The Pan Am of the future


The flight attendant of the future serves food with a straw -- as depicted by Stanley Kubrick, the great visionary moviemaker, in his feature film "2001: A Space Odyssey".

"In one of the opening scenes, there's a flight attendant walking up a set of stairs," says one fan. "I remember they had this little sticky, kind of velcro stuff on her shoes. So, she was doing this exaggerated walk."

The flight attendant of the past serves martinis -- as depicted by ABC in its television series "Pan Am". Things didn't pan out for Pan American. Or for Kubrick, who was insanely optimistic about the advance of technology. He imagined that we would all be passengers in space -- 10 years ago! That Pan Am would survive as an airline. That in-flight calls would be placed with a videophone the size of a refrigerator -- for a buck a minute. All of this doesn't mean we can't be space travelers.

That fan who spoke earlier? He is Scott Hubbard, Consulting Professor of Astronautics at Stanford University.

"We know that they're planning to have something like a pilot and a co-pilot, and maybe 5 passengers," he says. The "they" are private companies -- Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic and and Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin.

"It's not a big enough vehicle right now to have much in the way of flight attendants."

Their tiny spacecraft haven't flown a passenger yet.

"But I think it's going to happen. I think there will be a business of people selling space tourism."

Scott Hubbard is a former Director of NASA;s Ames Research Center, where he was instrumental in developing the closest thing we have to a passenger plane at the edge of space: SOFIA, a 747 converted by NASA into a giant flying observatory for non-astronauts. And, in a sort of tribute to Kubrick's airline, it is named Clipper Lindbergh, after the first Pan Am airliners.

"No flight attendants," Hubbard laughs. "I think it's self service coffee."

Copyright © 2023 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.