Wild West technology

Time was, this country was desperate for the means to tame the new frontier, the Wild West. Kentucky rifles were wonderfully accurate for hunting, but it took a minute to re-load for the regular user. When a hoard of hostiles were coming at you, you didn’t have that time. Fighting hand-to-hand, knives, tomahawks, and bows and arrows proved less than ideal. So too, the wagons and wagon wheels suited for the cobbled streets of New York and Boston would not stand up to the rigors of the trail west. Nor did the woolen trousers, or the glass pickling jars… the way West and a chance of survival there bred a whole new need.

Of course, some of the advancements back then came about because of the Civil War. Like the Colt 45 and the Winchester, both developed with incredible ingenuity at the time, far surpassing any firearm design even dreamed of back then. When you coupled these new designs with the Industrial Revolution’s advances in factory layout and operation, productivity boomed and prices “per piece manufactured” dropped (especially an adaptation of the British Navy’s block and tackle production line where workers had a station and the parts came to them — Henry Ford adopted this technique later on to great acclaim).

In the end, the Conestoga wagon wheel tripled the life of a wheel over rough terrain. The Winchester 75 won the west alongside the Colt 45. The tin can replaced glass jars. And Levi Strauss invented the blue jean – strong cotton apparel that could withstand the physical rigors of the cowboy and frontiersman’s daily life.

This is exactly what is happening in the next great frontier: Space. Hundreds of entrepreneurs, hundreds of start-ups (privately funded), and major industrial giants (like Boeing and Lockheed) are all breaking new ground as the need for multiples of useful inventions find their way into market. Microsatellites allowing farmers to check hourly progress of their crops with images and spectra-analysis from space. WiFi companies planning of skipping connectivity to your home and replacing it with broadband WiFi to every home across the planet from space. Launch vehicles — 12 at last count — currently being refined and tested. People are rushing to support lunar and deep-space capabilities as well with ground stations —mini-mission control sites even in major cities. In the same way the AF can control a drone over Afghanistan from a container in Florida, so too a 2-bedroom apartment control center in Dubai with a roof-top dish pointed to space, can handle 30-50 micro satellites — for handsome profit — supplying maritime tracking and messaging for thousands of ships.

And is this, like the Wild West before, a real money making opportunity? Think about the railroads, aircraft, mining deposits, cars, trucks and a host of other inventions no one  ever dreamed of back then. “I think that investing in the space sector and the growth of the space economy now is a massive opportunity to make a lot of money,” said Joe Landon, chairman of the venture capital firm Space Angels, at the NewSpace conference in Seattle in June.

How much? Oh, just a paltry $269,000,000,000 turn-over in 2017, that’s how much. And prediction is that this will grow at 10-12 percent annually for decades to come.


Peter Riva, a former resident of Amenia Union, now lives in New Mexico.