One of the blogs I reviewed earlier today mentioned the SFSignal discussion based on Buzz Aldrin’s statement that science fiction was responsible for the diminshment of the space program (the contention being that people’s expectations, based on SF’s prognostications, were too high, easily disappointed and led to a lack of interest in the program, leading to budget cuts and political impotence).
I don’t believe that’s the case; I think it had more to do with PR mistakes by NASA than anything else; after Apollo, the program departed from the SF magazine cover images and tried to foist bad replicas on us instead of delivering the real deal: a spaceplane that couldn’t really fly by itself, a space station that didn’t rotate, no rockets delivering the mail, etc., etc.
The disconnect between the public’s (SF-inspired) vision of what the development of space would look like no longer matched reality. Instead of actully going somewhere, all they did was park a plane in orbit (due deference to Hubble and the maintenance job on it aside).
However, I think that’s beginning to change. I recently ran across some re-postings of NASA images of the new Ares program, and I was struck by the similarity to some SF magazine covers, which are reproduced below.
Maybe the boys at the NASA art department are beginning to remember that years ago they stuck certain images in our head and then forgot about them. In some respects the whole space program thing is very much like one of those blockbuster movies where the trailer reveals all of the really cool shots; watching the actual movie is a let-down because you’ve already seen the best parts.
The Willy Ley/Werner von Braun/Chesley Bonestell/Ralph McQuarrie depictions ARE the space program – or at least the icons that most folks (particularly aging politicians) still have in their heads. Give them something they recognize, something they think they understand, or are at least familiair with, and the quest for budgetary support will probably go a lot easier.
Magazine issues depicted are Fantasy and Science Fiction, April 1973 and Amazing Stories, October 1960. Nasa images courtesy of Nasa.