I know this blog has been mainly about the fantasy genre, as that is what I’m interested in writing. However, science fiction holds a huge place in my heart and, as a result, has sparked a life-long interest in the stars and the thrill of humans exploring and living in space.
I remember watching the original Star Trek series in syndication and Carl Sagan’s Cosmos with my dad when I was a kid. Which led me to read science fiction, with Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein as my favorite authors. Over the years, I’ve been a fan of just about every tv series or film of Star Wars, Star Trek, Farscape, Stargate, Dr. Who (newer incarnation), and many others.
When the space shuttle program started in the 80s, I was ecstatic. I was glued to the tv when they showed the first landing and I’ve watched shuttle launches and missions on the web. I remember poring over my grandmother’s National Geographic with the first Hubble telescope images. I was fascinated and reluctant to give it back. A couple years ago, I bought one of those coffeetable books at a garage sale with big, beautiful, full-color pictures of the earth, planets, sun, nebulae and galaxies. I sat mesmerized for hours looking through it.
Now, this may not be the most popular opinion right now, but, dammit, humans belong out in space.
Since the beginning of recorded history and, before that, I’m sure, humans have looked into the night sky and wondered and dreamed. In the 20th century we used our incredible brains and pioneering spirit to go OUT THERE. Humans have circled the earth and landed on the moon. Space probes bristling with cameras and scientific equipment sail through our solar system and continue out into our galaxy and even farther. The space shuttle program allowed us to make the trip into space so easily, it wasn’t front page news anymore. With Salyut (1-7), Mir, Skylab and the International Space Stations, people have lived and continue to live in space for months at a time.
But we haven’t gone any farther into space, in person. So many hurdles to jump, so many things that can go wrong. And the cost. Oh, yeah, the cost. Space was once the province of governments. But these days, governments have a lot more to worry about and it’s very far down on the “to be funded” list.
Problems with safety, two shuttle disasters and a lack of faith and funding have left the U.S. in a bad spot. It’ll soon lose it’s ability to send manned missions into space on its own when the old space shuttle fleet is decommissioned and there’s nothing ready to replace it with. So, we either hitch a ride with someone else or resort to unmanned probes and robotic rovers once again. How disappointing.
I suppose it’s a reflection of a changing attitude toward space that I’ve noticed. Sure, scientists have been busily trying to unlock the secrets to the universe and looking for earth-like planets – and they will continue. But your average person no longer gets excited about space exploration. We’ve been there, done that, and “whatever happened to those flying cars they promised us” – right?
Lucky for us, there are some who have not lost interest. I think it was when communications satellites began launching in the ’60s or ’70s, that private companies got their feet in the door. Since then, international competitions with huge prizes (like the Ansari X Prize) have been an incentive to get privately funded vehicles into space and privately owned space companies have been created ( Virgin Galactic comes immediately to mind). This is definitely the new future of space exploration. Which makes me happy, because I would hate to think that the pioneering spirit of humanity had whithered and died.
This morning I was checking through some science news and something caught my eye – it’s the 20th anniversary of the Hubble telescope! So, here are some awesome images – have a look:
This is from www.nasa.gov and it’s the only new image, showing a small part of the Carina Nebula. This is just the top of a pillar of gas and dust 3 light years high. It’s getting eaten away from the outside by the light from bright stars near it and pushed apart by younger stars buried inside it. See those streaks of light coming from the tips of the towers? Those are the younger stars inside shooting off jets of gas. Isn’t that incredible?
Here are some older, but still incredible images:
The three images above are from http://hubblesite.org
Then, I looked around and found this one:
From 2009. This shows a dark gamma ray burst in the center, and apparently these suckers are the biggest explosions in the universe. They’re so bright they can be seen here on earth using a telescope, even though they’re billions of light years away!
I don’t think space is “the final frontier” yet (though I suppose it was for Gene Roddenberry and others, whose ashes are out there somewhere), but I think it is the ultimate destination place.
What do you think about the future of manned space exploration and eventual colonization? Good idea, bad idea, necessary evil? Have you heard of anything new that’s got you interested?