Something remarkable is happening in America; something that gives me hope for our economic and innovative future. Stodgy establishments are being superannuated. That’s right, superannuated.
The Oxford Dictionary defines superannuated as “cause to become obsolete through age or new technological or intellectual developments.”
As a personal example, I recently broke off my 23 year devotion to the local phone company in favor of a VOIP technology solution; more functionality at half the cost. Plus, I have chosen a virtual office service over the onerous traditional building lease and I come by most of my TV shows, music, movies and books as on-demand downloads.
Another superannuation well under way is for the education industry, with thousands of effective and popular online lesson videos posted by Salman Khan. And the emerging natural gas infrastructure buildout for CNG vehicles has the potential of superannuating the foreign crude that has overstayed its welcome.
A dramatically new level of superannuation emerged just this past Thursday when a dragon fell from space. With an on-target splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, private aerospace company SpaceX completed its roundtrip cargo mission to the International Space Station. The Southern California based enterprise launched the Dragon capsule (named after Puff the Magic Dragon) on top of its Falcon launch vehicle (named after Han Solo’s Millennium Falcon). The successful splashdown established SpaceX’s CEO Elon Musk, an immigrant from the Republic of South Africa, as the new Howard Hughes.
The phenomenal space flight accomplishment matches SpaceX’s stated mission: “The company’s goal is to renew a sense of excellence in the space industry by disrupting the current paradigm of complacency and replacing it with innovation and commercialized price points; laying the foundation for a truly space-faring human civilization.” The Dragon introduced a literal breath of fresh air when docking with the International Space Station. Flight engineer Donald Pettit remarked that the interior of the capsule “smells like a brand new car.”
The Congressional Committee on Science, Space and Technology held hearings in September of last year on a topic labeled, “NASA Human Space Flight; Past, Present and Future; Where Do We Go From Here?” In his opening comments, Committee Chairman Ralph Hall (R-TX) stated, “If NASA doesn’t move out quickly, more and more of our industrial base, skilled engineers and technicians and hard-won capabilities are at risk of withering away. America needs leadership with a compelling vision and the strength of commitment.” The concern is a proper one.
After a 30 year run, the Space Shuttle fleet has been retired and distributed as museum display treasures across the nation. With replacement manned space flight vehicle budgets cancelled by the Obama Administration in 2010, there appears to be very little White House enthusiasm for the final frontier. I remember John Kennedy. John Kennedy was a visionary for space. And, President Obama, you’re no John Kennedy.
Testifying to the aforementioned congressional committee in 2011 was Neil Armstrong, the first person to set foot on the Moon: “The absence of a comprehensive plan that is understood and supported by government, industry, academia and society as a whole frustrates everyone. NASA itself, driven with conflicting forces and the dashed hopes of cancelled programs must find ways of restoring hope and confidence to a confused and disconsolate workforce. The reality that there is no requirement for a NASA spacecraft commander for the foreseeable future is obvious and painful to all who have justifiably taken great pride in NASA’s wondrous space flight achievements of the past half century.”
Bookending the testimony to the committee was fellow Apollo Astronaut Gene Cernan, the last person to stand on the Moon. He summed up the Obama space exploration policy with, “Today we are in a path of decay.” Cernan openly longed for the good old days, “a NASA that realizes the importance of looking back in history, learning from our mistakes and building upon the successful culture of a government-private industry partnership that has endured throughout the life of our space program, developing safe and cost effective space exploration systems. The short term solution is far more complex in light of NASA and the present administration’s now obvious, obvious to me anyway, agenda to dismantle a space program that has been five decades in the making.”
Enter PayPal magnate Elon Musk whose primary operation is located in Hawthorne, California, just five miles from where Howard Hughes built the Spruce Goose. By locating SpaceX in the shadow of legacy companies Hughes Aircraft, TRW, and Martin Marietta, Musk has been able to harness the wisdom of the old cowboys of aerospace while leveraging advanced techniques and technologies from the younger geeks. All of their talents and understanding is needed to safely build the planned seven-passenger option of the Dragon capsule.
But Musk’s superannuation is not limited to low earth orbit. His terrestrial challenge to established industry comes by way of electric vehicles. In 2003, just one year after the founding of SpaceX, Musk created the electric car company Tesla Motors. Every aspect of the company seems to engage the romance of the automotive pastime with less moving parts.
The chassis of a Tesla is astonishingly refined. Next to a traditional combustion engine frame, it looks like an iPhone juxtaposed with a desktop dial phone. Rather than dealerships, Tesla has stores - in malls. And to address the matter of travel range, Musk created the company SolarCity to place electricity filling stations throughout the country, with many recharges free to Tesla vehicles. With their first model run sold out, the Tesla Motors cool factor is all in place.
There are plenty of other systems that are ripe and ready for their annuations to get supered; cycling, for instance. I recently resumed riding a bicycle after a 20 year hiatus. The seats still hurt, gear shifting is still graceless, and the tires are still fragile. Somebody, please...
But the ultimate example of moribund has got to be America’s antediluvian social security program. Democratic Party leadership insists that the scheme is sound and needs no overhauling. Fine. Let’s leave it exactly as it is and allow it to die a natural, algebraic death. That will allow 20 years for someone to superannuate Social Security with an elegant and sustainable (“sustainable” as in out of the reach of Congress) longevity fund.
Eventually, old machines simply become too costly to maintain. I am now looking forward to more private innovators and public leaders who will fundamentally transform America away from President Hope-and-change’s path of decay.
Say it with me one last time: superannuate.