From the classic idea of humans finally getting out of their caves and searching for new land, the idea of exploration has fired the imagination. What will be over that next hill? Can we get there faster? What can we bring back home?
The love of space exploration has been a main theme in my life. I started young with model rockets and movies of space travel. I observed the planets of our solar system through telescopes. Later on, I watched shows like Star Trek. Voyager is my favorite series, but I like them all. Movies like Apollo 13 showed me some of the history of our journey outside the atmosphere. A visit to NASA in central Florida exposed me to the scope of what it takes. Gigantic buildings and machines that store or move the massive rockets. I remember reading an article in a science magazine about how many parts of the International Space Station were complete. The idea of the year 2010 blew my mind. How could we be so dedicated to a project that it takes so long? Obviously, I had not yet learned about the great cathedrals of Europe or the Great Wall of China.
Then, all of a sudden, there is a gap of time in my life where I didn’t even think about space. There were countless missions by any number of countries. Humans in space doing experiments to better understand our existence. Satellites hurtling towards the outer planets and around our Sun. I was stuck in a downward-facing mindset. I was struggling with my world changing around me. I was becoming an adult and my path was once again unclear.
The first clear sign of my return to my love of space exploration and related topics was when I moved out of my parent’s house to live in my first apartment. I was working my first full-time job and taking classes online through a local college. In my free time I was browsing the NASA website for new photos of far-off planets and watching on-going missions as they made new discoveries. I watched more TV shows and movies with space themes. Movies like The Martian and Interstellar brought together real-life science with science-fiction. Books like Artemis brought me back into the world of reading.
In the same time-frame, a new show, based on a series of novels called The Expanse arrived with a vivid view of a possible future for humanity. Set about one hundred years in our future, we have colonized our solar system and have created new ways to hate each other. A stark contrast to the various Star Trek iterations. The earliest time-frames used in the Star Trek television series are less than a century in the future from when The Expanse is set. Star Trek offers a United Federation of Planets and a Prime Directive. Most interactions between Federation members and new species are very civil. There are clear procedures about observing and interacting with newly discovered planets, depending on the level of technological and sociological advancement. The main focus of Star Fleet is to explore new worlds, seek out new life, and improve oneself. At least within the Federation, there is no hunger, poverty or war. Technology can provide for all the needs and wants. There is no currency. Resources are plentiful and everything is recycled. Everything. This is an idealistic dream of the future and I truly hope we reach some version of that someday.
The world of The Expanse is very different. Humans are spread out across the solar system. The main powers are the United Nations of Earth and Luna (Earth), Martian Congressional Republic (Mars), and Outer Planets Alliance (Asteroid Belt, Jupiter, and Saturn). There are clear divisions between the three main types of humans. Humans born on Earth, called “Earthers”, are considered lucky by those who were born on a station or under a dome. However, the reality of this Earth is much more complex than everyone thinks. Humans of Mars, called “Dusters”, are militaristic and long-term planners. Their main mission if to terraform Mars to create a viable living planet for the humans of the future. They are focused and might consider people of Earth spoiled and weak. Humans born on a station of the asteroid belt or further out, called “Belters”, are the obvious under-class of the system. They struggle just to survive. The rule of law is privatized and thus, money rules. Power usually means the biggest gun and with limited resources, everyone is looking for an angle. Tension is high between the three powers of the system and a series of events brings them to the brink of war. The idea of scientific discovery or exploration is purely for personal gain or to create a new weapon. Secrets, blackmail, and betrayal are the main themes of this dark view of the future.
Just like Star Trek, the social and political issues of our current life are reviewed through a futurist lens so that we can view them in a new light. Power struggles, caste systems, and moral decisions are part of our real lives and sometimes we don’t even notice it.
However, even with all that, we are still pushing forward missions of human space flight beyond low-Earth-orbit. Missions to the Moon and to Mars are already being prepared. We also have our first private companies working towards various missions that will bring new discoveries and resources to our species. A mission to the Moon would be an excellent first step towards Mars. It has been almost 50 years since we have sent humans to the Moon. We have made a lot of progress in that time, but the idea of getting people beyond the Earth is very inspirational. It brings our need to explore to the surface of our consciousness. There are even scientists working on spacecraft with massive solar sails that could be used in the future to reach other star systems.
What more could we ask for? What more would you demand? Vacations to the Moon could be a reality within my lifetime. Let’s not get stuck on the idea that space exploration doesn’t have immediate applications to human life. Imagine the technology that will be created to ensure these dreams are possible. Envision a better future for the human race.