Tuesday, March 18, 2008

I've always been a fan of space travel, if not a huge fan of space travel fiction (because so little of it is really exceptional), but I think Gary Westfahl makes a good point:
Just over five years ago, on the date of the Columbia disaster — February 1, 2003 — I wrote an essay for Locus Online arguing that this was not the right time in human history to pursue a vigorous space program, and suggesting that our stubborn determination to continue venturing into space at this time was due in large part to the influence of science fiction, which falsely promoted the idea that space travel was safe and easy. To say the least, these messages were not well received in the science fiction community, and after pondering the vociferously negative reactions (http://locusmag.com/2003/Features/Letters02.html, http://locusmag.com/2003/Features/Letters02b.html, and elsewhere), I wrote a brief response and privately resolved to say nothing further about the space program for the next five years, in print or at conventions, breaking this vow only to make a requested contribution to a Chinese friend's website.
Further:
I cannot claim to be a detailed student of all the plans now being hatched by the new, profit-driven, would-be pioneers of space. But the things I have heard about do not sound particularly exciting. First, it seems, companies are planning to send small vehicles into suborbital space or Earth orbit and charge people big money for a brief ride through outer space. Then, they will eventually place some sort of enormous tin can in orbit, call it a "space hotel," and charge people big money for a brief stay in outer space. And all of these achievements will only require technology equivalent to the technology developed long ago for the Gemini program's comparable achievements. In other words, while NASA is now planning to re-accomplish everything that it had accomplished by 1969, the bold champions of private enterprise are now planning to re-accomplish everything that NASA had accomplished by 1965.

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