By Michael Goldman
It is Feb. 2, 2014, and the 21st century has yet to begin.
Worse still, it doesn't yet seem to even be on the horizon.
It is generally accepted that it takes a fundamental observable shift in the lives of people, either due to an event, an invention, or a massive change in cultural norms, for a new century to be acknowledged "hatched."
The printing press, invented in the 15th century, changed mankind forever by allowing the masses to purchase mass-produced Bibles.
The 16th century was marked by the great Elizabethan Age of exploration, while the 17th century was forever changed by the settlement of distant lands by peoples seeking to alter the predestined course of their lives and the lives of their progeny.
The 18th century is justly remembered for the trifecta cultural impact of whaling-oil acquisition, the acquisition of colonial empires, and the revolution of some of those same colonial nations, including America.
The historic truth is the 19th century didn't really arrive until the industrial revolution descended on England in the 1830s, (and later on the United States in the 1840s and 1850s), and the 20th century did not formally arrive until the awful month of August 1914 when World War I was formally declared around the globe.
This idea about how the 20th century continues to linger well after it's calendar departure of Dec. 31, 2000, came to me as I awaited the arrival of the two seminal events from the year 1964 that formally kicked off the decade we know as the '60s: the Feb.
The truth is decades, like centuries, are not the products of calendar dates but rather of events, which of course is why the time frame we generally acknowledge as encompassing "the '60s" began with those two aforementioned dates in 1964, and didn't end until the resignation of Richard Nixon on Aug. 9, 1974. And, yes, this means I am saying that President John F. Kennedy, who died on Nov. 22, 1963, never lived in what we now broadly label as the '60s.
Think about it.
As you watched the recent commemoration of the life and death of JFK, were you not taken by the plethora of black-and-white photos, and how un-60ish the people who lined the route of his funeral looked?
Where were the psychedelic clothes, the long hair, the love-beads, and the peace symbols?
When JFK died in November of 1963, the Beatles were still just a British phenomenon and the phrase "drugs, sex and rock 'n' roll" hadn't yet been coined.
The truth is despite the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, which some thought might signal a nearly immediately onset of the 21st century, the first 14 years of the 21st century just haven't been all that different than the last 14 years of the 20th century.
So when will the 21st century begin?
The answer, I believe, is spelled VASIMR, which is the abbreviation for the variable specific impulse magnetoplasma rocket.
According to folks a lot smarter than I, VASIMR works "by using radio waves to ionize a propellant into a plasma, and then a magnetic field, to accelerate the plasma out of the back of a rocket engine to generate thrust."
So what, you say?
Remember what I wrote earlier: It takes a fundamental observable shift in the lives of people, either due to an event, an invention, or a massive change in cultural norms for a new century to be acknowledged as having been "hatched."
If VASIMR works, its VF-200 engine could reduce the duration of flight from Earth to Jupiter or Saturn from six years to 14 months, and from Earth to Mars from four months to 39 days.
And that, my friends, will lead to a massive change in how quickly we will be able to traverse our own planet, from coast to coast and country to country.
Six years to 14 months!
Welcome to our grandchildren's future.
Michael Goldman is a paid political consultant for Democratic candidates and president of Goldman Associates in Boston.