular scheduled passenger service at least to the Moon and perhaps to Mars; space based industries - surely propellant production, likely some mining and fabrication as well.

Continue the same growth rate until 2300 and there are more than half a million people in space, the equivalent of a medium sized city and suggestive of at least incipient colonization.


Any compounding formula, carried far enough, becomes absurd. This one gives 1.4 billion people in space in 2500 and 3.5 trillion in 2700. In real life such trends bump up against something. Short of magitech on the one hand or catastrophe on the other, living in space will remain more difficult and costly than on Earth, so the population will probably settle in at some modest fraction of Earth's population - which might mean anything from a few hundred people to a few million.


But the real point is that the time scale examined here is not so different from the classic time scale of the rocketpunk era. Heinlein, after his early (and wildly space-optimistic) Future History, got cagey about specific dates. But the interplanetary futures of Space Cadet or The Rolling Stones generally seem to be set around the 22nd century, and much the same for Clarke's hard SF, aside from books directly linked to 2001. The scale of things was closer to what my formula predicts for the 23rd century. But a few decades this way or that, or even 100 years, is nearly a quibble on the time scale of centuries.

The truth is that human expansion into the Solar System was always going to be gradual, because the Solar System is so big. 'Murricans should have been particular aware of this, because of the prolonged colonial prelude to our national experience. It was 115 years from Columbus to Jamestown, and another 168 years to the the Declaration of Independence. On the same time scale, starting from 1969, we might expect the founding of Luna Base in 2084 and the inevitable Revolt of the Colonies in 2252.

Viewed in large historical perspective our space progress is just about on schedule.


Image of proposed HOPE Callisto mission ship via Atomic Rockets.

Related posts: I discussed our rate of progress on the 39th anniversary of Apollo.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

This sounds like an interesting post, especially in the area of space population over time though I am not sure if that little stunt with SkyLab was added or not. It is interesting that, barring any development or mishaps that might screw up this otherwise projection of population growth, the year to which one might expect a mature and well developed industrialization of Earth Orbit at the dawn of the Twenty-Third Century of the Common Era Calendar. A year that possibly might include commercial and common space travel to and from the Earth's Surface, though Interplanetary Travel might still be a special privilege akin to Astronauts of NASA of today.

However, even with this mathematical prediction of space population, one can't help but wonder if "natural" population growth instead of migration should be taken into account as well. Assuming it is possible in the first place.

Though either way, I'll be compost long before I can even consider talking to a Real Estate agent about an off-world patch of land of my own, weather domed or canned in an orbital cylinder. I am probably better off saving what money I have in Star Ship Three's hour long "Taste" of micro-gravity.

- Sabersonic
Sabersonic@hotmail.com
jrposadas@gmail.com

Anonymous said...

4% is a reasonable growth rate for a population of large mammals released into a new environment. The problem will be keeping the small mammals (And invertebrates) from growing even faster.

Sabersonic: 'Kids in space' will probably be a fairly late development, say sometime around the mid 22nd Century by this growth-rate. Small children were economically useful during the colonization of North America or Australia, but are a pure economic loss in space. I suppose you could use them as advertising space or status markers, the way today's middle class does, but children will be even more costly in space than they are in today's large cities. Children need specialized care that Mommy PhD and Daddy BsC MD will likely be too busy to provide. And they need open spaces for physical development, exposure to animals and soil for immune system development, and have surprisingly high caloric intakes.

The dispersal of space infrastructure will probably be a factor as well. If those ~1500 people mid-22nd Century are concentrated in one or two large habitats, then the habitat might have enough open space and environmental diversity to support children. But if they're scattered across a half-dozen or more smaller hab-pods, then there probably just won't be room for kids.

There will probably be kids conceived and even born in space in the 21st Century, but it'll be a long time before any one is raised there.

Ian_M

Carla said...

Interesting post. Presumably the glacially slow initial stages could just as easily consist of a long period of continuing stagnation followed by a sudden step change when a new (perhaps as yet unknown) technology suddenly kicks in. Interesting that you end up with the 22nd/23rd century. Do you suppose the classic writers applied the same sort of logic, or is it just that the 22nd century is still almost as far in the future as it was?

Rick said...

Sabersonic - You hit on the underlying reason why space geeks are so grumpy about the pace of progress. Not because it is inherently subpar, but because we will probably be safely under the sod before so much of the cool stuff happens.

I came up with the 4 percent figure somewhat empirically, somewhat arbitrarily, but I should add that I was thinking almost entirely of 'immigration' rather than reproduction as the growth driver.

Space colonization in the classic sense of the rocketpunk era, like Heinlein's Farmer in the Sky, seems exceedingly unlikely to me, at any rate for the midfuture. I agree with Ian that children will likely be conceived in space in this century, perhaps born there, but for a long time they will be a bug, not a feature.

Ian also makes a good point about the Colonization will happen when 'bases' evolve into towns. On the timetable I gave here, this might just be starting 2200.

If there are 10,000 people in space, there are probably a couple of centers that have more than a thousand people. Specialist facilities like machine shops start to appear. Cafeterias begin to differentiate and become restaurant-like.

Project my growth rate to 2250 and there are over 75,000 people in space; if it happens at all you would expect town formation by that point, with a couple of centers having upwards of 10,000 residents.


Carla - Yes, my steady growth rate is artificial, especially for the early period. In practice I'd expect periods of apparent stagnation interspersed with fairly abrupt jumps.

These could be due to new technology, to politics (e.g., another space race among the great powers), or simply to a combination of gradual developments hitting a tipping point, such as when an 'orbital DC-3' becomes viable and hundreds of people can afford to go up each year.

I think the classic writers hit on the 22nd century more or less by intuition. They wanted a setting far enough in the space future that an extensive space infrastructure already was in place, something you wouldn't expect to happen overnight or even in a generation or two.

Also, in writing a future history setting it is wise to have a Vague Era between your own time and your future setting, so your future history doesn't get relegated to 'alternate' too quickly.

Anonymous said...

Possibly another reason the current generation of space geeks is grumpy: not only will we not see the cool stuff before we die, we can barely expect visible progress towards the cool stuff before we die.

Also, there may only be 80 people in space by 2075, but robots and teleremotes will make them much more capable than their numbers suggest. This might actually slow the population growth: why have 80 people up there when (say) 40 people and some machines can do just as well? (YMMV)

-Joel L.

Anonymous said...

Rick, your analysis seems to assume that the number of people living in Earth orbit will grow at a relitively modiest rate for several centuries...but only if there isn't a future rush to colonize planets (for whatever reasons), that needs a huge surge in orbital population. The number of people born in orbital (or L4, ect) habitats as opposed to those born on a planetary colony will most likely be low. If, for some reason, military bases are established (defense, policing, customs, ect.), the families of those servicemen and women may well go with them...especially if tours are measured in years. Your comment about politics changing the conditions for the number of space dwellers could be one of the sources of the 'jumps' in population that Carla mentioned. Political and economic conditions in Europe and other places caused huge surges in the populations of the Americas, Australia, ect. through immigration.

Say someone comes up with your 'DC-3 spaceship' and the price of a ticket to LEO is now only $10,000...then the Union of Disgruntaled Political Critics decides to found a new society on some asteroid, or the New Pagan Church of the Moon wants to settle in a cavern on the farside of Luna...hystory is chock full of such pairings of desire and means that lead to new and radically different trends in humanity's development.

Ferrell

Rick said...

Joel - This is already the case. We have no one in space doing most of the jobs that the crew of a 1950s space station was expected to do - global weather, comms, etc.

The ratio of infrastructure to population will be much higher; 10,000 people in space connotes a LOT of activity up there.

Some classic space roles are probably wiped out, like Belter prospectors. It is much cheaper to send out robotic vehicles to do primary assay of asteroids, with a human mission being dispatched only when a seriously promising one turns up.


Ferrell - Permanent residence, from which colonization might grow, may be confined entirely to spacehabs. The gravity of the Moon and the Jovian moons, even Mars, may be too low for long term human health.

The problem for classical colonization is that there is no cheap land in space, at least not in the Solar System. The only way to provide habitat is to build it.

Groups that want to isolate themselves may be able to do so, once the tech and infrastructure are mature enough - on the timetable I gave here, in the 23rd century. But they won't be the drivers of space colonization; those will be communities more actively engaged in commerce and the like, giving them more resources to draw on. (IMHO)

Jim Baerg said...

"Permanent residence, from which colonization might grow, may be confined entirely to spacehabs. The gravity of the Moon and the Jovian moons, even Mars, may be too low for long term human health."

But given your postulated timescale, genetic engineering or drugs etc,to make humans that can live at lunar or martian gravity for years & then move to earth gravity with no problem may well be available.

The experimentation would to make this reliable enough for parents to willingly do this on their children would be done on animals that are probably raised in rotating space stations, so they can be easily moved to different gravity levels to test the effectiveness of the treatment.

CitySide said...

"It was 115 years from Columbus to Jamestown, and another 168 years to the the Declaration of Independence. On the same time scale..."

Nor does this example bode well for the idea of America as the dominant space power circa 2252

Rick said...

Jim - My gut feeling is that there won't be a simple fix for low gravity. It isn't a matter of modding a couple of genes to put a toxin out of play; all our systems are built around a 1 g field.

On the other hand, we might find out that low gravity, unlike microgravity, is not a problem.


CitySide - No, it doesn't. Though 250 years is not enormous on historical time scale; the world political map might (or might not) look rather familiar.

Anonymous said...

Rick: "Permanent residence, from which colonization might grow, may be confined entirely to spacehabs."

I just have to ask, what did you have in mind on spacehabs? ISS and other conventional looking space stations, Stanford Torus or Gerard O'Neill's Island Three designs?

- Sabersonic
Sabersonic@hotmail.com
jrposadas@gmail.com

CitySide said...

"Though 250 years is not enormous on historical time scale; the world political map might (or might not) look rather familiar."

True. The map (of Europe, at least) wasn't all that different in 1776 compared to 1492. But the rankings had altered, and a few new players had emerged (Prussia, the Dutch Republic)

Rick said...

At least for the midfuture, my image of spacehabs is non-enormous bike wheels or drums, nothing so big as a 'true' Stanford Torus. I picture a city in space as more likely to be an assemblage of these, built up over time as with terrestrial cities, rather than one single megastructure.

Citizen Joe said...

I think that expansion into space is also going to be tied to propulsion speed and endurance. Setting up a habitat will take a minimum of three times the time it takes to get there in the first place. First you need to get there. Then you need to prove you can return. Then you need to go back. If it takes four or five years travel time to get to the site, that's at least 15 years before you can even start to colonize.

Rick said...

There's another dimension to the time factor, the practical limits of travel time.

It is one thing to talk about multi-year exploratory missions, but to develop a large human presence somewhere, the travel time probably has to fall to a few months.

Experience with subs, and I believe in Antarctica, shows that human factor problems get a lot worse after about 3 months cooped in a can. You probably don't want routine transport missions of a length where people start trying to take strolls out the airlock.

Realistic [TM] electric drive gets you to Mars in 3 months, but it takes a LOT of additional progress to put the main asteroid belt in 3-month range, let alone Jupiter and beyond. And probably much of that progress will be the sort that only comes with long design and operating experience, not overnight from a lab.

Jim Baerg said...

"Experience with subs, and I believe in Antarctica, shows that human factor problems get a lot worse after about 3 months cooped in a can."

Wouldn't the experience of sailing from Europe around Africa to Asia after 1500, provide some relevant data? I think the time scales for those trips were often several months.

Anonymous said...

Jim - Shore leave and the ability to get out of the lower decks and walk around helped. But keep in mind that many of those long-term voyages were essentially run as armed camps, with the commanding officers protected by bodyguards. That would make for an interesting interplanetary story scenario, but it would also say something about the society launching those voyages.

Biosphere 2 or the Antarctic research bases might be a useful comparison as well. Particularly given that such installations have a high concentration of researchers and technicians rather than soldiers or conscripted sailors.

Ian_M

Citizen Joe said...

It's another reason not to have extensive robotics on board. You NEED to keep people busy or they go stir crazy.

Rick said...

I suspect that access to the outdoors is a big psychological factor. (Note that USN surface ship deployments are quite a bit longer than sub deployments.)

If so, what counts psychologically as 'outdoors' will be a big consideration in long term space habs.

Interesting point about robotics and the problem of leaving the humans with nothing to do for long periods but twiddle thumbs.

Anonymous said...

If modern isolated outposts are any indication, long-range space missions will probably have huge digital archives crammed full of sit-coms, movies, and porn. I expect they'll find space for a Wii and a couple of foosball tables. Depending on the tech they may also have VR rigs or immersion rooms with interactive touch-screen walls.

And people will still get bored, because 3+ months is a long time to do nothing but watch TV, play video games, and argue over who didn't put the toilet seat down this time. Joe's right, these people will need something to do. A horticultural/garden area would probably be a good idea. It's very distracting work, and it provides immediate benefits.

Ian_M

Rick said...

Gardening is also a good way, probably the best way, to develop our ecosystem technology and technique.

Ecology is also one of those things that (probably) will inherently require a fairly long time scale to develop, because it is all about the subtleties, and to deal with them even sound theory isn't enough, you need a body of experience.

I'm also reminded of fresh flowers on the wardroom table in Heinlein's Space Cadet.

Jean Remy said...

Well, since apparently this post started after something I said, I would be remiss not to add something. In truth, the reason I started posting here was to kick start a stagnating writing process, and it has worked. I spent the last week working furiously on the re-write of my first novel, so now I'm a little behind on the posting side of things.

I think Rick has a good idea about the 4% idea, but not as a progression: rather as a snapshot in time. By that I mean that, taking a discreet date and looking back overall the 4% estimate is correct, but not as a continuous chronological curve. Development will jump start, then stagnate, maybe even regress, but overall it might well look like that, which is, I think, what he was getting to in the first place anyway.

Ferrell: Absolutely right. I tend to think that is how space will be developed. Like with US military personnel sent on tour in Germany, for example, took their families with them. US bases in Germany were small pockets of US culture. Universities have programs that sent college students to those bases to serve as babysitters/au pairs to the children of those families. In essence, a small and complex community formed on base, with the critical personnel (the actual soldiers) being surrounded and and supported by a rather large following of people with normal day jobs.

Rather than the military, I think it is the scientist that will invoke the same treatment, and perhaps sooner than we think. After all, soldiers sign up, they're in the Army now. The highly paid doctorates won't be handled like military personnel, even if they are nominally military. For example surgeons in the army are treated a lot more laxly than, say, Private McGrunt. They'll do everything to keep these guys well since they can just walk out and get a better job. This will especially be the case in the event of commercial endeavors, ie: privately funded research centers. The most likely futur space development in my mind takes the shape of a Silicon Valley IN SPACE.

Ian: one of the major reasons for captains of that era to be surrounded by bodyguards was the makeup of the crew. One of the first job of Marines in the Royal Navy in the 18th century was to keep the rabble crewing the ship in check, rather than to serve as boarding parties. The crew were generally conscripted from the harbor dives, and those who volunteered were worse because they were likely running away from the cops. Defection, to put it mildly, was a problem. Mutiny was one to, but actually less so, since in general the Marines stood firmly on the Captain's side. Charging a wall of muskets was rather unhealthy. As an aside: Many people think a mutiny happened on the Bounty because Bligh was too harsh. In fact he was lax in discipline, let too many things slide, and when he tried to get things back in check with floggings it all blew up in his face. Fletcher Christian should never have been on that ship in the first place. He didn't have the stomach for the brutality inherent in ship life.

I have some thoughts on extended tours, but I'm going to think on that some more.

Rick said...

Jean - Writing is one of the best justifications for not posting!

Your interpretation of my 4 percent formula is correct; I'm taking it as a long term trend line, ignoring all bumps along the road.

On the British Navy, there's a very interesting book, The Wooden World, that examines the RN in the earlier 18th century, and it is a very interesting picture.

Mutinies were not uncommon, but they were effectively strikes, and almost invariably settled peacefully. In the first half of the century, the term 'discipline' was not even used in the modern military sense, and crews were in effect semi demi feudal retainers of the captains.

The author suggests that the familiar image of naval discipline in the age of sail grew out of the stresses of the Napoleonic Wars, when the navy had to recruit on a large scale from outside the traditional seafaring population it had drawn on.

Jean Remy said...

"The author suggests that the familiar image of naval discipline in the age of sail grew out of the stresses of the Napoleonic Wars, when the navy had to recruit on a large scale from outside the traditional seafaring population it had drawn on."

That makes a lot of sense, actually. Chalk it to my Continental view of the RN.

6p0120a663f005970c said...

First off: I love this blog (including the commenters); I am so glad I clicked the link on Winchell Chung's website.

Secondly: Could an operational Space Elevator, Space Fountain, Launch Loop, etc. accelerate this population expansion significantly? (How far into the future will these technologies be viable?) If in place: Could these non-rocket space-launch technologies increase the need and desire for more advanced space colonization technologies (such as Island One space stations, moon bases, Terra-forming, etc.)? If not, I might have to add a couple of centuries to my 23rd century novel!

Jean Remy said...

Hi and welcome to the blog!

I don't think there is a magical technology that's going to increase our "desire to go to space". The non-propulsive methods of getting to space will be expensive to develop, and even more so to actually build. The cost of the elevator cable for example will be staggering. On the other hand, propulsive forms of getting to space have undergone rigorous testing and continued development for decades and work well, though they are not cheap either they are becoming more affordable because of that long history, witness the rolling out of SpaceShipTwo and a "mere" $200,000 for ballistic joy ride.

(note: if i had that kind of loose cash I'd go on that joy ride in a second)

Really, it's a toss up as to what method we'll be using. Either way the trend seems to be going toward cheaper more efficient to orbit prices. But even cheap to orbit options won't raise or lower our desire to go into space. Our desire to go into space will make space travel cheaper.

Technologically, we are reaching a point when space travel is possible. With current day technology we could reach Mars in say about 8-10 months, stay a year and come back. If we had the will, we could do it. So the motivation really is a separate issue from the cost (well, not completely, but not solely defendant on it). Could we have significant colonies by the 23rd century? I'd say technically feasible. It depends on how our ideology evolves.

On the separate issue of terraforming? Even the most optimistic estimates would demand centuries, if not millenia, of concerted efforts. I doubt we'd see Blue Mars in another 200 years. On the other hand, 200 years is a long time. If we look at how much we've accomplished in the last 200 years?... As much as we try to be realists, we're all optimists in temperament, or we wouldn't be having these discussions.

Rick said...

I love my commenters too; the comments are more than half the value of this blog. Now they're even serving as welcoming committee!

New technology won't change our desire to go into space, but it will change the economics of that desire - in the language of good old Economics 101 it shifts the supply curve, and generally if the price goes down people get more of something they want.

But the price of getting to orbit will have to come down at least an order of magnitude, maybe two, to support the kind of large human space presence we like to imagine.

Martin Ortmair said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin Ortmair said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Martin Ortmair said...

This is my timeline for our Future in Space:(Brackets are "sources")
WHICH I WILL USE IN MY UNIVERSE

2015: Reusable Rockets availible(SpaceX)

2017: First private manned orbital flight(SpaceX)

2018: First manned mars fly-by(Inspiration Mars)

2019: Return to the moon(Constellation) AND ITS ON JULY 20!!

2022: Asteroid mining

2024 :first Mars landing(SpaceX, Mars Direct)

2030: Small base on the Moon(Pop:50)

2036: first Mars base(Pop:4)

2046: Mars base has 20 Settlers

2050: Space Elevator completed( Obayashi Corparation)

2052: Helium-3 mining on the moon(Deus Ex)

2054: Nuclear-powered IPV(Interplantary Vehicle, Spaceship assembled in Orbit) send to Mars

2056: Aerostatic Weather Station in Venus´ Atmosphere

2057:Hotels on the moon(,,Pop."(Tourists):215)


2061: Nuclear-powered IPV sent to Europa

2064:Mars has 1000 Colonists

2066: Fusion engines invented

2070: Base on Europa

2073: Endless looping fusion-powered supply chain from Earth and Mars, Colony expiriences Population Explosion

2076: Mars Colony has 80.000 colonists(and probably decleares independence on JULY 4TH!!!)

2080: all Jovian Moons explored. Bases on Europa(Pop:50), Callisto(Pop:30) and Ganymede(Pop:45)

2081: Fusion-powered IPV sent to Titan

2082: Helium-3-Extraction on Saturn

2087: Base on Titan(Pop.:20)

2099: all Saturnian moons explored

2104: Helium-3-Extraction on Uranus

2108: all Uranian moons explored

2114: all moons of Neptun explored

2119: Base on Triton(Pop:13)

2121: First landing on Pluto

2123: Antimatter-matter-powered ISV(Interstellar Vehicle) sent to Alpha Centauri

2124: 100th anniversary of first Mars landing. Martian Population: 3.4 Million

So this is my universe. 111 Years of Progress
Go on. CRITISE IT

Martin Ortmair said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jim Baerg said...

Martin Ortmair: You asked for criticism so:

You have 'He3 mining on the moon' before 'Fusion Engine Invented'. What motivation would people have to do the former before the latter is available to use it?

More generally I have my doubts that fusion can do anything that fission can't do more easily. I will grant that IF something like the polywell doing the proton-Boron11 reaction works that would have major advantages over fission for many uses, but I don't see that that D-D or D-T reactors would have ANY advantage over the Integral Fast Reactor, or the Liquid Fluoride Thorium Reactor.

Note: if the P-Boron11 reaction works, then He3 reactors won't be used.

Martin Ortmair said...

Why we mine the moon BEFORE the Torch is ignited? Simple because building a fusion reator for Propulsion is a Hundred times more difficult than for energy.

Martin Ortmair said...

Plus i have recently revised the Timeline but let me explain.

I have observed the Question ,,Why was the year 2001 not like 2001" from very different angles and concluded if we want a spacefaring future we always wanted, our first and foremost Priority is to solve the Problem with Gravity. 90% of the fuel of a modern rocket is spent to reach Low earth orbit, ergo we wont colonize Space with that. Its simply to weak to inefficent.

But we knew this all along even Arthur C Clarke and Konstantin Tsiolkovski knew that Rockets are to Space travel like Baloons to aviation. Sure it brings you to space, but not really.

So if you ask when will the REAL space age beginn , i will answer: ,,as soon as the space elevator will be completed, because then we can finally take a breath and say F**K YOU GRAVITY GAUGE.

Please note my imaginations how space elevator looks like. Its a 144000 KMlong Carbonnanotube Ribbon, with an Floating Platform in the ocean on one and an redirected Asteroid as a counterweight on the other. about a fourth of the way in a 24-Hour stable Geostationary Orbit lies a Space Station. A real space station not that 6-man Tin can AKA ISS, serving as Orbital space port, Propellant depot,Lab, zero-g Factory and probably as a Hotel. its main Purpose however is the construction of what i like to call an IPV, a spaceship built in orbit for orbit-to-orbit travel, accompanied by Airless Lunar landers or Martian Single-stage-to-Orbit shuttles.

as soon the space elevator is completed space travel is going to be an information based technology just like Genetics, Energy and Computers. The development of the solar system an beginn serving all the SF tropes, Lunar Bases, Martian Colonies, Asteroid mining you name it.