I’ve been thinking a lot lately on how science and science fiction continually inspire each other. Science comes out with a new discovery that revolutionizes the way we view things, science fiction takes that idea and runs with it. The converse is true, too! Doubly so!
The Submarine – American inventor Simon Lake had been captivated by the idea of undersea travel and exploration ever since he read Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea in 1870. Lake’s innovations included ballast tanks, divers’ compartments and the periscope. His company built the Argonaut—the first submarine to operate successfully in the open ocean, in 1898*
The Rocket – Robert H. Goddard, the American scientist who built the first liquid-fueled rocket—which he successfully launched on March 16, 1926—became fascinated with spaceflight after reading an 1898 newspaper serialization of H.G. Wells’ classic novel about a Martian invasion, War of the Worlds. As Goddard would recall later, the concept of interplanetary flight “gripped my imagination tremendously.”*
The Cell Phone – Martin Cooper, the director of research and development at Motorola, credited the “Star Trek” communicator as his inspiration for the design of the first mobile phone in the early 1970s. “That was not fantasy to us,” Cooper said, “that was an objective.”*
Quicktime – Apple scientist Steve Perlman says that he got the idea for the ground breaking multimedia program QuickTime after watching an episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” wherein one of the characters is listening to multiple music tracks on his computer.*
The list doesn’t end there. Space exploration owes quite a bit to dreamers who imagined what may be on neighbouring planets. The more we discover about our universe, the more fiction we write; the more fiction we write, the more inspiration there is to fledgling scientists.
This is the only feedback loop that matters, all boiling down to inspiring our youth and fledgling scientists to make more and more discoveries about the universe and our place within it.
What are your thoughts?
The Apollo missions were the result of a political response to the Cold War with Soviet Russia, this everyone knows. But if not for this reason would we have gone at all? Would we have gone by now? This question is certainly unknown and quite possibly unknowable altogether. It’s frustrating that such endeavors were the result of super-powers flexing their political muscles instead of genuine curiosity about the universe, but nonetheless, it got us to space and has spurred many missions since. In fact, the first (and subsequent only) scientist on an Apollo mission was the very last one sent up the night of December 7th, 1972.
Forty years since we had lost interest in going back to the Moon. Until now. Various privately owned companies have expressed interest in sending missions to the Moon and beyond; NASA announced of its plans to head back, including missions to Mars by 2030. But will this happen? I can honestly say that I believe it will. Thanks to the help of great promoters like Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye and many others, the public’s interest in space has never been so high.
Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy), who is a BIG fan of science, has great sway with prime-time television. He has personally backed the reboot of Cosmos, by Carl Sagan. He’s teamed up with Ann Druyan and Neil deGrasse Tyson and has convinced Fox to air all new episodes on their prime-time viewing hours. This is absolutely unprecedented! Science programs have pretty much been limited to the Discovery Networks, PBS or various other strictly educational channels…. But not any more!
I think that this will be a turning point in TV programming, I really do. You know how major networks are – they always compete with each other. One airs a new show about police detectives and the other responds with their own version. I think that the very same will happen once Cosmos airs, and I really hope that other networks will respond and jump on the bandwagon.
I know this entry has been pretty scatter-brained, but this is something that excites me. I look forward to the public getting bombarded with more science and less reality TV, which I think is the reason why we’ve become a dumbed-down society.