Among science fiction readers and space explorers the consesus is manisfest destiny is no longer in the direction west around the globe, but up and out into space. Scientists, engineers and rocket jockeys are all ready to build and blast, but congressmen and bean counters keep asking why? While most of the world have their heads in ancient religions and think that death is the only ticket off Earth, a small percentage of the population feel that traveling into space is the meaning missing from our meaningless lives. The trouble is space travel won’t be like traveling in NCC-1701 Enterprise or the plush rides of Star Wars, no it will be like traveling in a WWI German U-boat. Living on the Moon or Mars will be a cross between McMurdo Station and 1849 gold miners.
The prime real estate off Earth will provide at best underground condo living with the outside weather offering extreme temperatures, unbreathable atmospheres or vacuum, lots of radiation and stark scenery that only a rock hound could love. The dirt on the Moon is so dirty that it will probably wreck machinery and space suits in a matter of days. Colonists will probably find living underground in highly engineered environments their most comfortable habitats off Earth. This means conquering space is really just occupying other worlds and making a rabbit warren of tunnels as cozy as possible. Given centuries and luck we might migrate to another steller system and find another Earth-like world, but that might not happen for a very long time.
For us humans, Earth may be our only fishbowl. It’s too bad we don’t take better care of it. Realistic science fiction should probably envision futures where we’re stuck on Earth for all eternity, or at least till the end of our times. Copernicus told the world that the Earth wasn’t the center of the universe – but the religious still believe humans are the center of God’s attention. Is that really so? It appears that existence has preceded humans by an infinite long time and will continue on without us for just as long. I wonder why in Genesis that God didn’t mention making so many other worlds.
Creationists freak out over scientists claiming the Earth is much older than the few thousand years. What I’ve got to wonder about is why don’t the creationists get in a hissy fit over the number of worlds and size of the universe too? If the fourth dimension pains them so much, why aren’t they bothered by the first three? When God said, go forth, be fruitful and multiple, why couldn’t he have meant, spread out across the stars and fill up the galaxy? The religious have always been preoccupied by heaven, but why aren’t they moved by the vastness of the heavens above us?
The dreams of science fiction fans have always appealed to the few, with the majority of Earth’s inhabitants never desiring to go much further than down the street or maybe as far as Disneyworld. Science fiction sold a false bill of goods when it promised easy trips to the stars, and exploring exotic inhabited worlds. And I’ve got to wonder if I would even travel to some ET Riviera when I won’t even bother to fly to France. And how many people would hang out with space aliens when they want to ban illegel aliens?
I think we’re all dress up with no place to go because Earth is more appealing than anything science fiction has ever dreamed up. The religious like to claim there are no atheists in foxholes, but if heaven is just beyond this life, why don’t more believers embrace dangerous living, if not suicide? We may all pray in the foxhole, but we’re praying to stay here on Earth. This makes me wonder if the old saying really shouldn’t be: There are no theists in foxholes. I wonder if the only source of death was suicide, how long would the average stay on Earth be?
Where does that leave us? I think we could have built space ships a long time ago if we wanted. People could have been living on the Moon and Mars back in the 1970s. We could have built nuclear rocket drives to take us to the next notch in specific impulse by the 1980s. And we’d been working on all kinds of new rocket drives by now if we hadn’t stopped the space program back in 1972. The obvious conclusion is the vast majority of humanity has no interest in traveling to the stars.
We are reaching an age that transcends the superstitions of ancient religions, but we lack the philosophical motivations beyond the programming of our genes. We have the built in guidance to eat and survive, reproduce and organize into small groups, but beyond having a good time we don’t know what to do with our extra time. Our focus has shifted from Let There Be Light, to Let There Be TV. If you don’t get me go read about television coming to India and China. If Marx was writing today he’d pick a new opiate when refering to the masses.
When I think about how big the universe is, and when I think of how long the human race might be around, I’ve got to wonder if there isn’t more to life than just looking forward to next Monday and the new episode of Heros. Now that the human race has television and video games, is that all we’re going to do while the centuries roll past?