Richard Buckminster “Bucky” Fuller, an early 20th-century architect and visionary, believed it was possible to build floating cities called “Cloud Nines.” The cities would be contained within geodesic domes — huge, spherical objects — and they’d be able to float by carefully adjusting the temperature of the interior air. Was it just fantasy? Perhaps. Even though he patented some of the technology and claimed in earnest that building such cities was possible, construction never broke ground (or air).
But what if “Bucky” had access to the Silicon Valley of today — to its startup accelerators, angel investors, and relentless drive to optimize? Could he at least have gotten a decent Kickstarter off the ground?
Today, similarly ambitious plans to transform societies are being dreamt up in Silicon Valley. The main difference is that the gap between fantasy and reality is closing, faster than you may realize.
SpaceX founder Elon Musk said in September that he wants to render all of his company’s vehicles — the Falcon 9, the Falcon Heavy, and the Dragon spacecraft — obsolete. Why? So he can build the BFR (Big Fucking Rocket), more politely known as Interplanetary Transport System.
“All our resources will turn toward building BFR,” Musk said at the International Astronautical Congress. “And we believe we can do this with the revenue we receive from launching satellites and servicing the space station.”
Artist’s rendering of Mars colony for SpaceX
The BFR is intended to transport people to mars, where Musk hopes to build a permanent colony of more than 1 million inhabitants. He thinks the red planet could serve as a “backup drive” for Earth at the cost of $100,000 or $200,000 per person, all of whom would live in an (almost) self-sustaining city.
But exactly how people will survive there over the long term remains unclear. The main thing the SpaceX plan lacks, according to some spaceflight experts, is bioregenerative life support technology, which would take colonists’ breath, liquid waste, and solid waste, and use plants to convert these into food, water, and air.
20th Century Fox’s “The Martian”
SpaceX hopes to put people on Mars by 2024. But while you have to respect Musk’s superhero-style goals, it’s worth noting that SpaceX has a history of missing its own deadlines.
“Silicon Valley is both a place and an idea,”said Netscape inventor Marc Andreessen.
Imagine if that idea — along with its institution-busting creations like Bitcoin and Uber — spread around the world and gave rise to new Silicon Valleys, creating online societies composed of and run by those with technological know-how.
— Vala Afshar (@ValaAfshar) August 22, 2017