On Star Trek: The Original Series

Who Killed the Space Race?

By Adam Roberts

I’m old enough (just) to remember the sheer excitement of the later Apollo missions. I remember the buzz that went round my school when Viking landed on Mars and those first gorgeous pictures of marmalade rocks and tangerine skies were beamed back. But nowadays the Space Race is ancient history. Pundits in the TV studios of the 1960s confidently predicted hotels on the moon by 2000 and interplanetary trade by 2020. Well, that hasn’t happened. Re-watching Ron Howard’s film Apollo 13 recently, I was struck by a horrible thought: “Going to the moon,” which was something generations of eager SF fans had looked forward to, was no longer something in mankind’s future. Traveling to other planets is not something we do, and almost certainly won’t be something our descendants will do. Instead it is something our ancestors did, like building pyramids or hand-gilding editions of the Bible. Apollo 13 works brilliantly at evoking the Saturn V launch and the weightlessness of the astronauts; it works just as well at evoking the cultural milieu of the early 1970s, but we live in a new century now. Heroic space explorers will not walk on other worlds. The most we can hope for now is that a computer chip the size of a cornflake fitted to a thirty-kilo nuclear motor will have the glory of clapping its silicon eyes on the outer planets. It is simply not the same.

Now, it is true that we have the International Space Station to look forward to,  …

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