When I was maybe 9, my parents got me a children’s picture book called Hello, Mars. It was beautifully illustrated in watercolor and came with an audio cassette, which I guess was an audiobook of the text. I saw it on the shelf, and had to pull it out to refresh my memory.
I was astonished. In the introduction, for example, it talks about satellite launches:
It’s no big deal now. If ISSA—that’s the Inner System Space Agency—has to put up a satellite, they pack it in a scramjet cargo hold along with the tourist baggage, then turn it over to a launch team after docking at the space station. The launch team just pushes it out the door into space.
On the future of medicine:
Progressive kidney failure detected at age five. Temporary treatment commenced August 3, 2063. Standard CK-201 Hopkins-Muer cell generation commenced September 1, 2063. Medibot organ-implantation March 2, 2067…So, you had a bad kidney and they grew you a new one. And since it was cloned from your own cells, there were no organ rejection problems.
Of course, it’s unfair to call the book prescient. It was published in 1989, and even cites its influences, with space stations and bases named Clarke, Sagan, and Bradbury. Still, I think it’s amazing. I’ve been obsessed with scramjets for as long as I can remember, and now, in 2009, they’re finally beginning to come online. Tissue engineered organs are a major topic of research, thanks to the discovery around the year 2000 of adult stem cell plasticity, and I have friends who are doing active research on specifically this issue.
The book, maybe a total of 30 pages, has all sorts of great stuff for kids, introducing conservation of momentum, Lagrange point libration, hydroponics, light-time communication latency, bone loss in zero-G, and more. I don’t recall absorbing this stuff consciously, but I that doesn’t mean it didn’t have a big effect.
There’s one passage, though, that I know had a big effect, because I never forgot it:
The Medibot is like a doctor’s office, examination room, medical laboratory and surgery all in one. … I stepped inside the transparent cylinder and the lid snapped shut. … the Medibot was scanning, probing, and looking over, under around, into, and through just about every part of my body … But it didn’t hurt, and it only took around two minutes.
This is what I have always wanted to build. This is what I am building.