Six months ago, President Obama asked a team of academics, astronauts, and aerospace executives to give him options for the future of the space program. Those options, as described in the Augustine Committee’s just-released final report, must have sent a little thrill up our Spock-loving nerd in chief’s leg: setting up a lunar base, flying to a Martian moon, etc. There’s just one catch: NASA doesn’t have the resources it needs to pursue these plans. Exciting proposals for voyages to alien moons aside, the report’s attention to dollars and cents makes it a cosmic buzzkill.
Since the work that most needs doing now is stirring up the imagination of the American people about the possibilities of space exploration, a special role falls to the people in the imagination business: our creative artists.
Our achievements in space have been nudged or nurtured by our culture since long before Alan Shepard reached orbit in his glorified tin can.Craig Nelson points out in Rocket Men, his recent history of the Apollo program, fiction helped to prime 20th-century scientists’ imaginations. “Novelists can rarely be credited with inspiring wholly new avenues of science and technology,” he writes of one of Jules Verne’s books, “yet all three of rocketry’s founding fathers read From the Earth to the Moon, and it changed the course of their lives.”
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I think returning to space is one of the most important things humanity can do. There are a lot of issues closer to home that need to be taken care of too, but space flight shouldn’t be forgotten. I don’t think people realize how much our daily lives rely on space related technology: disposable diapers and Velcro are results, as well as cell phones and thousands of others. And authors don’t get enough credit for the things they inspire. Jules Verne especially; not only with rocket, but submarine technology. And did you know that the first cell phones that opened to talk (from Motorola, I believe) were designed that way so the would look like the communicators on Star Trek? Giving up space flight would deprive us of so many things, including a better future.