SpaceX wants to be able to land the reusable parts of its Falcon 9 rockets on floating drone ships at sea, and the recently released names of the ships appear to be a tribute to a classic science fiction series.
Last week, Elon Musk tweeted out an image of one of the drone ships designed to act as a landing pad for the Falcon 9 rocket. Most notable is that the ship now has its rather silly name painted on the deck:
Painting the name on the droneship ... pic.twitter.com/X8R8O4KjPx Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 29, 2015
Musk had previously tweeted this name for the East Coast ship, and a similarly odd name for the West Coast drone ship under construction:
Repairs almost done on the spaceport drone ship and have given it the name "Just Read the Instructions" Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 23, 2015
West Coast droneship under construction will be named "Of Course I Still Love You" Elon Musk (@elonmusk) January 23, 2015
Sci-fi aficionados might recognize these names: They are likely a reference to "The Culture," a series of science fiction novels and short stories written by the late Scottish author Iain M. Banks.
The "Culture" novels focus on an incredibly technologically advanced interstellar civilization, in which nearly god-like artificial intelligences housed in powerful starships coexist with a wide range of humanoid species. The Culture is portrayed as a post-scarcity utopia: Citizens of the Culture have access to virtually anything they need or want, live in perfect health for centuries, and spend those long lives pursuing whatever noble or hedonistic goals they want.
Central to the Culture are "Minds": Artificially intelligent starships and space stations that, while being vastly more intelligent and powerful than the human-like beings they carry, are extremely friendly and peace-loving, though also ready to take whatever measures are necessary to protect their civilization and its interests.
Culture Minds have a tendency to give themselves flippant names, and here's where Musk may have drawn his inspiration. Both "Just Read The Instructions" and "Of Course I Still Love You" are names of Minds in Banks' "The Player of Games," a very enjoyable novel in which the Culture works to undermine a stagnant and brutal dictatorship whose leadership is determined by the outcome of a complicated strategy game.
Given Musk's worries about the possibility of uncontrolled or malignant AI destroying humanity, it's heartening that he chose to honor a much more optimistic view of the possibilities of AI and space travel in the naming of his drone ships.
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