In a couple blog posts last summer I talked about my memories of some of the big events from the NASA space program in the 60’s through the 80’s. I mentioned that I was fascinated with humans going into space and inspired by what it all could mean for the future of humankind. Linked to that has been my love of science fiction. Near future SF can be interesting and intriguing, but I admit that my favorite books tend to be of the space opera type, with starships traveling at superluminal speeds between distant worlds populated by humans and aliens.
A bit earlier I was reading a blog post and other reader’s comments about President Obama’s new proposed plan for NASA (see here) and it shocked me when I realized something about myself. A discussion was going on about the appropriateness of returning to the Moon in preparation for an eventual trip to Mars, which included mention of a permanent Moon base as an important step in the process.
What I realized, despite my starry eyed visions as a youth, is that I haven’t really believed in recent decades that humans will have a permanent Moon base, much less a base on Mars. It’s one thing to send out unmanned probes and vehicles, it’s entirely another to send actual people and support their ability to live in such hostile environments at such extreme distances from home.
In my youth and teens it seemed inevitable. But somewhere along the way in my journey through adulthood it appears that I lost that sense of the inevitability of it. And I had no idea that I had. Earth is plagued with problems that I suppose in my optimistic youth I believed would be well on their way to being solved by now. But as adaptable as humans are, we’re stubborn and resistant to change that is good for us. Especially if it requires changing ingrained ways of life. I’m as guilty of that as anyone. I’m lazy. Changing lifetime habits is difficult.
So while I have still been reading about the Vattas and their multi-world financial empire and about humans fighting the alien Kreelan Empire for their very existence, somewhere along the way I lost the idea that those stories aren’t just fantasy, divorced from any possible link to future reality. I’ve been viewing humans as completely Earthbound, trapped here by the needs and critical problems of our people and planet. Yet, if we can establish a sustainable human base on Mars, the stories aren’t just fantasy. A future in space, traveling to distant worlds, is inevitable for humans.
In order to obtain that future we have to quit dithering, which is what I believe Obama is trying to accomplish. The last thirty years of the US space program have not been pretty ones. Research and development have been horribly underfunded and goals, along with detailed plans of how they will be achieved, have been non-existent, too much in flux, or too nebulous.
Reading about this topic again has reaffirmed in my mind that a future for humans in space isn’t just science fiction fantasy. It is an obtainable future, even with the technology we have and are developing right now. But in order for it to become reality we have to set realistic and meaningful goals, plan a detailed timeline of the steps needed to achieve the goals, have leaders who will fund and commit to the goals, and a citizenry willing to get behind it all.
Should we do it? Well, that’s a whole different debate, isn’t it?