After Hours

Debate: Is science fiction destroying the future of spaceflight?

Science fiction authors Geoffrey A. Landis, M.M. Buckner and Adam Roberts discuss Project Constellation, NASA's planned successor to the space shuttle which will also be used as the base platform for planned trips back to the moon and, eventually, Mars. Landis has a couple of Hugos to his name, but he was also an engineer on the Mars Pathfinder team. Buckner is Philip K. Dick Award-winner and noted environmental activist. Roberts is British and occasionally makes fun of Tolkien. It's a fun group. (This article brought to you via SFSignal.)

There's a lot of great debate in the article: about privatization versus public funding, political will versus realistic technology, and the usual points that get brought up when lamenting the fact that we don't have vacation moonbases and a rocketplane in every driveway. However, there was another point made that I think is worth investigating:

Landis: "In many ways, science fiction may actually be real spaceflight's worst enemy, because in science fiction, it's always so easy. Funding is never a problem, because there's always some maverick trillionaire with an unlimited budget, and one who always knows what's going to work, too. And every reckless expedient always turns out to work - maybe the engineer says 'the engines can'na take any more,' but somehow by good fortune the engines do manage to take it, and the ship doesn't explode and kill everybody."

Now, we've had the education is killing science fiction debate, so let's try the inverse: Is science fiction doing more harm than good for actual science? Me, I fall into the "dreams are good" camp and believe that SF, even crummy SF, is good for the mind, if only to remind us not to settle for what's been done, what's standard, the world as it exists right now. Still, I can understand the "truth is harder than fiction" angle here. What's your take? Leave a comment and let me know.

About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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