From the Chairforce Engineer
NASA has invented the tricorder.
Rand Simberg has already covered an Army of Davids here. Consider that some of the last vestiges of the old media that author Glenn Reynolds eulogizes. Simberg got a pre-print, I didn’t. There will soon be scant difference between the press and the public making the question of who to receive a pre-print something to be settled in shades of gray by Slash Dot ratings and auctions. That will make it easier for a media outsider like me to compete on a level playing field with more traditional media that gets their books early.
Reynolds’s book stands at the precipice of the future and treating different subjects seeks to penetrate the “fog of war” obscuring what will happen shortly. In places, Reynolds is foresighted and confident, especially in areas far along the path to individual control. In others, he seems flummoxed to explain what lies right around the corner despite having a well developed theory in another context.
In this extended review, I will take many of Reynolds’s claims and incomplete predictions and fill them out and complete them.
That’s what fusion has always been called. The old joke is that it’s the energy source of the future, and it always will be. Back in the seventies, we used to talk about the fusion constant–forty years–as the time it would take until fusion became commercially viable. That glorious day continues to recede off into the future. Now we learn that a leading researcher in the field threw in the towel shortly before he died.
I’m not as pessimistic, but I can see how someone could get discouraged after devoting one’s life to the goal and seeing so little progress. I think that we probably will still need better materials, but I wouldn’t give up hope yet. On the other hand, I wouldn’t bet on it, either–we need to be working on a number of fronts (including space power).
[Update a few minutes later]
I’d still like to hold out hope for fusion propulsion, even if it won’t be practical for electric power generation. How much harder/easier is that problem? It’s one that hasn’t gotten as much effort, but it’s not clear whether or not if you get one, you get the other.
It may be in sight.
During National Engineers Week, Robert Samuelson writes that the so-called science and engineering gap is phony.