The Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space Telescope (ATLAST) conducts its life-searching mission
The Advanced Technology Large-Aperture Space Telescope (ATLAST) is a major new space observatory launched by NASA. It has substantially higher resolution than Hubble and the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST), with a primary mirror that dwarfs both. Its angular resolution is 10 times better than JWST, with a sensitivity limit up to 2,000 times better than Hubble.
ATLAST is a flagship mission of the 2025-2035 period, designed to address one of the most compelling questions of our time: is there life elsewhere in the Galaxy? It attempts to accomplish this by detecting "biosignatures" (such as molecular oxygen, ozone, water and methane) in the spectra of terrestrial exoplanets.*
Operating in the ultraviolet, optical and infrared wavelengths, its mirror is so powerful that it can distinguish the atmosphere and surface of Earth-sized exoplanets, at distances up to 150 light years – including their climate and rotation rate.* ATLAST enables astronomers to glean information on the nature of dominant land features, along with changes in cloud cover. It even has the potential to detect seasonal variations in surface vegetation.
In addition to searching for life, ATLAST has the performance required to reveal the underlying physics driving star formation and to trace complex interactions between dark matter, galaxies and the intergalactic medium.
The observatory is placed at Sun-Earth Lagrange point L2. Servicing and maintenance are performed using a robotic ferry, with occasional help from astronaut crews flying in the Orion spacecraft (which allows NASA to gain experience for manned Solar System missions). Like the Hubble Space Telescope, ATLAST has a 20-year lifespan. By the 2050s, it is being succeeded by telescopes of truly prodigious magnitude, offering detailed close-up views of distant exoplanets.*
Credit: Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems & NASA/STScI
Mouse revival from cryopreservation
Cryopreservation - a process where cells or whole tissues are preserved by cooling to sub-zero temperatures - witnesses major advances during this period. By far the most notable achievement is a mouse being revived from storage at −196°C.
In the past, among the most serious challenges to overcome had been damage from crystallisation as a result of the freezing process. During the first decade of the 21st century, this problem was comprehensively solved by the development of cryoprotectants offering complete vitrification. In other words, the body being preserved was turned into a glass, rather than crystalline solid.
A number of issues remained, however - such as the toxicity of these cryoprotectants, as well as the fracturing that occurred due to simple thermal stress. In subsequent decades, research saw a dramatic acceleration and resulted in progressively more successful techniques, culminating in the mouse revival.*
Although a human revival is still many years away (and fraught with ethical, legal and social hurdles), such a feat now appears to be a realistic prospect. Once considered the stuff of science fiction, cryopreservation becomes an increasingly regular feature in mainstream scientific literature. Many new startup companies are formed at this time, promising to "resurrect" people at some future date.
Photo courtesy of Alcor Life Extension Foundation.
threat of bioterrorism is peaking
is now sufficiently advanced, widespread and inexpensive that a small
group of people – or even a single person – can threaten the survival
of humanity. Desktop fabrication labs, genetic databases and AI software
are becoming accessible to the public. These enable the rapid research
and synthesis of DNA, for those with appropriate technical knowledge.
have already begun to exploit this – providing access to drugs and other
substances without prescriptions, for example (like offshore Internet
pharmacies of earlier decades) – and now terrorists are making use of
past, government agencies were able to combat bioterrorism by restricting
access to pathogens themselves. This was achieved by regulating the
laboratory use of potentially deadly agents, such as the Ebola virus.
However, the advent of DNA synthesis technology means that simply restricting
access to the actual pathogen no longer provides the security it once
did. Since the gene sequence is a "blueprint", i.e. a form
of coded information, once an organism has been sequenced it can be
synthesised without using culture samples or stock DNA.
technology has continued to advance, it has become cheap, more accessible
and far easier to utilise. Like the personal computer revolution of
the early 1980s, biotechnology is diffusing into mainsteam society.
At the same time, the ongoing need for medical breakthroughs has necessitated
a gradual easing of database regulations. Furthermore, the DNA sequences
for certain pathogens – such as anthrax, botulism and smallpox – have
already been available on the Internet, for decades.
become alarmingly easy to produce a new virus (possibly an even deadlier
version of an existing one) using a relatively low level of knowledge
and equipment. Another, more sinister consequence, is the ability to
target specific races or genetic groups of people.
"home made" bioweapon is unleashed around this time, with
devastating results. There are substantial casualties worldwide.*
begins to subside in the 2030s, as new defensive technologies – such
as nanobots – become available
to the general population. These tiny devices, injected into the bloodstream,
can be programmed to easily identify and eliminate harmful pathogens.
Some of Britain's most well-known animal species are going extinct
Due to a combination of habitat loss, agricultural intensification, road accidents, pesticides, pollution and other human interference, some of Britain's most iconic and well-known animals are disappearing.
This includes hedgehogs, red squirrels, cuckoos, brown hares, Scottish wildcats, natterjack toads, woodland grouse, red-necked phalaropes and turtle doves.*** Many species of butterfly have also declined drastically in numbers.*
Rhinos are going extinct in the wild
Rhinos are one of the largest remaining megafauna - a class of giant animals that were common in the last ice age.* Of the five main species of rhino, the white rhinoceros is the heaviest, with adults weighing 3,500 kg (7,700 lb) and reaching a head-to-body length of 4.6 m (15 ft).
Because of their size, rhinos have few natural predators other than humans. Alongside the mammoth, woolly rhinos became numerous during the Last Glacial Maximum (20-25,000 years ago), but were eventually hunted to extinction by early man. In modern times, the remaining species have declined even more rapidly. The black rhino, for example, fell in numbers from 70,000 in the late 1960s to only 3,600 in 2004.* A subspecies - the West African black rhino - was declared extinct in 2011, while the Javan rhino died out in Vietnam the same year.
The early 21st century witnessed an alarming upward trend in poaching. By 2012, more rhinos were being killed in South Africa during a single week than were killed in a whole year a decade previously. Fetching a street value of £40,000 a kilo, rhino horn was becoming even more valuable than gold, due to the misguided perception that it cured cancer. It was also popular in some cultures as a form of jewellery. Organised crime had become involved, with gangs now using hi-tech equipment for industrial-scale killing.
Despite conservation efforts, the situation continued to worsen. By the late 2020s, the last remaining rhinos are disappearing from the wild.* Only a handful remain in captivity. It is doubtful that any viable breeding population can be restored anytime soon, if ever.
brain simulations are becoming possible
growth of computer processing power has made it possible to form accurate models
of every part of the human brain.** Between
2000 and 2025, there is a millionfold increase in computational
power, along with vastly improved scanning resolution and bandwidth.
Until recently, only separate regions of the brain had been modelled in any detail
- but scientists are now able to combine them into one giant, complete
simulation. Like the Human Genome Project, there were many in the scientific community who doubted the brain could be mapped so quickly. Once again,
they failed to account for the exponential growth of information technology (rather than linear).
nanobots are being developed
Nano-scale robots - orders of magnitude smaller than earlier micro-sized versions - are being developed as part of efforts to improve
healthcare. In some countries they have reached the human trial stage and
will soon be approved by government. Utilised in medical research
and treatments, their size will enable them to reach places in the body
that were simply inaccessible before or too delicate for conventional
instruments to operate on.
In the coming years, the most important breakthroughs will be in the
treatment of cancer. Using nanobots, it will be possible to detect tumours
earlier than ever before and target them with far more precision. Even
patients who would previously have been classed as terminally
ill will routinely be saved. Monitoring of heart conditions, neurological
disorders and many other illnesses will also improve dramatically. Combined
with enormous strides in stem cell research, this will create a new
generation of medical treatments reaching a whole new level of sophistication
The nanobots themselves are built on a molecule-by-molecule basis,
via positionally-controlled diamond mechanosynthesis and diamondoid
nanofactories. Each robot is capable of propelling itself using tiny
motors and is equipped with microscopic sensing, guidance and communication
China is becoming highly urbanised
of China is now highly urbanised and densified. Its growing economy
has led to the construction of literally tens of thousands of new skyscrapers
all over the country. There are now over 200 cities with more than a
million inhabitants, compared with just 35 in the whole of Europe circa
2010.* Even remote and isolated
regions have seen development on an unprecedented scale. Widespread
infrastructure such as maglev trains, airports, bridges and tunnels
is forming an extensive network to all corners of the nation, leaving
few areas untouched. China is well on its way to becoming a developed
the largest metropolitan areas – such as Hong Kong and Shenzhen – have
actually begun to overlap and form mega-cities overtaking
Tokyo in population and land area. Many of the world's tallest buildings
can now be found in China, including a number of kilometre-high "supertalls".
this has had a considerable impact on the price of steel and other materials,
leading to cutbacks of many projects in Europe,
America and elsewhere. The rise of neighbouring India is adding to this.
The West now has reduced influence on setting the price of metals.
Meanwhile, vast profits are being made by construction and mining firms,
leading to many high profile takeovers and acquisitions. At the same
time, record accident numbers during this time – as a result of so much
construction activity – are leading to tighter regulations and improved
safety in the industry.
grows, its energy requirements are soaring. The country has prepared
for this, by strengthening relations with Central Asian countries
and importing more oil and gas from them, especially Turkmenistan which
has made significant new discoveries. China's entry into Central Asia
was also partly motivated by the need to reduce its dependency on (a)
the Middle East, and (b) the Malacca Strait for shipping oil from the
Persian Gulf and Africa; this stretch of water had become increasingly
vulnerable to pirate attacks, and was the subject of ongoing political
tensions regarding its control.
as strengthening its oil imports, gains have been made from
efficiency and conservation programmes, along with increased
use of nuclear power. By 2025, China's nuclear generating capacity
is nearly 150 billion kilowatthours (khwh), passing that of both Canada
and Russia.* In the near future,
this will increase still further, as 4th generation plants
become available. Falling prices have also led to greatly increased
solar and wind.
With a total population fast approaching 8 billion, world food demand has continued to climb. At the same time, however, the increasingly dire effects of climate change, as well as other environmental factors, are now having a serious impact. Droughts, desertification and the growing unpredictability of rainfall are reducing crop yields in many countries, while shrinking fossil fuel reserves are making large-scale commercial farming ever more costly. Decades of heavy pesticide use and excess irrigation have also played a role. The United States, for example, has been losing almost 3 tons of topsoil per acre, per year. This is between 10 and 40 times the rate at which it can be naturally replenished – a trend that, if allowed to continue, would mean all topsoil disappearing by 2070.* As this predicament worsens and food prices soar, the world is now approaching a genuine, major crisis.*
Amid the deepening sense of urgency and panic, a number of potential solutions have emerged. One such innovation has been the appearance of vertical farms. These condense the enormous resources and land area required for traditional farming into a single vertical structure, with crops being stacked on top of each other like the floors of a building. Singapore opened the world's first commercial vertical farm in 2012.* By the mid-2020s, they have become widespread, with most major urban areas using them in one form or another.*
Vertical farms offer a number of advantages. An urban site of just 1.32 hectares, for example, can produce the same food quantity as 420 hectares (1,052 acres) of conventional farming, feeding tens of thousands of people. Roughly 150 of these buildings, each 30 stories tall, could potentially give the entire population of New York City a sustainable supply of food.* Genetically modified crops have increased in use recently* and these are particularly well-suited to the enclosed, tightly-controlled environments within a vertical farm. Another benefit is that food can then be sold in the same place as it is grown. Farming locally in urban centres greatly reduces the energy costs associated with transporting and storing food, while giving city dwellers access to fresher and more organic produce.
Another major advantage of vertical farming is its sustainability. Most structures are primarily powered on site, using a combination of solar panels and wind turbines. Glass panels coated in titanium oxide cover the buildings, protecting the plants inside from any outside pollution or contaminants. These are also designed in accordance with the floor plan to maximise natural light. Any other necessary light can be provided artificially. The crops themselves are usually grown through hydroponics and aeroponics, substantially reducing the amount of space, soil, water and fertiliser required.
Computers and automation are relied upon to intelligently manage and control the distribution of these resources. Programmed systems on each level control water sprayers, lights and room temperature. These are adjusted according to the species of plant and are used to simulate weather variations, seasons and day/night cycles. Some of the more advanced towers even use robots to tend to crops.* Excess water lost through evapotranspiration is recaptured via condensers in the ceiling of each level, while any runoff is funnelled into nearby tanks. This water is then reused, creating a self-contained irrigation loop. Any water still needed for the system can be filtered out of the city's sewage system.
Vertical farms also offer environmental benefits. The tightly controlled system contained in each structure conserves and recycles not just water – but also soil and fertilisers such as phosphorus, making the total ecological footprint orders of magnitude smaller than older methods of agriculture. On top of that, the reduced reliance on arable land helps to discourage deforestation and habitat destruction. Vertical farms can also be used to generate electricity, with any inedible organic material transformed into biofuel, via methane digesters.
Jacobs, Gordon Graff, Spa Atelier
Solid waste is reaching crisis levels
Solid waste has been accumulating in urban areas and landfills for many decades. Poor funding for waste disposal and lack of adequate recycling measures, together with population growth and associated consumption have ensured a never-ending rise in trash levels. By the mid-2020s, global output of solid waste has almost doubled to nearly 2.5 billion tons annually, compared to 1.4 billion in 2012.** The cost of dealing with this quantity of garbage has nearly doubled as well, rising to $375 billion annually.
Developing nations, lacking the money and infrastructure to properly dispose of their trash, face the greatest crisis, with solid waste increasing five-fold in some regions. Public health is being seriously affected, since groundwater is becoming more and more polluted as a result. E-waste is proving to be even more damaging. In India, for example, discarded cellphones have increased eighteen-fold.* Rapid advances in technology, ever-more frequent upgrades to electronic products, and the aspiration for Western lifestyles have only exacerbated this situation.
Developed nations are better able to handle the problem, but since only 30% of their waste is recycled it continues to build rapidly. Plastics are a particular problem, especially in oceans and rivers, since they require centuries to fully degrade.* As well as direct environmental damage, this waste is releasing large amounts of the greenhouse gas methane, which contributes to global warming.* Public activism, though increasing at this time, has little effect in halting the overall trend.
Completion of Masdar City
Masdar City is the latest in a series of hi-tech, self-sufficient, eco-friendly cities being developed around the world. Construction of this massive project began in 2008; the first phase was completed in 2015 and the final phase is finished in 2025.* By now, it covers an area totalling 6 sq km (2.3 sq mi) and is home to over 50,000 residents.
Like the Great City in China, traditional motor cars are banned from the city. Most travel can be accomplished via public mass transit and personal rapid transit (PRT) systems, with existing road and railways connecting to other locations outside the city.* The absence of motor vehicles, coupled with Masdar's perimeter wall, allows for narrow and shaded streets, keeping out hot desert winds and helping funnel cool breezes around the city. At street level, temperatures are 12-15°C lower than the rest of Abu Dhabi.* Masdar City is carbon neutral, powered entirely by renewable energy and includes the largest solar power plant in the Middle East. Vertical farms, now emerging in many urban regions, provide much of the city's food.*
Later in the 21st century, this style of architecture will come to dominate the world – especially in the Middle East – as nations everywhere are forced to decarbonise their economies, adapt to higher temperatures, reduce waste and lower their reliance on foreign imports. For some countries, however, these efforts will come too late.*
I is the farthest man-made object from Earth - more than 14 billion miles (22 billion km) away, or 150 times
the distance between the Sun and Earth. Both Voyager I and its sister probe, Voyager II, have remained operational for nearly half a century, continuing to transmit
data back to NASA. They have left the heliosphere entirely and
are now headed towards the bow shock - the boundary between the stellar
wind and the interstellar medium. By 2025, however, onboard power is finally starting to wane. Instruments
begin shutting down, one by one, until eventually all contact is lost.*
carries a gold-plated audio-visual disc, in the event that either spacecraft
is ever found by intelligent alien life. The discs carry images of Earth
and its lifeforms, a range of scientific information, along with a medley,
"Sounds of Earth", that includes the sounds of whales, a baby
crying, waves breaking on a shore, a variety of music from different
cultures and eras, plus greetings in 60 different languages.*
rail networks are being expanded in many countries
Many countries have radically overhauled their rail transport infrastructure.
more than 10,000km of high-speed track has been laid, making it the
most extensive network in the world. 90 percent of the country's population
now live within 50 km of a bullet train station.*
In Britain, the first phase of a major high-speed rail line is nearing completion. This will travel
up the central spine of the country - connecting London with England's next largest city, Birmingham. It will eventually be expanded to Manchester and the north. Trains will be
capable of reaching 250 mph, slashing previous journey times.*
Tokyo will soon be connected with Nagoya via superfast magnetic levitation trains. Tests conducted in
previous decades showed that it was possible to build a railway tunnel
in a straight route through the Southern Japanese Alps. The first generation
of these trains already held the world speed record, at 581 km/h (or
361 mph); but recent advances in carriage design have pushed this still
further, to speeds which are fast enough to compete
with commercial airliners.*
countries are investing in high-speed rail during this time, due to
its speed and convenience, along with soaring fuel costs and
environmental factors which have made car and air travel less desirable. Even America - which for decades had neglected its rail network - is making big
progress in this area.*
A comprehensive overhaul of the U.S. airspace system is complete
The final upgrades of the Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) are completed this year. This has involved a complete overhaul of the existing air transport network. Many aspects of the National Airspace System (NAS) had been failing because of a reliance on largely obsolete technology. The navigation system, for example, which relied on ground-based radar beacons, was based on technology from the 1940s.
NextGen brings pervasive upgrades and improvements to the entire system during the 2010s and early 2020s. This includes physical infrastructure as well as computer systems. Hundreds of new ground-based stations are built to allow satellite surveillance coverage of nearly the entire country. New safety and navigation procedures are introduced that markedly reduce flight times, while offering a more dynamic method of air traffic control.
Advances in computer power and digital communication have produced what is now a far more integrated and efficient national system. One of the largest technical advances is the complete replacement of the previous radar navigation system with a modern, GPS-based version. This creates detailed, three-dimensional highways in the sky, and takes into account variations in topography and weather - enabling pilots to fly shorter, more precise routes. By 2018, this system was in place at every major US airport.
Once on the runway, taxiing planes are guided by automated systems. These use data gathered on the position of every other plane and vehicle to present pilots and controllers with detailed, real-time traffic maps of the tarmac. Runway capacity is increased with the introduction of multiple take-off and landing pathways, as opposed to the older, single route approach.
Overall, these upgrades offer substantial improvements in flight-times, air pollution and fuel consumption. Delays are reduced by nearly 40%, saving tens of billions of dollars. Over 1.4 billion gallons of fuel are saved and CO2 emissions are cut by 14 million metric tons. These numbers will continue to improve steadily over the years.*
Aircraft themselves are evolving in form, function and efficiency. A number of striking new designs have emerged with significant technological and environmental benefits.*
U.S. fuel economy standards have improved dramatically
In addition to rail and air travel (described earlier), road vehicles are witnessing major improvements. In the U.S., fuel economy standards have reached almost 55 miles per gallon (mpg) for cars and 39 miles per gallon for trucks. In other words, these vehicles now travel nearly twice as far on the same amount of fuel as they did in 2010.
This surge in efficiency, enacted by the Obama administration, was prompted by concerns over energy security and reducing U.S. dependence on foreign oil. Another factor was the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions. Light duty vehicles reached an average of 34 mpg by 2016 and these advances continued into the 2020s.* Around 6 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases have now been curtailed by this program – more than the total CO2 emitted by the entire United States in 2010.
Electric and hybrids are growing rapidly in number, thanks to falling costs and improvements in battery life. By the early 2030s, they will account for the majority of new vehicles on the nation's roads.
Railguns are in use by the U.S. navy
After years of research and development, as well as intense political debate, the first combat-ready railguns are appearing on the decks of U.S. naval ships.* Unlike traditional artillery, which create force with explosive materials, the railgun is powered entirely by electricity from the ship's grid. It works by storing up a supply of electrical power, using what is called a pulse-forming network, which is then converted to an electromagnetic pulse. This travels up the barrel along parallel tracks of magnetic rails, forcing the projectile out of the gun, away from the power source.
The weapon is capable of firing a five-inch metal projectile, itself equipped with complex internal guidance systems, over 220 miles at close to mach 10. This is fast enough to set the air around the projectile ablaze, while delivering it to targets hundreds of miles away in mere minutes. Explosive rounds are unnecessary, since the kinetic energy released upon impact yields more power than traditional bombs of much greater size. New rapid-fire systems allow for a launch rate of around ten per minute.
A number of technical issues first had to be overcome to reach this point though. Advances in materials technology were required to keep the barrel from wearing out after repeated firings, while the projectiles needed to be outfitted in a way that protected internal guidance systems during launch. New cooling techniques also had to be introduced. The guns themselves originally required more electricity than standard naval ships could provide. This was overcome with advances in energy efficiency, along with ultra-dense storage batteries.
In combat situations, the railgun offers major benefits. It has greater accuracy over extremely long ranges. It can be used as initial cover fire for marines landing on shore, or as a defense against incoming missiles and other threats. Ships armed with these hi-tech weapons are able to attack with virtual impunity, safe from almost any retaliatory strike. Railguns become widespread in the 2030s, adopted by many other navies. This devastating form of weaponry provides a considerable advantage in modern conflicts.**
and anxiety continue to rise
Stress, anxiety and depression have continued to rise due to a range of factors affecting peoples' day-to-day lives. In 2000, approximately one in four could expect to develop a form of mental illness. By now, this figure has become even worse. This is especially true of those living in high density urban centres.
Ever-increasing work-related stress, living costs, bad diets, overcrowding and pollution; constant scaremongering by media and goverments alike; the intensifying problems of climate change, peak oil and terrorism; plus a host of related security and surveillance measures, along with various health scares originating from abroad... the list goes on and on.
Due to the worsening oil crisis, fuel shortages are occurring in many countries during this time, with long queues at petrol stations becoming a regular sight. Meanwhile, record heatwaves and dangerous levels of air pollution are making summers unbearable in some urban areas.
In Europe, right-wing nationalist governments are on the rise, due to the massive amount of immigration occurring from Africa, the Middle East and elsewhere. The combined impact of these many factors is having a serious impact on the mental health of citizens.*
21 "Imagine a cluster of 30-story towers on Governors Island or in Hudson Yards producing fruit, vegetables, and grains while also generating clean energy and purifying wastewater. Roughly 150 such buildings, Despommier estimates, could feed the entire city of New York for a year."
Skyfarming, New York Magazine: http://nymag.com/news/features/30020/
Accessed 6th February 2013.