In 2033, NASA conducts the first crewed mission to Phobos, the innermost and larger of the two natural satellites of Mars. This is the latest in a series of ambitious new targets to expand the human exploration of space. Previous missions in the 2020s had seen astronauts making orbits of Earth's Moon and constructing a new space station in lunar orbit, using the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft.* This latest mission – 60 years after the Apollo era – involves orbiting Mars first, before landing on the surface of Phobos.
While the average distance to the Moon is 384,000 km (239,000 miles), a journey to Mars is nearly 600 times further, at 225 million km (139 million miles) and poses major technological and financial challenges. However, going to Phobos before Mars itself is less expensive and lower risk, while allowing NASA to demonstrate key technologies for the more advanced missions later on.
When used in near-Earth space, the Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) is capable of carrying four astronauts on 21-day missions. For journeys to more remote destinations such as Mars – requiring months of travel – it is attached to other
modules with longer-term consumables and support capabilities. The astronauts are able to manoeuvre around the low gravity environment of Phobos using jetpacks and other equipment, while collecting samples and performing a variety of science experiments. This "orbit first" mission serves as a precursor to landings on Mars itself in 2039 and again in 2043.*
Phobos 2033 crewed mission. Credit: NASA
Mining operations in the main asteroid belt
Asteroid mining – once considered science fiction – became a reality in the 2020s with new startup ventures like Planetary Resources* and Deep Space Industries.* Critics had doubted that such operations were feasible, pointing to the huge costs involved.* However, the majority of materials mined by these new companies were destined for use in space, avoiding the enormous fuel costs of repeatedly returning to and escaping from Earth's gravitational field. In addition, servicing of communications satellites would earn them $5-8 million per month.* They also had tremendous public support and involvement through crowdfunding, for example,* along with teams of ex-NASA staff who were highly experienced.
Initially confined to near-Earth asteroids, these operations have been expanded by the early 2030s to include a number of rocks in the main asteroid belt, between Mars and Jupiter.* This region contains over a billion times more metal than exists on Earth, along with virtually endless supplies of water-ice, vastly expanding the potential for commercial exploitation.* Various new companies have been formed specialising in particular technologies, spacecraft and mining methods.
Credit: Lunar and Planetary Institute
Additive manufacturing in the form of 3D printers had begun to emerge in the 2010s and was first used on the International Space Station in 2013.* It is now common in space environments, turning out components that can be assembled into ever more complex machinery, which includes increasingly capable robots. The speed, quality and cost of 3D printing continues to improve.
By the mid-21st century, further expansion has turned asteroid mining into a huge industry with swarms of automated probes involved in prospecting and mining across the inner Solar System.* Previously rare metals are made cheap and abundant. Further into the future, even the distant Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud will be exploited, as humanity advances towards Type II status on the Kardashev scale.*
Credit: Deep Space Industries
Peak phosphorus is reached
Phosphorus is a basic building block of life, playing a vital role in the structural framework of DNA and RNA. Found in the cell membranes of animals and plants, it is essential for the transfer of energy. A main component of fertilisers, it helps plants to survive temperature changes, water changes and water deficiencies. This chemical is fundamental to the modern growing of crops.
Phosphorus is a scarce and finite resource on Earth, and due to its non-gaseous environmental cycle it cannot be replaced by anything else. For a long time, this problem was largely overlooked by governments – most of whom took a complacent attitude, assuming that this mineral would be around for centuries or more. It was rarely viewed as a political issue, with most talk about the chemical being focussed on its polluting effects, rather than its potential scarcity.
New studies in the 2000s and early 2010s, however, revealed that supplies were dwindling much faster than had previously been thought. This trend was being accelerated by emerging economies such as China and India – countries in which there was ever-increasing demand for meat and dairy products, which correspondingly required more and more phosphorus to produce. By 2033, worldwide production of phosphorus has peaked.**
The immediate impact is an alarming increase in the price of food, as well as government nationalisation of phosphate reserves and the introduction of export tariffs. Some regions undergo famines, while others are forced to introduce emergency rationing. Food prices have also doubled due to climate change, adding further woe.*
Richer nations are better prepared for this crisis – but nevertheless, many have experienced a significant period of readjustment with new methods being mandated and deployed to capture, store and recycle phosphorus. Among the most widely-used short-term innovations is recycling of human urine (a phosphate-rich substance), although this is only a temporary solution.* The extracting of phosphorus from the seabed is another development being looked at, but presents major technological and financial challenges.
With global population continuing to climb rapidly, the race is now on for longer-term fixes to provide genuine alternatives that can actually replace phosphorus.
airliners are entering service
decades of research and development, a new generation of aeroplanes
is entering commercial service.* These aircraft
have a cruising speed of Mach 5 – or about 3,800 mph – enabling them
to fly from Europe to Australia in less than four hours. With a range
of more than 20,000km (12,000 miles) they can perform this journey without
refuelling and have excellent subsonic and supersonic fuel efficiency,
thus avoiding the problems inherent in earlier supersonic aircraft.
advantage is that, while the 150 metre-long designs are bigger
than previous jets, they are actually lighter than Boeing 747s and can
utilise conventional runways. They have moderate take-off noise,
too. In many
ways, they are the spiritual successor of Concorde.
They lack windows, however. The heat generated by traveling so fast makes
it difficult to install windows that are not too heavy. One solution
to this problem has been the installation of flat screen displays, showing
images of the scene outside.
The final phase of Britain's HS2 rail link is completed
High Speed 1 (HS1), also known as the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL), was a 108 km (67 mi) high-speed rail line, running from London to the British end of the Channel Tunnel. Completed in 2007, this route into continental Europe had only a single operator at the time – Eurostar, which provided trains to Paris, Brussels and seasonal destinations in southern France. Additional services became available in the 2010s, allowing direct high-speed rail from London to Frankfurt and Amsterdam.
The development of high-speed rail sparked further interest and debate in Britain and was supported in principle by the three main political parties. Detailed plans were drawn up for a domestic network, linking together some of the nation's largest commuter cities. Though much controversy surrounded which cities should be served, as well as the environmental performance and impact,* the plans were finally approved in January 2012.*
High Speed 2 (HS2) would connect London with the Midlands and the North of England. It would be developed by High Speed Two Ltd, a company established by the government. The planned route took the form of a "Y" shape, with a central trunk going from London to England's next largest city, Birmingham, which then forked into two spurs: one to Manchester and the other to Leeds.
HS2 was built in stages, the London to Birmingham section being the first, with construction starting in 2016 and the first trains running by the mid-2020s. There would be no intermediate calling points: trains would travel directly between London and Birmingham at speeds of 400 km/h (250 mph), cutting the journey time from 1 hour 24 minutes to just 49 minutes.
By 2033, the Manchester and Leeds branches are completed. Journey times from London to Manchester are reduced from 2 hours 8 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes. Journeys from London to Leeds are reduced from 2 hours 20 minutes to 1 hour 20 minutes. Additional high-speed lines to Newcastle, Edinburgh and Glasgow are now being planned.
The total cost of the project is over £32 bn ($49 bn), making it the UK's largest rail expansion in almost a century. Congestion is greatly relieved on other networks and there are significant economic benefits, with over a million new jobs created. As part of the plans, Euston station in London is fully redeveloped and there is also a connection running to Heathrow airport, one of the world's busiest aviation hubs.*
halls, movie theatres, stadiums and other such environments
are now utilising holographic wall screens. These are basically
larger and more sophisticated versions of the TV projectors which have been in use since 2020. At this stage, they remain too expensive for mainstream
use in the home (except for luxury apartments owned by the rich). However, they are a relatively common sight in public venues and workplaces. Times Square
in New York, Piccadilly Circus in London, and Shibuya in Tokyo now feature
spectacular advertisement displays, with graphics appearing to literally
"jump out" of the screen.
disease in China has killed over 80 million by now
resulted from the combined long term effects of (a) pollution; 20 of
the 30 most polluted cities in the world are in China, (b) huge numbers
of smokers; around 50% of adults, and (c) the widespread practice of
burning wood or coal at home for cooking and heating; over 65% of the
begun switching to cleaner fuels by this time, however, and is implementing
a new programme of taxation, better health education and tobacco advertising
bans. This begins to reduce the proportion of deaths from lung disease
from around this time onwards.
Five-year survival rates for kidney cancer are approaching 100%
In the early 2010s, there were around 209,000 new cases of kidney cancer diagnosed in the world each year, accounting for just under 2% of all cancers. The highest rates were recorded in North America and the lowest rates in Asian and African regions.
Factors known to increase the risk of kidney cancer include smoking, which can double the risk of the disease; regular use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen or naproxen; obesity; faulty genes; a family history of kidney cancer; having kidney disease that needs dialysis; being infected with hepatitis C; and previous treatment for testicular cancer or cervical cancer.
Kidney cancer does not usually respond to chemotherapy or radiotherapy. If the cancer has not spread, it is normally removed by surgery. The increasing use of robots in hospitals* has led to greatly improved accuracy and turnaround times.* Together with new drug treatments, advances in cryotherapy (freezing the tumour away), radiofrequency ablation (burning the tumour away), gene therapy and other techniques, kidney cancer is gradually being defeated. In most of the developed world, five-year survival rates are now approaching 100%.**