Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Never mind the volcanos. Hand me my boarding pass.

If the latest threat to aviation, Mount Eyjafjallajokull, isn't proof enough that man will never fly, I don't know what is. Personally, every time I board an airplane I assume that somewhere, midflight, the Law of Aerodynamics will be declared unconstitutional and I will die screaming my lungs out in a vain effort to get the attention of any wandering deity who might be ambling by. This is why any airline trip requires a fair amount of medication.

There are two perfectly suitable substitutes for flying--technlogies that may need a little work before they are efficient enough to replace commercial aviation--rail and ocean-going craft (otherwise know as ships.) Rail has a better chance of approximating the time economies of air travel between big cities (if you count the time lost getting to and from airports). However, if you live in Greensboro and have to get to San Francisco, you won't be able to do it in 7 hours; you may not be able to do it in under one day--even if MAGLEV becomes a reality (which it currently isn't in the U.S.)

Ships are another story. At their current fastest, ships travel at the approximately 1/100 of the speed of airplanes, so not really able to satisfy the "let's fly to London for the weekend" crowd. Yes, the same crowd which has been sitting in a Heathrow terminal for the past week wondering if their flight will ever take off. If these same people had hopped aboard the luxurious new Queen Mary 2, they'd probably be home by now--in theory, anyway.

The presumption is that one day soon, the volcano will quit spewing stuff into the atmosphere and life will return to normal. This is probably what the dinosaurs thought too when the earth went through an extended period of vulcanism. Unlike the dinosaurs we may not go extinct waiting. But we may have to accept the fact that getting anywhere will take longer, maybe MUCH longer.


I read a science fiction book many years ago that envisioned undersea tubes in which train-like vehicles sped happy, smiling people from continent to continent. The Channel Tunnel proved that it can be done on a small scale but taking a gander at the map of the Atlantic sea bed, going through the bedrock will require alien technology which, to the best of my knowledge, we don't have yet. No, the tubes will have to be suspended somehow and, of course, we'll have to overcome the unknown threat of sea monsters attracted by the light and noise of a passing seatrain but we need to start thinking about that now and forget, for the moment, going to the Moon or Mars.

I don't want to think about crossing the Pacific so lets just presume that it will be impossible in the future.

Thanks for listening. You might have crazy ideas too but at least I put mine out there for everyone to see and scoff at.