If Star Trek in 1966 had been about colonizing Mars, would we have a colony on Mars right now? If Star Trek hadn’t been about an impossible distant future, but a much closer possible future, would it have influenced the space program? After we stopped going to the Moon in 1972, did the majority of humanity give up on space travel because they didn’t have a realistic science fiction vision to inspire them?
First Star Trek and then Star Wars changed the face of the science fiction genre. They created millions of new science fiction fans. Star Trek and Star Wars also spread the concept of the warp drive and hyperspace across the world so that most people of the Earth now assume that mankind will one day travel to the stars using these propulsion technologies. And that’s my problem with Star Trek and Star Wars. They have made the warp drive and jump drive as believable as heaven, hell, angels, gods and life after death. And although the warp drive has theoretical science behind it, it’s probably as realistic as reaching another world by dying. The jump drive is even less believable, even though it has theoretical mathematicians supporting it with wild theories.
Star Trek created a future mythology that suggests traveling between the stars will only take days or weeks. Star Wars enhanced that mythology by letting people believe that travel between the stars will only take hours.
The reality will be interplanetary space travel will take months and years, and interstellar travel, if it’s even possible, will take tens of years, and more likely, hundreds or thousands of years.
Science fiction has oversold the ease of space travel, and that has hurt the potential of manned space travel.
By selling the warp drive and the jump drive, most of our future mythologies are built around traveling quickly between the stars, either at ocean liner speeds or jet liner speeds. I can’t help but wonder if this hasn’t impeded the public’s support for real space travel. As long as real space travel is by space capsule and the destinations are rock strewn plains, space travel has little sex appeal. It’s not an adventure but a scientific experiment to be endured by the toughest humans with the right stuff. Having a television like Star Trek would have humanized the job.
The important thing though, this theoretical show would have had to been positive. Most movies about Mars are about failures.
If Star Trek back in 1966 had been about a successful colony on Mars, making the endeavor exciting, and imagining realistic possibilities of what living on Mars might be like, would a science fiction show been able to influence reality?
Why hasn’t science fiction been more realistic about space travel? Why doesn’t science fiction promote the pioneering spirit anymore? Has Star Trek and Star Wars convinced us all to wait until we can travel in comfort? There are real advocates of space travel working on the problem of getting people off Earth, and back before Star Trek and Star Wars, many of these real space dreamers saw science fiction as cheerleading the cause, but that’s no longer true.
Can fiction shape destiny? Is science fiction creating mythologies no more realistic than past mythologies? Do we dream dreams to make them to come true, or do we dream dreams to fool ourselves about the nature of reality?
It’s been over forty years since humans have last walked on the Moon. If space travel was a realistic dream we would have colonized the Moon and Mars by now. Has science fiction failed us by cheerleading us with impractical dreams? If science fiction had written more stories about realistic interplanetary travel would that have inspired more people to back space travel, or would the popularity of science fiction just have faded?
It’s obvious people want a Star Trek and Star Wars future, but it’s in the same way as they also want heaven, angels and God, by just waiting for them to happen. We have to colonize the Moon and Mars first. And that’s just a start. There are centuries between now and The Federation, so when and how are we going to get going?
JWH – 4/1/13