Skip to comments.Can Sci-Fi Relaunch the Space Program?
Posted on 05/23/2012 5:54:49 PM PDT by KevinDavis
Filmmakers have tackled space travel from the first days of film which is to say, before there was space travel. The most famous image from silent movies is Mélièss Man in the Moon with a rocket in his eye. Early films adapted H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, and the adventures of Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers. By the time humanity reached orbit (Sputnik in 1957, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin in 1961, and astronaut John Glenn in 1962) popcorn-munching crowds had already flocked to theaters for Destination Moon (1950) and Forbidden Planet (1956).
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with those tv movies?
To what end?
It’s enormous effort and large fractions of human lifespan to do...what? Don’t get me wrong, I’m as intrigued as anyone. But...to go where? do what? Not warm hypotheticals, but realistic scenarios. Just getting to Mars is like sitting in a small car for 2 years, only to get out in Death Valley - the novelty won’t get you far.
I once calculated, thinking in terms of the “Orion Ramjet” design, how much hydrogen could be scooped up en route to Alpha Centauri. 0.01g per square-meter scoop. Humans just don’t grasp astronomical distances, nor how little there is between destinations.
Asteroid mining? It’s mining. Might be useful and make someone rich.
Mars? Hint: think Antarctic station, but a lot harder to visit and live in.
Moon? We’d be living there if anyone found it interesting enough. We’re not there.
A funny thing, capitalism: a big reality check on what people really want and how much they’re willing to give for it. Space? We’ll see how SpaceX et al do.
Sci-fi has proven that it can inspire young people to become engineers (specifically Mr. Scott from Star Trek); however, it might actually take away from a space program by creating unrealistic goals.
The worst unrealistic goal is one you might not think of: it is that space exploration has a plot line and drama. Or at least the type of drama portrayed in science fiction.
Instead, space exploration is like mountain climbing. Lots of hard work, with the only recognition of achievement as “having done it”.
For example, start with a realistic goal of building a Moon base. The best science fiction to achieve this is 95% science and only 5% fiction. Since it is intended to inspire those who actually would or could bring it about, it has to show them in a methodical, realistic manner what is involved.
It must also describe how such a project is paid for. Most likely as capitalist as can be. It also has to be results oriented, that is, the objective is not discovery but building a Moon base. The discovery comes after, and cannot substitute for the hard work.
Well, the article gets one key point right, that when we actually got to space and checked it out, there was really no big payoff for the investment, so we didn’t have much motivation to keep forging ahead. The next logical realization is that we probably won’t start manned exploration up again until we make some breakthroughs that change the economics, but the author missed that.
There are plenty of places on Earth that may be less romantic, but are much more hospitable to life, cheaper to colonize, and richer with valuable resources, but we haven’t scratched the surface exploiting them yet. For example, Antarctica, the Oceans, the great deserts and high altitude mountain ranges. Let’s refine our science and technology there first, and surely it will be valuable experience later on if we are ready to head back to space.
We won’t know what works in space until we try it.
I believe Heinlein said "If mankind is to survive as a species, for all but a brief fraction of its history, the word "ship" will mean spaceship", or something close to that anyway.
We went from Sputnik to Apollo 11 in 11 years flat. We’ll probably figure out interstellar travel before the the Sun goes thru pre-nova expansion.
Oh, I have no doubt one day we will sail the gulf between the stars as our an sisters sailed the gulf between the continents. I only wish I could live to see that day.
Because eventually the rock will be uninhabitable (this is an eventuality, probably not even related to human activity) and if we don’t have a self sustaining subsection of humanity somewhere else none of what we’ve done matters a bit. Anything else we do before then is just steps to get there, like how we needed fishing skiffs before we could build ships that crossed the Atlantic.
To eventually establish self-sufficient colonies that have the potential to be out of reach of the regulations and soul-destroying conformity of any earthly government.
To have a place for our best, smartest and bravest to go where they will not be held back by the stupid and cowardly.
Better than being wiped out when the planet is destroyed to make way for a hyperspatial express route.
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Well, I know this much: it would be orders of magnitude easier and cheaper to build a base on the bottom of the ocean, or a permanent colony in Antartica, than it would be to build a moon base or a colony or Mars.
I don’t really think there’s much money going into building anything that could take humans to the depths of the ocean. The general interest isn’t there, and it’s not as glamorous as space. Besides, our future lies in spreading among the stars, because ours will consume the Earth. Hiding in habitats a few miles below the surface of the ocean won’t save us.
Yes, you’re right, it’s not as glamourous, and that’s why there are a thousand sci-fi stories in space for every one about some guys going to the depths of the ocean. Still, it is much more practical, and when you are dealing with science and not science fiction, practicality is pretty important.
Also, colonizing/exploiting the inhospitable parts of the Earth, and doing the same thing in space aren’t mutually exclusive. I think they would be completely mutually beneficial. If we can conquer the hostile environments on Earth, we can only increase our ability to do the same elsewhere. Just like building biospheres in the desert are a cheaper way to learn to build them in space.
The themes today seems to say “Stay away - there be dragons or worse”.
The original Enterprise TV show echoed Apollo, now Prometheus echos LEO, or don't stray too far from home.