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Solar Sci-Fi
Why isn't real space as popular as Star Trek?

A paradox of the post-Moon Race era is that while interest and support of the U.S. public for space exploration collapsed, the popularity of space-based science fiction literally skyrocketed.

Star Trek, Star Wars, Close Encounters of Third Kind, ET, and other such movie and television space adventures have enjoyed huge success since the early 1970's, when, ironically, the Apollo project ended without a follow-on program of lunar development and Mars exploration.

Polls continue to show little support for an ambitious space program and NASA's budget has fallen to a quarter of it's high in the 1960s.

Even among many hard-core sci-fi addicts and Trekkers, the interest in current space exploration is remarkably low.

A number of reasons for this come to mind:
  • Space travel in Sci-fi is easy and cheap. The Enterprise can take hundreds of people to another star as easily as a 747 goes from New York to London.

  • An Apollo Moonshot, on the other hand, cost hundreds of millions of dollars to send three people to the moon in a small, cramped pod, which was the only thing leftover from a skyscraper tall rocket.
  • It is difficult to picture oneself ever riding in a small capsule on top of a throwaway missile while it's easy to imagine walking on the roomy bridge of the Enterprise.

  • The huge costs seemed extravagant during a period of so much economic and social turmoil in the US. Sci-Fi adventures cost only the price of a theater ticket or were free on the tube.

  • The Space Shuttle was disappointingly expensive and complicated, involving thousands of support staff to fly only a few times a year. Hardly the DC-3 of space as promised.

  • Space Sci-Fi usually involves faster-than-light travel that makes accessible a whole galaxy of amazing planets and alien civilizations.

  • Meanwhile, our unmanned planetary explorers showed a solar system of cratered, desolate, and seemingly lifeless worlds with little appeal.

But it won't always be this way!

The HobbySpace RLV Countdown  page and NewsSpace Watch blog follow progress in the development of lower cost launch systems, especially fully reusable launch systems. If these are successful, costs of space access will plummet in the next decade.

The airline industry began in the mid-1920s but several models of aircraft failed to make passenger service a profitable business. Not until the introduction of the DC-3 in the early 1930's could the industry give up its reliance on mail delivery for profits. The DC-3 offered the required combination of performance, price, and reliability to make passenger service a true business.

Similarly, the Space Shuttle will one day be seen as just an early, though necessary, step in the road to developing a launch vehicle with the required combination of performance, price, and reliability to make human spaceflight a true business. And just as a communications service kept the airlines going, the multi-billion dollar satellite communications business keeps paying the bills for space development.

Drastic reductions in the cost of space will finally allow human expansion into space. See, for example, our Space Tourism page that lists companies already taking reservations for rides into space. [See note below.]

Star Trek in Our Own Backyard

This will lead in the following decades and centuries to a thriving, wildly diverse solar system consisting of thousands of different societies living on planets, moons and inside giant artificial space stations.

Contemplating such developments should provide rich scenarios for Sci-Fi writers and fans. Even without the discovery of a means to faster-than-light travel or wormholes, the confines of the solar system could still allow for an infinite diversity of cultures.

Furthermore, with inevitable genetic manipulation, as well as machine-human convergence, new humanoid and android species could arise.

In fact, just about all the Star Trek plots could be adapted to a solar system based setting. A Capt. Kirk and his crew representing the Federation of Planets could cruise in his fusion powered spaceship, which manages only sub-light speed but still reaches most places in the solar system within a few days or weeks.

Thus, the Solar Sci-Fi section is devoted to :

  • Science fiction about developments in our own solar system.

  • Hard (technically realistic and plausible) science fiction -

  • Near term scenarios. Those between now and the end of the 21st century or so, are of special interest.


Sept.18.12 - Writing space sci-fi that stays within generally accepted physics laws, particlular not allowing faster than light transport, has developed into a niche genre called "mundane sci-fi":

Changed some links.

Jan.25.05 - Some minor editing.

Dec.2.03 - This e-book The View from Zero: A Science Fiction Thriller by Thomas Hunter , 2002 is a hard sci-fi novel based on a colonized solar system scenario.

Sept.14.03 - Author Spider Robinson talks about the need for a revival of space sci-fi: Forward, into the past by Spider Robinson - The Globe and Mail - Sept.8.03

2002: An anime production in the Solar Sci-Fi mode:

Strange Frame

May 13, 2002 - Since this essay was written back in 1999, we've seen Dennis Tito & Mark Shuttleworth become the first genuine space tourists. The adventure travel agency Space Adventures, meanwhile, has gotten about 100 people to put deposits on a sub-orbital trip as soon as a vehicle is ready.


The Art of C. Sergent Lindsey





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