Man on the moon

Science Fiction’s Role in Space Flight

The Cold War

It was in 1945, shortly after the end of World War II, that several science fiction writers and scientists got together to discuss how to get man into space fast enough so that he would be distracted from further wars on Earth. The meeting took place at Robert A. Heinlein’s home in Los Angeles and included Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, and others.

The scene was actually quite grim. We had just concluded six years of a World War. Then, with the close of active hostilities, began what became known as the Cold War, a rapid escalation of arms buildup in the hopes of maintaining a stalemate in global aggression. Enough atomic bombs were being stockpiled between the US and Russia to destroy the Earth several times over.

If you aren’t too familiar with the Cold War, have a look at this “Cold War in 9 Minutes” video.

Golden Age of Science Fiction and the Herald of the Space Race

This group of authors and scientists, some of them having just served as officers in the military, had the ear of Washington, DC, and the authority to make a proposition. And their intention was to utilize their position to turn the direction things were headed.

The End is Not Yet coverTo address the immediate problem at hand, one of the first novels to be published following this meeting was in 1947 by L. Ron Hubbard entitled “The End is Not Yet.” It was a story of an alternate future for America born in the shattering instant of atomic fury in the next World War, a future that America was headed toward.

Rocket Ship Galileo coverAlso in 1947, Robert A. Heinlein wrote Rocket Ship Galileo, later made into the 1950 movie, Destination Moon, the story of three teens and their adventure to the moon. This was followed by Space Cadet, whose story’s hero joins the Space Patrol to help preserve the galaxy. Then came the novel Red Planet, Heinlein’s first venture at travel to Mars.

Soon after was the 1948-49 “Future History” series of seven tales published in Startling Stories magazine, entitled “The Conquest of Space.” It was in these stories that the privatization of space flight was ultimately the solution that made travel into space possible.

Forward the program was moving at a good speed up to the point we landed on the moon in 1969. And from then, the space program ground to a halt. Unfortunately, private space travel was at that time illegal. It wasn’t until 2004 with the approval of H.R. 3752, the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004, that private companies could enter the arena of space exploration.

Private Space Flight Takes Off

Since the passage of this bill, and as predicted by the science fiction writers of the Golden Age, advances in space technologies have accelerated:

Elon Musk, Space X

Jeff Bezos, Blue Origin

Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic

And What of the Future?

So the question is: Will we heed the warnings of the Golden Age of Science Fiction and continue to embrace the purpose to get humanity into space before we destroy ourselves in some mad escalation of ideologies, as almost happened in the 1950s?

In an interview with GQ Magazine, Elon Musk commented, “There’s a window that could be opened for a long time or a short time where we have an opportunity to establish a self-sustaining base on Mars, before something happens to drive the technology level on Earth below where it’s possible. So does the base become self-sustaining before spaceships from Earth stop going?… I mean, I don’t think we can discount the possibility of a third World War. You know, in 1912 they were proclaiming a new age of peace and prosperity, saying that it was a golden age, war was over. And then you had World War I followed by World War II followed by the Cold War. So I think we need to acknowledge that there’s certainly a possibility of a third World War, and if that does occur it could be far worse than anything that’s happened before. Let’s say nuclear weapons are used. I mean, there could be a very powerful social movement that’s anti-technology.”

What do you think?

2 replies
  1. roger allen parkhrust jr
    roger allen parkhrust jr says:

    I do not think a self-sustaining station on Mars is possible in the first half of this century. The time travel to and from Mars is too great and there are still too many unknown’s. By today’s economics it is also too expensive. There will need to be many successful landings on the surface to pre-ship equipment, buildings, tools, utilities to help sustain a system that can support human life for years.

    There also needs to be a significant technological break through in propulsion for payload capacity and speed in which to travel the 34 – 50 million miles.

    I would like to see it pursued through funding both public and private. In 25 years the Chinese may jump ahead and leapfrog our capabilities and successfully land on Mars. With over a billion people to pick from they will most certainly have the skills internally.

    • Tristan Pugh
      Tristan Pugh says:

      I’m with Mr Musk on this one.
      He has increased load to orbit capacity and can recycle his launch vehicles. Blue origin are also making serious headway. Return journeys are not as necessary if people are planning to stay on Mars.
      A base station more practical than the ISS in orbit of both Earth, the moon and Mars may be a requirement.

      Reaction engine’s SABRE design may also male heavy lift to orbit a reality within the next 10-20 years with fleets of single stage to orbit carbon fibre aircraft dropping shipping containers in low orbit for use as required. The will has been lacking to generate the capability. With privately funded companies having the will and developing the capability without the hindrance of government red tape, things may progress faster than you think. Additionally, with a major reduction in availability of Earth based rare elements (like indium) used to make devices we now rely on (like the touchscreen phone I’m using now) then we have to look to space mining within the next 10 years to simply meet current demand worldwide.
      Roll on the next space race!


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