To read Part I in the “New Frontiers” series by Bruno Villetelle, titled “What Has Technology Done to Better Travel?” click here.
Part II: Interstellar Travel & Digital Health
As someone whose love of digital technology is surpassed by few things, it’s not often that I find myself able to connect that love with something that excites me to as high a degree. I have, however, found such a connection between myself, travel, and digital technology.
And the future of those things excites me a great, great deal.
Some people aren’t excited by travel. Some people don’t have that inherent “wanderlust” that those like myself are born with and develops over time. But regardless of your experiences of stances or passion regarding travel what the future has in store for travel–the new frontiers that the digitization of the world affords us–in the hands of the likes of Elon Musk is a difficult concept to ignore. The future is very, very much on the horizon, and the more we continue to embrace the digital revolution, the further we can push the limits of travel.
People like Elon Musk aren’t just changing the luxuries we are afforded when we travel, he’s on a mission to change every facet of exploration from top to bottom. And from one travel lover to another–I couldn’t be happier.
Musk’s vision of a Hyperloop-laden future has already been touched on in this post, and though it will certainly revolutionize the way we as human beings travel the world, much of the real interest lies in how we’ll travel other worlds.
The future of interstellar travel is quickly becoming the present of interstellar travel. People like Musk have passed through the phase of dreaming about traveling to the moon and begun bringing that dream to reality. His organization SpaceX is hard at work on expanding the current offerings for travel–no more will we have to choose between destinations limited solely to those on the Earth. If SpaceX is successful, interstellar could become a norm–an expensive norm perhaps–but one that is, in our generation, a possibility.
Recently, Musk announced he plans to send two people to the moon by 2018–giving him under two years to put the pieces together and solve the problems that any interstellar traveler is wont to run into.
But rocket science, engineering and design aren’t the only things that complicate the space-faring process. Healthcare–or the lack of it–makes interstellar travel incredibly difficult.
This is where we can introduce digital technologies.
Health complications in space go beyond headaches, bumps and bruises. The radiation an astronaut experiences during spaceflight can wreak havoc on the central nervous system. Studies of astronauts show that they die of cardiovascular disorders at 4 or 5 times the rate of those who haven’t been to deep space.
And the potential health issues certainly don’t end there. Both emergency conditions–such as heart attack or stroke–and nonemergency conditions–space adaptation syndrome being the most common–are nearly inevitable among those enduring space exploration.
As you probably can imagine, there is not an abundance of readily-available and well-stocked healthcare facilities in the vast reaches of space. The galaxy, in its unimaginably infinite size, is not outfitted with hospitals or minute-clinics every few thousand light years. But perhaps digital health can bridge the gap that a lack of hospital beds can leave. So what will the likes of Musk and his newly christened astronauts need out of digital health?
What must happen first is a shift in focus. If an astronaut aboard a shuttle or inhabiting another celestial body were to break his or her arm or suffer a heart attack, treatments could, in theory, be administered. But at the forefront of most every health-conscious individual should not be how we can treat illnesses like these, but how we can prevent them.
Shifting our focus to prevention of illness and other medical maladies means meticulously assessing and monitoring of the crew. This is precisely where digital health technologies can come into play so fruitfully. Wearable technology beyond anything you’d see on a jogger here on Earth can effortlessly monitor and report back on vital signs and any irregularities that can be expected when one is making the transition from Earth to space. Likewise, rigorous assessment via digital health readouts can be (and should be, and of course already are) done prior to jettisoning people into space to ensure that they’re as healthy as can be. These can be executed with the help of existing and burgeoning digital tech, like virtual reality.
While prevention should be at the forefront, treatment remains a necessary component. As any parent could tell you, no matter the precautions taken, people will inevitably get sick or injured. If the care provided to them can be executed digitally, the treatment processes will become exponentially simpler.
The quickest means of digitizing healthcare on other planets will involve bringing the point of care along for the ride. Incredible technology like that in IBM’s Watson has achieved everything from besting past champs on Jeopardy to diagnosing illnesses that had perplexed human doctors. This is the technology of the future–both of healthcare and beyond. Bringing it along to space could streamline the healthcare process for astronauts and perhaps, in our lifetime, moon residents.
We have come too far as a civilization, made too many advancements and knocked down far, far too many roadblocks to stop here. But the potential for in-space health complications makes space travel dangerous–even more so than people already recognize. By advancing our digital technologies even further and pairing them with our affinity for space exploration, we could be putting digital and galactic healthcare into, well, a world of their own.
Part I: What Has Technology Done to Better Travel?
Remember the days when booking a flight across the country required a trip to the travel agent’s office, some back and forth discussion, and ultimately an arm and a leg in ticket costs?
Thanks to digital technology, those days are long gone. The past 50 or 60 years have done wonders for the travel industry; as new technology has begun to saturate the market to the point of total ubiquitousness, our lives–and our travel experiences–have improved tenfold.
Changing How We Travel
While the days of inflight lobster meals, reclining seats and smoking sections may be largely in the past, other amenities like personal TV screens, wifi connectivity and flight tracking have replaced them tenfold.
New technology has not only changed the ways we travel, it’s completely revolutionized the entire in-flight experience from top to bottom. While the amount of legroom on flights has been reduced to a less-than-stellar 30 or so inches, some may not even notice their legs falling asleep thanks to the in flight entertainment options on most commercial airlines.
Even outside of what’s offered on a flight, the digitization of entertainment means you have an entire library of your favorite books, magazines and periodicals at your fingertips in addition to the nearly unlimited supply of music.
New Methods & Modes
For decades people have imagined what the future of travel would look like. Flying cars, of course, were dreamt of for years and years and years before largely being determined to be out of the realm of possibility. Other dreams of future travel like people shooting across the country in air tubes was, surprisingly, not the strangest of the “what might the future of travel look like” illustrations of pre 21st century predictions.
The man who has become a beacon of technological advancement, Elon Musk, has announced that his recent endeavor at SpaceX, Hyperloop is underway. As it turns out, perhaps low pressure, high speed tube travel is the future of getting from San Fransisco to Los Angeles in a half an hour. While technological advancements like the Hyperloop has yet to come to complete fruition, organization insiders anticipate that people will be firing around the country in pressurized, wheel-less Hyperloop trains by the year 2020.
The Who, The When, And The How Much
The digitization of travel and introduction of new technology hasn’t just changed the accommodations we’re given when we travel or even the modes through which we traverse the country, but also who it is that’s doing the traveling.
Technology has effectively streamlined the entire travel process, particularly for the young people of today who are so intimately connected to the technology around them. No longer do travelers have to rely on a linear stepped communication process–traveler to travel agent, travel agent to airline, airline to travel agent, travel agent back to traveler (and that’s just for airline booking)–the entire process from purchasing your tickets to printing them out to booking your hotel has gone digital.
Some of these advancements open up numerous options to the average traveler that haven’t formerly been possible. The creation and subsequent torrid takeoff of AirBnB has given younger people the opportunity to not only explore more of the world, but to do so earlier, cheaper, and more efficiently.
The most exciting aspect of futuristic travel technology doesn’t lie in what travel can offer us or how it’ll get us there but instead where it’ll be getting us. Elon Musk and his aforementioned aerospace manufacturer SpaceX is pushing the boundaries of travel before our very eyes.
While quick vacations to Mars or the Moon might not be on the immediate horizon for Musk and the rest of SpaceX, it’s entirely possible that in a matter of years you and your loved ones might be able to spend a week or two vacationing in the shadow of the Apollo 11 landing site.
Communicate with your country’s embassy
When traveling around other countries, letting your native country’s embassy know the expected length of your trip and other relevant information during your time abroad is essential regardless if you are away for a few days or a month.
Let someone know your whereabouts
Whether it’s giving your best friend or a loved one your whereabouts on your trip, keeping someone at home informed is absolutely necessary when you are abroad for a given amount of time.
Meet with a doctor
Before you leave for your adventure, be sure to consult with a doctor to discuss the vaccinations you may need to receive. Keep in mind that vaccinations do vary according to your destination. Meeting with a travel doctor can offer insight in terms of determining which vaccinations or other precautionary measures you should take.
Be aware of local emergency centers
Gaining a better understanding of where to receive help in the case of an emergency is especially important wherever you visit. Taking the time to familiarize yourself with your hostel or hotel’s surrounding area will also help you to navigate your new neighborhood regardless of the timeframe you are visiting.
Check Your Taxis
Research common means of transportation in your new destination and more importantly, how reliable the taxi system is in the country you are visiting. This way, you can check the driver’s license, company affiliation, etc. before getting into a taxi with someone you may not have the necessary credentials.
As every country or society has their own set of cultural norms, social ideologies. etc., it is therefore vital to briefly read up on how to be the best traveler when you go to said destination. This will not only allow you to become a well-rounded traveler at your destination, but will help you acquire skills to travel to your next destination with more ease.
Keep your valuables close
Often times looked over by some travelers, keeping track of your passport, cash, credit cards, etc. Also, be sure to not carry all your valuables in one bag or suitcase in case you happen to lose it or an unfortunate event occurs.
Copies of passport
With your passport continuing to be the primary form of identification for world travel, take a second to make a few copies of this document and disseminate them across your suitcases. In addition to leaving your travel itinerary with someone you trust at home, be sure to also leave a copy of your passport as a precautionary measure.
As the longest continuously-inhabited city in South America, Cuzco’s ability to uniquely blend the past with the present throughout every aspect of the city should impress any curious traveler.
Located more than 11,000 feet above sea level, high in the Andes, this vivacious city was once the center of the vast Inca Empire in the 15th and early 16th centuries. Beautifully detailed Incan stonework still accent the town’s facade, and many of the buildings standing today were constructed upon the foundations of older Incan structures. Intermixed are colonial touches brought over from the Spanish conquistadors that arrived in 1533, and more recently, the influx of modern tourism has inserted new influences from all over the world.
The Plaza de Armas has always been the center of city life. The square, framed by gorgeous colonial arcades, points to the area’s main architectural attraction: the cathedral. Red-and-white striped Peruvian flags line the streets dispersed amongst the rainbow-colored banners of Tahuantinsuyo (the Incan Empire) celebrating the collaboration of cultures that have made the city what it is today.
Throughout the town you can find a variety of restaurants, goods, local art, and entertainment. As with any major tourist destination, there are posh restaurants and up-scale hotels targeting the luxury traveller, but for those more interested in embracing the history of the area and culture of the peoples, there’s so much to explore. Spanning the walls of city, you’ll find intricate murals painted by local artists. You’ll see and smell bundles of dried peppers and garlic hanging from exposed beams. Small markets offer everything from freshly cut meats to local concoctions promising to cure everything from diabetes to gout.
You’ll also see a glimpse into the realities of the poorer population, as young children offer shoeshines in exchange for a few cents, and women serve up fried guinea pig on a stick.
As with most areas in the Andes, you cannot forget to mention the ubiquity of the coca leaf. Clear plastic bags filled with green leaves are bought and sold candidly, and you’ll regularly see men walking down the streets gnawing away at a bundle of it in their mouths. (It’s said to help with altitude sickness, and most hotels offer a tea made from the leaves because of this.)
The biggest draw for many people coming to Cuzco isn’t the city at all but the infamous Incan structure of Machu Picchu. Built in the mid 15th century, more than 850,000 tourists now visit annually. To visit, passengers hop aboard the Belmond Hiram Bingham train for a windy 68 miles through the Sacred Valley, passing through rolling plains, rivers, and Mount Veronica, before coming upon a jungle-like scenery with clouds blanketing the sky.
The legacy of the Maya Empire resonates throughout Central America. Once extending across present day Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, southern Mexico, and western Honduras, the Mayans virtually disappeared by A.D. 900. Even today, scholars continue to debate over what caused the decline, citing circumstances as disparate as water loss and earthquakes to diseases and invasions from outside conquerers.
This once great Pre-Columbian civilization demonstrated a great degree of prowess in agriculture, pottery, hieroglyphics, calendaring, and mathematics, but what the Mayans may be most remembered for today is their awe-inspiring ruins.
To this day, tourist and locals alike flock to these ruins to connect with one of the most impressive and mysterious civilizations on our planets history. Here are five (but certainly not all!) of the most impressive.
Tucked away in the jungles of present day Campeche, Calakmul is one of the largest Mayan cities ever uncovered. With over 6,500 ancient structures identified within, Calakmul’s 55 meter (180 foot) high pyramid is by far the tallest and most well-known. The Mayan people often built upon existing temples in order to achieve their highest structures. Calakmul is a great example of this practice.
Located in present day Chiapas, Mexico, Palenque might be smaller than some of its neighboring Mayan cities, but the craftsmanship of the architecture and sculptures is unrivaled. One notable site is the Temple of Inscriptions, which is the only Mesoamerican pyramid built to serve as a funerary monument.
Aside from being the tallest structure in Uxmal at 115 ft, the Pyramid of the Magician is one of the best preserved Pre-Columbian sites in Mexico. What sets this pyramid apart are the oval layers of structure. Most Mayan pyramids are comprised of mostly rectangular or square layers. While the name Uxmal may mean “built three times” in Mayan, this pyramid appears to have been built in five phases, starting from the sixth century continuing periodically through the 10th century.
Perhaps one of the most recognizable temples of the Maya Empire is located at the Chichen Itza site. Nicknames El Castillo, this temple had astronomical significance to the Mayan people. The four faces of the pyramid each have a stairway with 91 steps. Including the shared step at the top, this adds up to 365—the number of days in a year.
Between ca. 200 to 900 AD, Tikal was the largest Mayan city with an estimated population between 100,000 and 200,000 inhabitants. Situated in modern day Guatemala, Tikal contains 6 large temple pyramids, restored buildings scattered throughout the area, and many more hidden within the jungle. The largest structure is the Temple-pyramid IV. At roughly 72 meters (230 feet) high, the top of this temple offers one of the most beautiful panoramic views in the world.
While there are still so many other Mayan ruins to visit, an avid traveller can’t go wrong with any one of these five. You may not be able to visit all in one trip, but picking one as your central place of exploration and then mapping out nearby structures will prove to be an enlightening and humbling travel experience.