This week saw the announcement by the Golden Spike Company of a plan to sell commercial passenger flights to the Moon. For a mere $1.5 billion each. This is your libertarian future, as so fondly imagined by various right-wing US science fiction authors: poverty endemic in all nations, while the One Percent get to fulfill their dreams in outer space. Of course, few of the ultra-rich can actually afford $1.5 billion, but don’t worry, there’s plenty of cash floating around in the public sector they can sequester. All they have to do is buy a couple of governments, and then persuade said governments to sell off their national assets: utilities, infrastructure, national healthcare…
This is the twenty-first century we can look forward to. All our dreams, the future of our race, we will have to experience vicariously. But that’s okay, because those dreams are about the only thing that can’t be taken away from us. Manipulation of the financial market means you will lose your house, selling off healthcare means injury or illness will beggar you, cost-cutting (AKA profit-maximising) and outsourcing means you will lose your job, tax avoidance by corporations and the ultra-rich means there’ll be no money for benefits to feed you or house you or keep you warm in the winter once you’re unemployed…
But at least someone will be having fun. Visiting the Moon.
It cost US taxpayers around $10 per person per year for a decade to put twelve men on the Moon with the Apollo programme. They did it for science, to beat the Soviets in the Space Race, and for humankind. There are a huge number of scientific and technological advances which spun out of Apollo. Computers and mobile phones as we know them likely would not exist but for the huge orders for integrated circuits – in their infancy at the time – placed by NASA for the spacecrafts’ guidance systems.
If we leave space travel in the hands of the ultra-rich – and that seems to be the way we’re going with all these dumb outer space tourist-jaunt proposals – then we are doomed to die when this planet can no longer support us. We will have no future as a race. And the way things are heading right now, we’ll be lucky to survive into the twenty-second century.
Remember all those space exploration sf novels of the 1940s and 1950s? NASA and the USSR demonstrated the reality was considerably more hazardous than had been imagined. So sf completely mythologised the whole endeavour – magical antigrav spaceships travelling light-years in days or hours using magical FTL drives. Those tropes are now so embedded in the genre, they’ve become part of the setting. I put together Rocket Science partly to question those tropes, to inject some realism back into space travel and outer space, to kickstart a new science fiction tradition based on the reality of space travel.
But what had never occurred to me – or to the genre as a whole, I suspect – is that space would become just another playground for the ultra-rich, just like one of those private Caribbean islands with beaches of golden sand and clear blue seas.
They have taken away our future. It’s time we stopped ignoring that fact in our fictions.