Using the tragic forecast of Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein' story and The Fantasy Method of Urban Design, the Frankencities Project details the worst-case scenarios of the futures of real world cities worldwide. This month, we highlight the future of the French capital.
Here's a lovely Soviet-era stamp commemorating the work of a scientist called Konstantin Tsiolkovsky.
Tsiolkovsky is lauded for his early 20th century spacetech designs. He was the first to design space stations, the first to design multistage rocket boosters, and the first to design all manner of aircraft, hovercraft, and jetcraft.
None of these designs were ever built by Tsiolkovsky but that doesn’t stop Russians nowadays from calling him 'The Father of Cosmonautics'.
In his younger days, Tsiolkovsky marveled at the great new engineering structures of Europe. In 1895, he was so inspired by the magnificence of the Eiffel Tower, then only just completed, that he designed a larger tower of similar form that would rise sixty miles, all the way to the edge of space.
Within it, an elevator would move up and down to transport humans and cargo into orbit and back again. As yet, no one has proceeded to build such a tower, since no material is strong enough to support such a massive structure. Nor would such a long (and heavy) elevator cable be strong enough to support itself..
However, in recent years, Tsiolkovsky’s vision of a space elevator has been resurrected as various space fans entertain the idea that a space elevator cable could possibly work if it were made out of new nano-carbon material.
In this scenario, which is dubbed 'Franken-Paris', it is not the Americans or the Russians who work to make a space elevator but the French.
France, after the United States and the USSR, was the third nation to reach space, launching its first satellite in 1965. Today, the French still have a strong space program, being a major participant in the International Space Station while also launching satellites to Earth orbit and space probes to other worlds. By the early twenty-second century, after decades of research and development, the French space agency builds a space base in orbit and then unreels an elevator cable from it—which comes all the way down to the surface of the Earth.
The cable is eighty miles in length, made of nano-carbon, and it descends from space to make contact with the Earth at France’s space center in French Guiana, South America. The first elevator car starts running up and down the cable in 2121, ferrying both people and machines to and from orbit. The project is reported the world over as being "an engineering marvel." As a financial enterprise, though, it is a complete failure. The cost of transporting a person or a piece of space equipment first to French Guiana and then into outer space on a nano-carbon cable ends up being even higher than the cost of using a normal rocket.
The French public, who financed the whole project via their taxes, are also aggrieved that such a marvelous French invention is not even available to gaze upon from mainland France. So, in an effort to increase the commercial viability of the project and to appease French taxpayers, the space elevator is moved.
Over the course of many months, the base station at the bottom end of the cable is loaded onto a massive boat and floated ever-so-slowly to La Havre on the French coast, then up the River Seine to Paris. When it finally gets there, the French will at last be able to rejoice in its grandeur (even though very few of them will be able to pay for a ticket to ride on it).
However, something goes dramatically wrong. Due to either a design fault or some accident, the entire space elevator starts to vibrate and shudder violently, before falling spectacularly down to Earth over the French capital; thereby raining fast-falling space machinery upon its citizens. Welcome to Franken-Paris!
Franken-Paris by Sdecoret.
For more Shelley-linked Frankencities of Europe, see this Urban Transcript article here.
Or, if you'd rather cast your eyes upon more hopeful urban landscapes, see cityscapes inspired by Thomas More's 'Utopia' at The Ecotopia 2121 Project.
For some more of my critical investigations into space exploration, see:
Marshall, A (2017) Fly Me To The Moon?, Huff Post: US Edition March 6th, 2017
Marshall, A. (2000) The Search for Extraterrestrial Us, Australasian Science, Vol. 21, No 3, April issue, pp36-37.
Marshall, A (1999) Gaining a share of the final frontier, in B. Martin (ed) Technology and Public Participation, University of Wollongong Press, Wollongong.
Marshall, A. (1997) Extraterrestrial Environmentalism, Australian Science, Vol. 18, No. 2, Winter issue, pp25-27.
Marshall, A (1995) Development and imperialism in space, Space Policy, Vol. 11, No. 1, pp41-52.
Marshall, A (1994) 'Martians beware', New Zealand Science Monthly, Vol. 5, No. 11, pp6-7
Marshall, A (1993) 'Ethics and the extraterrestrial environment', Journal of Applied Philosophy, Vol. 10, No 2, pp227-237.