If You Wonder Why America is Leaving Space, Just Look at Science Fiction

Currently, many of the astronauts from NASA, including the first and last astronauts to land on the moon’s surface back in the late 1960s and early 1970s have taken their passion and directed it towards the Obama Administration’s apparent lack of enthusiasm as it pertains to NASA and America’s space exploration program.  Although it is debatable whether the programs that the former astronauts support are actually viable, what is not in question is that the American space program seems to be on life support with little hope of resuscitation.

There are many theories and reasons as to why the American Space Program was been waning.  One angle that has not been explored, however, is the speculative fictional program that is Sci-Fi.  This, I contend, is one major reason why enthusiasm for Space Exploration has been waning over the last 2 decades.

Here is your test:

Pick any show purporting to be sceince fiction developed for American television over the last 15-20 years.  Watch the first season of the show.

Now, answer the following questions, if possible:

  • How many episodes deal with exploration?
  • Is there any episode that examines issues that Humanity currently faces?
  • Does the program deal with the “Human Condition” aside from the Interpersonal Conflict of the Week?
  • Do the characters learn something about themselves?
  • Are the scientists respected for their talents?  Or are they denigrated for their creations going amok (to satisfy a plot point)?
  • Are political and social conflicts solved without resorting to armed conflict?
  • Is the society a political or social dystopia (or otherwise a divided government)?

And finally:

  • Does the show reflect Hollywood’s casting preferences in science fiction?

I raise this point because of a recent viewing of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  In contrasting with the other space fantasy movie to which is was compared to, Star Wars was considered “more exciting” and “fun” for moviegoers.

And yet, I cannot help but look at The Motion Picture (and the first Star Trek TV Series, for that matter) as something more akin to how near space and deep space exploration are going to be: Lots of “routine” work that is inherently dangerous; people putting aside their own personal differences to complete a task in cold of space; research, research, and more research; and seeing the wonders of the universe and actually marvelling in its beauty and splendor without the need to fire a turbolaser cannon.

Given this, how many space fantasy shows and movies within the last 2 decades offer the viewer any enthusiasm to want to bring such a space program about?

  • The Star Trek franchise, post The Motion Picture, has all but abandoned this.
  • The Star Wars franchise was never anything more than boys with pistols and laser swords and magic tricks to save a princess from the Black Knight.  In the last decade they’ve allowed girls to wield laser swords and magic tricks but the fundamental story is the same.
  • The Stargate Franchise also fails in this mission.
  • Neither version of Battlestar Galactica inspires, either.

The list goes on.  Bablyon 5, Andromeda, Earth: Final Conflict, and so on.  Many of these shows featured nothing but conflict, war, social dysfunction, and more importantly, a pessimistic view of Humanity leaving the Earth.  Combine this with a near complete disdain by many Americans to education, science, medicine, and technological advances (that have nothing to do with cementing control to a central authority – government, corporate, or otherwise), we reach this point where NASA’s future and America’s participation in space travel are in serious doubt.

Star Trek’s “utopian” future is often criticized and denigrated in many circles in and outside of science fiction for not being “realistic” about Humanity.  The point missed with the criticism is that for Humanity to become something more, it needs to be brave when it comes to facing each other – and itself.

And we all lose until this path this taken once more.

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5 Responses to If You Wonder Why America is Leaving Space, Just Look at Science Fiction

  1. Pingback: Movies That Hate You: Star Wars – Return of the Jedi | Loose Cannon

  2. Jonathan Martin says:

    This piece does make a few interesting points, but I can’t help thinking it seems a little much to draw a comparison between the status of real-life NASA and scif-fi. For one thing, you have to keep in mind that the entertainment business is just that, a business; the main purpose of any business is to make a profit, and Hollywood is no exception. Production companies are not going to spend millions of dollars making a show or movie about conflict-free space exploration if they don’t think that such a thing will turn a profit. Besides, such stories are all about drama, and there is no drama without conflict of some kind. Most of the franchises listed in this piece were not really mainly about exploration per se to begin with, e.g. both BSGs, Stargate, Babylon 5.
    That said, though, perhaps the real reason NASA has become so blah in recent years is because it’s become more of an Earth-to-orbit-and-back-again transit service since 1969. NASA hasn’t really been trying to achieve another “moon shot” since the Apollo program, and frankly the space shuttle and the ISS just don’t compare to the moon landing.
    As well as being a bit of a sci-fi aficionado (one who happens to enjoy many of the sci-fi franchises mentioned in this article), I also happen to be a student of history, and considering the past record of history, perhaps the pessimistic view of humankind’s future is the more realistic expectation, as unfortunate as that is. I don’t say this to be contrarian, I just agree with the “pessimists” that this is the more likely path the future will take. Even if we do manage to begin spreading throughout the cosmos without starting conflicts all over the place, I do agree with the idea that we’re still not going to be able to achieve anything like the Federation from Star Trek, for a multitude of reasons to numerous to go into here.

  3. Pingback: Movies That Hate You: Star Wars: A New Hope | Loose Cannon

  4. Pingback: Space Ramblings - Science Fiction, Movies, TV, Books, Pop Culture and Politics Space Ramblings :: Space and Science Fiction :: September :: 2010

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