Ever since Elon Musk first floated the idea of a hyperloop—a vacuum-tube-train network that’s faster, greener and cheaper than air travel—companies around the world have been competing to develop this utopian world-changing technology. Will TransPod get there first?
In 1904, a student at worcester polytechnic institute named Robert Goddard wrote a paper on the subject of “travelling in 1950.” Under the spell of sci-fi writers like H. G. Wells, Goddard had long been fascinated by the idea of space travel, but in this paper, he proposed something both earthbound and otherworldly: a steel vacuum tube in which passengers could be zipped around at impossibly high speeds in small vehicles.
Thrust, Goddard argued, can occur in a vacuum; the vehicles would be driven by the attraction and repulsion of electromagnets. At a moment when cars were just in the ascendant and commercial jet travel still decades away, it seemed like an outlandish—even magical—idea. But Goddard believed that once it came to fruition, it would be “the fastest possible travel for living bodies on the earth’s surface.”
Goddard would go on to design and build the first liquid-fuelled rocket and become known as the father of modern rocketry. His vacuum-tube system, however, would not appear in 1950. Nor would it appear in 1960 or 1970 or even 2000. While dozens of engineers as well as inventors with various eccentricities and accomplishments flocked to the idea and the odd company tried to develop it—the U.S.’s ET3 and Switzerland’s Swissmetro SA came closest—it seemed destined to remain a kooky footnote in the history of 20th-century transportation.
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