When the very last Space Shuttle flight climbs into orbit next month, it will carry two "space-certified" iPhone 4s, which will be used to perform spatial positioning experiments.
This thinly disguised publicity stunt provokes a melancholy reflection on the pace of change. When the first Shuttle flight took off in April 1981, the cool consumer techno-toy of the day was the Sony Walkman.
In the intervening three decades of Shuttle flights, scientific progress has jettisoned countless Walkmans to attics or to rubbish dumps. Today "smart" phones, each one packed with more computing power by some measures than that first Shuttle, are used around the world to talk, text, play music and games, and much more.
But while consumer technology has rocketed ahead, space flight remains mired in the 1980s. New enterprises in the private sector promise consumer air travel, but we have yet to see iPhone 4 of spacecraft.
Like conventional aviation, space flight was propelled over the last 50 years by military competition. Few governments, unfortunately, have shown any interest in the notion that mankind need not be limited to one little planet. Where is the leader with the vision to propose a vigorous new international effort to go see what's out there?