It looks like humankind is getting ready to start its long-delayed expansion in our Solar system. There are ongoing plans for establishing some kind of Moon-based station, for flights in cislunar space and finally, for a manned mission to Mars. There are also efforts to extend the life of the ISS, not to mention the proposed construction of a Chinese space station in the next few years.
One of the biggest challenges for a writer who wants to write science fiction is to be up-to-date with the most recent developments of real world science, not to mention the constant upgrade of the speculations about the nature of our universe. We all know that a science fiction novel (or whatever format) is not an essay about some peculiar field of science. We also know that without enough scientific (or para-scientific) elements in the story we’re not writing science fiction but some kind of fantasy (that’s not a problem, of course, but we’re talking about sci-fi right now).
In the science fiction genre, spacefaring is a common trait. We see every kind of spaceships going thru and forth a wide variety of worlds, usually using two kinds of propulsion systems: one for travelling between systems (FTL or dimensional) and another for travelling inside the destination system (sub C velocities).
But what happens when a spaceship approach a Solar system?
I’m enjoying a family rerun of the first season of Space:1999, a show that never fails to amaze me. While my nine-year-old son is accepting this show at face value (this is part of his formation as a sci-fi fan, he’s already a whovian – this is also parenting done right), me and my wife remember our impressions from the bottom part of the seventies (in Italy the show was aired in 1977 or in 1978, I believe).
A few days from now, July 4th, the long journey of the NASA Juno probe will finally end with the final insertion in the orbit around the planet Jupiter. Five years after the start of this mission we will have an unprecedented choice to discover more about the biggest planet of our Solar system.
Eleven years ago (September 13th, 2007), Google announced one of the most challenging prizes in the human history, called the Lunar X Prize. Twenty million USD, plus a number of bonuses, for the first privately funded spacecraft able to reach the Moon and perform some task on our satellite.
I think that we all hear the same old story, no matter the country you live in. “We should stop to waste money on space-related programs, there are so many problems to be solved here! Who cares for probes, telescopes and stuff like that when we have so many people suffering on Earth?”
At first, such an argument could sound good. We have a number of ongoing wars, there are a lot of people under the minimum living conditions, a declining global ecology and other worrying stuff at hand.