Daily Archives: November 17th, 2008

Modern moon race, sci-fi wisdom and the void

Weird Things:

A recent article in Time Magazine announces a new space race. United States, China, India, Japan and the members of the ESA, it says, have their sights set on the Moon. Unlike the competition between the US and the USSR, this isn’t as much of a race as a test of technology. It’s not about who gets there first. Rather, it’s about who can get there and stay the longest. And like the original space race, it’s more about politics, bragging rights and national pride than the science.


Maybe it’s good that the new race to the Moon also has a political aspect. After all, the public ambitions of the USSR are what motivated the US to design a focused space program. The first man-made object in space being a Soviet satellite and the first human in space being a Soviet test pilot changed the American education system and prompted the government to pour tens of billions of dollars into scientific endeavors. Maybe the threat of China or the ESA upstaging the long American superiority in space will cause another scientific reawakening.


A renewed political space race can be an impetus for private enterprise to get involved also, like the opening of the Americas after Christoforo Colon’s Spanish Empire funded missions.

The good thing about this is that there doesn’t seem to be any lunar ‘aboriginals’ to enslave or kill off.

the next space race


“As well as a mere storytelling device, science fiction often articulates our present-day concerns and anxieties – paradoxically, it is often about the here and now rather than the future. As Stephen Baxter points out…, H. G. Wells’s ground-breaking 1895 novella The Time Machine – famous for popularising the idea of time travel – was more concerned with where Darwinian natural selection was taking the human race than with the actual nuts and bolts of time travel. In the 1968 novel Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner imagined the dire consequences of overpopulation. Arthur C. Clarke’s The Lion of Comarre explored the terrible allure of computer-generated artificial realities, which – god forbid – people might actually choose over the far-from-seductive messiness of the real world.

All of these books are about imagining where present-day, often worrying, scientific and technological trends might be leading us. They can act as a warning or, at the bare minimum, cushion us from what American writer Alvin Toffler so memorably described as ‘future shock.’”

Chown’s point is well taken. I’ve long believed that science fiction is less predictive than diagnostic, telling us more about the era in which it is written than about the future. Better to say that science fiction is the way we, in our own particular times and places, work out possible futures given the scenario we see before us. Can a truly ‘futuristic’ science fiction — one that makes no reference to its own provenance, but tries to depict the future while remaining free of the political and sociological baggage of the time from which it emerged — even be written? If so, how?


Ahh, but that’s the beauty of sci-fi, the ability to make social comentary without angering the ‘Powers That Be’.

Too much, that is.

Science Fiction: Future Past


IT WAS the evolutionary theory of its age. A revolutionary hypothesis that undermined the cherished notion that we humans are somehow special, driving a deep wedge between science and religion. The philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for espousing it; Galileo Galilei, the most brilliant scientist of his age, was silenced. But Nicolaus Copernicus’s idea that Earth was just one of many planets orbiting the sun – and so occupied no exceptional position in the cosmos – has endured and become a foundation stone of our understanding of the universe.

Could it actually be wrong, though? At first glance, that question might seem heretical, or downright silly. But as our cosmic horizons have expanded over the centuries so too has the scope of Copernicus’s idea. It has morphed into the Copernican, or cosmological, principle: that nothing distinguishes the position of Earth’s galaxy from any other place in the entire universe. And that idea, some cosmologists point out, has not been tested beyond all doubt – yet.

Good point. How has the Copernican Principle been proven beyond doubt?

It hasn’t, but when one looks at the sky at night, how can one doubt it?

Is Earth at the heart of a giant cosmic void?