How sci-fi fans can contribute to science

At the recent Star Wars Celebration, fans sent a message to NASA: speed up. Here are four ways that the average science-fiction fan can help further the science of intergalactic travel.

Science-fiction fans are feeling let down by the lack of really cool space travel options , and at the recent Star Wars Celebration held in Orlando, Star Wars fans sent a message to NASA: speed up. The essence of the message is basically that NASA is not doing enough to keep up with the human imagination. People see neat ways to explore space in science-fiction movies and shows, and are wondering what NASA is really doing to make these dreams a reality.

Buzz Aldrin said in a 2008 interview that science-fiction books, shows, and movies are bad for current technology's reputation. According to Mr. Aldrin, science-fiction fans get overblown ideas about what space travel should be like. And, he says, those ideas set them up for disappointment.

His comments were met with public outcry. Many sci-fi fans attribute their love of real science to their exposure to science fiction as children. This claim does have merit. But as Phil Plait pointed out in a post for Discover Magazine, science-fiction fans may love science because of the sci-fi, but they do little to push the science forward.

Many NASA scientists likely had their imaginations sparked by science fiction. Those people are working to further space travel and spacecraft. Plait calls for less complaining and more action on the part of those who aren't actively pushing the science forward. In short, if you want a hyperdrive, find a way to help it come true.

Obviously a person can't just decide that improved space travel is the way to go and then apply to be a NASA scientist. So what can the more average science-fiction fan do to help further the science of intergalactic travel in your own way? Here are four suggestions:

  • The SETI@home program, run by Berkeley, uses Internet-connected computers to analyze radio telescope data. Those who want to get involved simply download a free program from the SETI site, set it up to run during the hours when you sleep, and that's pretty much it. Your CPU takes it from there, and turns you into a charitable volunteer. Sure, it isn't the same as designing an actual hyperdrive, but does help further the human race's space exploration.
  • For a more technical, hands-on approach, consider joining a local Hackerspace group. These loosely organized groups join together to work on mechanical projects that often teach mechanical skills to those involved. Before you know it, you're on your way to being an engineer. And engineers are certainly needed in the quest for cooler spacecraft.
  • For something a bit more NASA-esque, consider taking up astrophotography. Astrophotography hobbyists are responsible for finding lots of new things out in our galaxy, and helping to document the changing night sky is certainly a way to help in the quest and get involved. You never know when you might take a picture that interests NASA.
  • Think about volunteering or taking a side job at a local planetarium. Though you'll be talking about NASA and not so much to NASA, perhaps you'll ignite the imagination of a child who will grow up to build that hyperdrive, thus making all your dreams come true.

Science-fiction fans, what are some of the ways that you work to further science?

By Nicole Nash

Nicole Bremer Nash is Director of Content and Social Media for HuTerra, where she uses SEO and social media to promote charitable organizations in their community-building and fundraising efforts. She enjoys volunteering, arts and crafts, and conduct...