There now exists in our world a generation of young adults who cannot recall when there weren’t computers in virtually every home and office. The generation before that could not remember when telephone and televisions were also not in every home, and the generation before that, when radios or ‘wireless sets’ as they used to be called, did not exist. So what will come next? And what will be taken for granted and assumed that this is the way life is and that nothing can disturb this way of life?
As a boy, the prize electrical possession in my family home was an old wooden box which contained our thermionic valve-powered wireless set. It brought in two radio stations, the Home Program and the Light Program. This was in London, England in the 1940s. Every now and again wireless set would break down as one of those valves burned out or something went wrong. My Dad would then open up the back, get out his soldering iron and set to and fix it. Now, of course, if even a major appliance such as a large-screen television set ‘goes bung’ (breaks down) it is generally cheaper to replace it with a new one. The home handyman father who could mend his kids shoes, give them haircuts and generally fix everything around the house, has gone by the wayside.
This is all very well providing nothing goes wrong to impede that endless supply of goods and services we now all take for granted. Oh, how we all rely on that. But let us take a look at just one area where, if something went wrong, it would probably cause chaos all around the world – chaos which would last for a long time.
The first man-made satellite went up in 1957. I remember watching it cross the sky and heard its beep-beep-beep on the radio. Today, there are fixed orbit satellites all around the world relaying trillions of messages. The days of shortwave radio and undersea cables has come to an end. People everywhere rely on those satellites. They are used not only to send telephone messages but for navigation of ships and aircraft. They are used in car GPS’s so people can find the street address they’re looking for. They’re used for tracking. They are essential to the use of aircraft separation and air-traffic control. Computer data, phone calls – everything it seems relies on them.
You could say that virtually every type of medium to long-distance telecommunication apparatus extant today is totally reliant on the operational reliance of the man-made satellites either stationary or circling high above the earth.
Now let us assume a terrible thing happens. Picture a huge solar flare which lasts for several hours that knocks out most of those satellites’ electronics. It does more than that. It damages their components. They can no longer receive and re-transmit data. They are rendered virtually useless and, until they are replaced, the world will have to get by somehow.
Okay, so a solar flare that can do this is unlikely. The point I make is that something, something unexpected and unaccounted for does the damage. It is not an impossibility. I leave it to your imagination to picture a world suddenly thrown back on resources, knowledge and skills of yesteryear in a vain attempt to keep things going whilst those replacement satellites are readied to be deployed. I don’t want to alarm you but, how do you think we’d cope?