Inspiration for the Future of Space

“Anything that one man is capable of imagining, other men will be capable of making a reality”
– Jules Verne

The technological marvel that is the Nautilus from Jules Verne’s “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” compared to the massive nuclear powered submarines that roam Earth’s oceans today provides an excellent example of a science fiction story predicting future technologies. But would these technologies have ever been created in reality had it not been for the inspiration of science fiction? Perhaps by inspiring engineers and scientists to strive towards fictional inventions and ideas, fiction will self-fulfill the realization of what it predicts.

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Jules Verne’s Nautilus submarine (Disney, 1954)
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NautilusX – NASA proposed deep space habitat

Science fiction stories that take us across the vastness of the cosmos often portray heroic characters voyaging on high tech machines capable of exceeding the speed of light and violating the laws of physics as they are understood today.

These faster than light expeditions may soon be entering the realm of reality. A team of NASA researchers working in the Eagleworks Laboratories are investigating the physics and mathematics that might govern faster than light travel. “Loopholes” in the laws of physics that govern space-time, might be exploited to propel a spacecraft to distant locations such as recently discovered exoplanets that may possess the right conditions for extraterrestrial life. These methods of faster than light travel would require huge amounts of energy to manipulate the space-time around the vehicle rather than the vehicle itself.

USS_Enterprise_alternate_reality_at_warp

Breakthroughs in faster than light travel research would enable real heroes to embark on incredible adventures across the universe in the same way we see science fiction characters utilize the Warp Drive of “Star Trek”, Hyperdrive of “Star Wars”, and the Infinite Improbability Drive of “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”.

The deep space settings of science fiction revolve around civilizations that depend on interplanetary economies, trading resources from one planetary system to another. Like the treasured “spice” mining of Arrakis of the Dune series, modern Earth-based companies have already set their sights on mining asteroids in our own solar system for precious metals, and even more precious water ice.

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Artwork by Bryan Versteeg

Both Planetary Resources and Deep Space Industries have announced plans to begin prospecting asteroids with robotic spacecraft for future mining expeditions that would involve extraction, refinement of valuable metals or production of fuel from components of minerals and water ice. These resources would be readily available for use in orbital construction, re-fueling of spacecraft to increase their useful lifespan or potential travel distances and possibly support future human space colonies.

Faster than light travel and space mining have both existed within our imaginations and in stories, but are now coming closer to reality than fiction. The development of these technologies can be seen as inspired by science fiction, as humans continue to dream up new worlds then strive to realize their dreams.

Originally written for SciFiMethods.com (Aug. 1, 2013)

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