Space: (not) the final frontier?

Bonus article for you today, my friends. Check out Dwayne A. Day’s recent offering for the Space Review:

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2516/1#idc-cover

Long story short: The thesis is that recent sci-fi movies, particularly <i>Gravity</i>, have portrayed space as a scary, dangerous place rather than full of opportunity. In the author’s view, they emphasize that humans should take care of Earth first and foremost, but they also imply we’d be better off staying on it rather than expanding to the stars.

The commentary on the article is very good, better than usual IMO. You can see some interesting arguments for and against Mr. Day’s argument. My 2 cents:

First, if you’d excuse me for riding one of my hobby horses, the portrayal of “space and spaceflight as not part of our future” can go back all the way to the late 70s and early 80s, depending on where you look. In Gundam 0079, for instance, space is portrayed as *very* dangerous, with the villains dropping space colonies on Earth to wipe out half the human race. The evolved humans which arise from living in space, called “Newtypes,” are continually used for war rather than the advancement of peace. Now, of course, most of my friends would say that Gundam certainly doesn’t have an anti-space colonization message, which is quite true. If you’d argue that, however, you’d have to also argue the same for Wall-E and Elysium, two other movies Day asserts have subtly anti-space messages. If anything, those two are probably *more* positive about space than Gundam, lacking big wars and colony drops :p

Secondly, as one of my brothers on /m/ pointed out, “its kind of hard to romanticize space while trying to depict it more accurately, space is terrifying.” Now that we’ve been sending astronauts up there for decades, we have a better idea of how unrelentingly hostile space is. Our bones and immune systems weaken in microgravity, massive amounts of radiation gets tossed at us constantly, and so on, and so forth. All this wasn’t as apparent when guys like Gerard O’Neill and Bob Zubrin were writing, so it’s only reasonable that they’d have a more optimistic view of space habitation than we do today–especially when compared to a film like <i>Gravity</i>, which tries to be as scientifically realistic as possible, which means displaying every one of the dangers we’d see in space.

EDIT: According to one of my friends, Mordanicus, Gerard O’Neill was aware of these dangers and wrote about how to deflect them in <i>The High Frontier</i>. I really gotta read that book sometime! I’ll amend what I said above, and say instead when we focus on scientific fidelity, we also have to focus on how dangerous space is. “Soft” sci-fi like Star Trek can get away with a more optimistic view of space, but very hard sci-fi, like Gravity, has to show us how many things can go very wrong very quickly in an approximately contemporary space environment.

Still, these aren’t grave corrections to Day’s piece–just some little extra thoughts I had. I very much agree with some of his other points, most notably space colonization’s PR problems. He’s absolutely right to point out that most of space’s advocates (with some exceptions, perhaps) tend to be white libertarian engineers. Not exactly a representative cross-section of the population; you need to get more types of people onboard if you want space colonization to take off. He’s also correct in noting spacers really need to come up with positive representations of their ideas in media. If there are all these “anti-space” movies out there, pro-space folks need to make their own equivalents, market them to a broad audience, and also stop arguing with each other over petty stuff and dividing themselves into faction. Unity, good feelings, and all that stuff. 😀

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2 comments

  1. >>Our bones and immune systems weaken in microgravity, massive amounts of radiation gets tossed at us constantly, and so on, and so forth. All this wasn’t as apparent when guys like Gerard O’Neill

    In The High Frontier (1976) O’Neill was well aware of dangers of radiation (he spends several pages on counter measures). Further his main argument was the use of rotating orbital settlements in which gravity was substituted by centrifugal force, just because he worried about the health risks posed by microgravity on the Moon or Mars.

    >>He’s absolutely right to point out that most of space’s advocates (with some exceptions, perhaps) tend to be white libertarian engineers.

    I’m not sure whether most space advocates are genuine libertarians, but it’s my impression that many in the space movement lack any consistent view of what society should look like. Vague notions of freedom don’t really count as a coherent view on society. My approach is first to discuss several social reforms I would want to introduce, and then advance space colonization as a means to realize these goals.

    >>He’s also correct in noting spacers really need to come up with positive representations of their ideas in media. If there are all these “anti-space” movies out there, pro-space folks need to make their own equivalent

    Absolutely. Though it’s my impression that most anti-space propaganda is actually based on fear and on conservative attitudes.

  2. Hey, thanks for dropping by, I thought you’d like this 😀

    O’Neill was well aware of dangers of radiation

    Oooh, he was? I’ll edit my post, then, I really need to read High Frontier when I get the chance.

    Anyways, yeah, your suggestions for space colonization seem reasonable. Better to find a set of social issues that could be solved through a space settlement, whatever those issues may be, than to advocate for space colonization through appealing but vague ideals like “freedom” and such.

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