Visions, Ventures, Escape Velocities: A Collection of Space Futures
Why should we go to space? Our answers to this question have changed significantly over the past 70 years as the people, the methods, and the funding for space exploration continue to change. Many Americans enraptured by the ‘flags and footsteps’ pride of the Apollo landings assumed that we would soon be doing the same on Mars’and yet generations of leaders have failed to galvanize that kind of commitment and excitement, to recapture the spirit of John F. Kennedy’s famous line: we do these things ‘not because they are easy, but because they are hard.’
Over the past two decades, private space companies have joined their public counterparts and offered new rationales for their work. Initially dismissed as the hobbies of billionaires, several of these enterprises have had a real impact on the logistics and possibilities of space exploration, and more importantly, they have offered new answers to the question of why. Elon Musk’s claim that he wants to retire on Mars puts space into a very different context: a personal and commercial one, where the notion of planting flags gets replaced by planting gardens. Musk plans to retire on Mars not because he thinks he should, but because he thinks he can.
The idea of space as a canvas for human possibility has proven compelling to those in the nascent commercial space industry, but the vision has not galvanized broad public engagement in the same ways as the iconic era of Sputnik and the Apollo missions. Creating a new collective understanding, a fresh answer to the question of why should we go, is more than just a public engagement project. Until enough people buy into a public and private narrative of space, commerce can only take place in a very limited way. Insurance companies are less likely to underwrite complex, high-risk ventures in space. Legislators and regulators are less likely to focus on or value the potential benefits to society of public-private space exploration. Investors and individuals are less likely to support space ventures with their dollars and their attention.
This collection takes on the challenge of imagining new stories at the intersection of public and private-narratives that use the economic and social history of exploration to inform scenarios for the future of the ‘new space’ era. The stories in this collection weave together the flag and the garden, the nation-state and the corporation. They also balance the abstract hopes and fears of collectives with the more immediate concerns of individual people. Space exploration is only viable in the long term if enough people feel a personal connection to it, finding a story about the world beyond our atmosphere that they can inhabit and believe.
And so we are delighted to share this, a collection of space-futures narratives informed by the lessons of the past, the insights of current technical and scientific research, and the eternal hopes and fears of humans facing the unknown.