Let’s go way way back in time, a time so primitive that nobody had cell phones and we put men on the freaking moon. Everything looked possible back then. The stars would be ours -well, maybe not the stars, but a good chunk of the solar system seemed just barely out of reach. Soon, oh so soon, it would be ours.
Then it wasn’t. The Apollo program ran down. We did some messing around in low earth orbit. Robotic probes went on some cool missions, but none of that excited the general public. Going around and around the earth isn’t as exciting as going to a new world. What would you rather do, go for a drive to the beach, or circle the neighborhood over and over again? Sending robots is like phoning it in. Nothing is as exciting as human boots on the regolith.
So we kinda had some lost decades. Science Fiction was pretty exciting in the early days of space travel. Fiction was becoming fact. It was pretty great how the scientific and science fiction world nourished each other. I think the dialing down of the space program negatively impacted Science Fiction. Hard S/F in particular took it on the chin.
Much to my surprise and delight, it looks like we are back into the space business. There’s private companies competing to put men on the moon and Mars. The US and the Russians are seriously talking about a joint space station out by the moon. Pretty neat stuff.
Technologically, these missions could have been done thirty years ago. In fact, very little of the current space efforts break new technological ground. One plus is that private business have to find ways to save money. Budgets were of little concern to governments back in the 50s and 60s. Today, to save money, we get reusable boosters instead of one shot disposable disintegrating rockets. That’s progress.
The space shuttle was a cool idea, but never produced the cost savings envisioned. Too bad, as then private businesses had to reach all the way back to rockets to make this space stuff happen.
My hope is that we’ll have pretty good inspirational Science Fiction once again. With human space exploration becoming real again, there’s hope.
-Raymond M. Coulombe