From space science to space science-fiction! Last week I was lucky enough to get a tour of Space X in Hawthorne, CA, near Los Angeles. An incredible experience, both for what they are building in front of your eyes and for the scope of their ambition. Mars! And yesterday I went to see the movie The Martian with my daughter and we both enjoyed it a lot. Two reflections unrelated to its entertainment value:
1) The unifying and uplifting (literally and metaphorically!) power of space exploration. Space transcends our politics and other “merely human” conflicts on Earth and has a unique ability to inspire us to find common cause in exploration and achievement of amazing things. No matter how amazing other fields of science are, none have come close to capturing the imagination of the world or creating ambitious, world-changing technologies the way space exploration has. The end of the space race between the US and the USSR also curtailed these dreams, unfortunately. It’s a false choice to say you prefer “focusing on problems here on Earth” when we all benefit hugely from the scientific advances of ambitious space programs. Far from being a waste of money, they are one of the best investments we can make. Exploration also inspires us all with dreams of new frontiers, real ones and our personal ones.
2) For decades sci-fi would often have both American and Soviet/Russian astronauts, reflecting their shared dominance in the existing field. But now, as in The Martian, it’s often American and Chinese, an assumption that Russia will continue to fade while China continues to rise, even in space. (And that the Chinese movie market is far more important to Hollywood than the Russian one!)