In the 50s and 60s, for a child growing up in Australia, space and the cosmos were a magical engagement. Our vision of the galaxy was largely defined by comics, toys, B-grade movies and some rudimentary science teaching at school. Long before the moon landing in 1969, the spaceships of Hollywood travelled to distant planets and encountered weird alien civilisations. Most involved a triumph on the part of the invading earthlings with a few notable exceptions. The 1956 production of Forbidden Planet, still one of the greatest sci-fi films of all time, was a freaky and at times highly disturbing encounter for any starry eyed youngster with its psychological confrontation with the Id.
Flash forward to 2018 and Elon Musk is announcing his back up plan for a world in which nuclear war and artificial intelligence have devastated the planet. His Plan B society would see a million people settling on Mars with the Space X boss stating:
“We want to make sure there’s enough of a seed of civilisation somewhere else to bring civilisation back and perhaps shorten the length of the dark ages. I think that’s why it’s important to get a self-sustaining base, ideally on Mars, because it’s more likely to survive than a moon base.”
In almost the same week as Musk announced his humanity rescue package, Donald Trump told a group of marines in California that the US should have a ‘space force’ – the reason being that many future wars might be fought in space. Nixon killed a similar idea in the 60s but Trump stated at first he wasn’t serious when he floated the concept, but “then I said what a great idea, maybe we’ll have to do that.”
Just how the US Battleship Galactica would navigate through the half million plus pieces of space junk that now orbit the earth, whilst vaporising their Chinese and Russian counterparts remains to be seen, but at least the trillion dollar American armaments industry would be salivating.
Ironically in the same week that Musk and Trump made their radical predictions the world lost one of its greatest scientific minds in Stephen Hawking. Whilst Hawking was very much a realist when it came to the madness of world affairs and geopolitics, his vision of space was always one of wonder, amazement and the possibility of alien civilisations – not a battleground for US and Russian space tanks.
Maybe George Lucas has a lot to answer for with the seemingly endless Star Wars franchise. Jedi philosophy aside, his cinematic version of future space is one of conflict, merely duplicating the inevitable argy bargy of war and destruction that has defined mankind from the year dot.
We have trashed the planet and the stratosphere and surrounded ourselves with a massive orbiting rubbish dump. Space is a bit like what Antarctica was two hundred years ago, pristine and relatively unaffected by the indiscretions of mankind. Whilst our footprint there might still seem small, the ice shelves are melting and pressure is building to open the landscape for mining. Does it seem only a matter of time before we screw up the South Pole?
In the meantime let’s aim for a blanket ban on all movies and TV shows that promote conflict in outer space. There’s probably more chance of Trump reading a book from beginning to end (for the first time ever) than the US Space Force ever getting off the ground within the next decade or so, likewise a thriving community on Mars. In the meantime time to revisit Mork & Mindy, My Favourite Martian and even 2001 A Space Odyssey and the decidedly less violent side of the universe of which we are just a grain of sand.