Future Space

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Up... Up... And away!  Into that land where the future resides.  That permanent Great Frontier.  That fairyland of technology.  That dwelling place of gods and monsters.  That realm where all things are possible and all dreams and nightmares come true.

We're talking about Outer Space.  For over a century, nothing spelled the FUTURE in large, friendly letters like space.  Want to set a futuristic mood?  Throw in a spaceship.  Want to show something really exotic? Put it on another planet and add a green-skinned dancing girl for good measure.  Outer Space is the most enduring myth we have about the future.  It is the defining line that we cross over from our mundane world of the present into the wonderland of tomorrow.  It has even defied the conquest of space.  Man has been travelling in space for nearly fifty years, and yet films about space travel are still regarded ipso facto as science fiction.  Even Apollo 13, which was about a real space mission, ends up being broadcast on the Sci-Fi Channel because it takes place in space.  That's like Fargo being declared a Western because it's set west of the Mississippi.

The Ptolemaic systemTo the philosophers of the Middle Ages, Heaven and Earth were two distinct and separate realms.  They weren't just different locations, they were different in their very natures.  Substances were different, things moved differently, and everything had its own appropriate sphere of existence.  The Copernican Revolution was supposed to abolish this.  Science had declared that Earth and space were the same and the rules that applied in one applied in the other with equal strength.  But not according to the popular mind.  Pick up any science fiction novel or video and you will be confronted with ideas that would be utterly preposterous on Earth, but are allowed a very, very generous suspension of disbelief because It Came From Outer Space. 

Perhaps that explains the attraction of space travel and why it has periodically had such a grip on popular imagination.  Let's face it, the vast resources that went into the space programmes in the 1960s and the enthusiasm of the engineers who built the first rockets was not due to geopolitical considerations, nor from a level-headed assessment of what benefits would come from going to the Moon.  These engineers and the astronauts who would travel into space were not thinking about gain to personal finance, and the government needn't have concerns about NASA's money management. The technological, scientific and economic returns of exploring space far exceeded the investment as the royalties on NASA patents went directly to the U.S. Treasury.  This was Adventure, which is probably the real reason why man first set foot on the lunar surface, and why everyone lost interest so quickly.  It's no fun reading a cracking tale over again just after you've finished it.

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