Science Faction

 In Frontispace Articles

Imagine the pilgrims landing on the East Coast of America five centuries ago and, instead of encountering bead-swapping natives, meeting their descendants of today.

Illustrations by Scott Alan

What would Columbus’s crew have thought if, still miles from shore, a stealth jet streaked overhead and then a nuclear submarine, six times one of their ship’s size, popped up next to them?

These must be beings not from the “new world” but a species from another planet, it would have seemed—gods who controlled elements that belonged to birds and fish.

Could the early explorers possibly have imagined what Manhattan island would look like today? One doubts it.

We already know what will confront the first person to land on Mars: the same scenes the Spirit and Opportunity rovers have sent back of a red, dusty, and desolate place. But five hundred years from now, the change to Manhattan could seem miniscule compared to what may be in store for our red neighbour.

In a few short centuries, scientists tell us, they will be able to create an atmosphere that will sustain life. A green Mars may not be the stuff of science fiction but where many of our descendants may live.

Professor Robert Zubrin of the Mars Society explains that colonizing Mars will be proportionately no more expensive per head than what it cost the European immigrants who made their way west a little over a century ago. These are scientifically achievable facts, premapped in greater detail than the expeditions of New World explorers: they sailed into the unknown.

Today, machines do our “scouting” for us, and as our technology continues to advance in bounds, so will our analytical ability.

As for the cost of exploring neighbours in our solar system (not to mention that they may eventually provide raw materials, thus save Earth’s dwindling supplies), think in terms of the cost of one less aircraft carrier or nuclear submarine verses a fully funded Mars space program.

Why not channel the excessive use of technology for defence instead toward a peaceful, noble venture in the name of all humanity. Should we put mankind on Mars during our lifetime or build another super naval vessel? Most will opt for the former when put in such simple terms; however, implementing such policy would be a bureaucratic nightmare.

Focusing on man’s historical exploration millions of miles away would be an internationally unifying event.

If only the reallocation of such funding was feasible. But reality is never that logical or easy.

Bureaucracy and policy cloud the simplest of ideas. Scientists are hampered more by lack of finance than capability. This was confirmed when I began researching a group of astronomers who battle to operate on shoestring budgets. An idea developed of using the Internet to assist their cause.

The subject matter, to many, carries a stigma not faced by any of its scientific counterparts, and comparing the magnitude of what this handful of dedicated astronomers are researching (asteroids, the biggest potential catastrophe known to man) to the pittance in support they receive reveals that this must be the most disproportionately underfunded science on the planet.

Illustration by Scott Alan

This website has amalgamated all manner of topics and tangible analogies in an effort to point out an obvious fact: a supersonic space boulder is just another natural phenomenon. Our not-too-distant ancestors regarded earthquakes, volcanoes, and hurricanes in a superstitious light; today, we use satellite info to tell us when to batten down the hatches.

Science has taught us that fireballs from the heavens are meteorites burning through our atmosphere, not some beard in a cloud throwing pyrotechnic grenades. This is something tangible that we have the technology to investigate—but not the funds.

We have an abundance of extraorbital equipment that can track bicycles from miles above Earth, but there is a huge shortage of telescopes looking the other way—outward, where the biggest single threat of all lies!

The research into tracking asteroids is not only about the hunt for threatening near-Earth objects but also investigates the possibility of mining them. Many are mineral rich, and there are already various blueprints for ways to excavate them.

A popular collision-avoidance theory is that we will land and attach a booster engine to an asteroid. In the vacuum of space, a small thrust would push the rock off its collision course. More than merely deflecting it, however, such future technology may be able to bring it into orbit for viable mining purposes (or as a space outpost). This may sound like the stuff of science fiction, but scientists predict it could become technological fact within decades.

FAIR’s original concept, in the days when it was thought the most probable method of dealing with an incoming asteroid was to hit it with a nuclear warhead, was far more ambitious. We had pledged to add members to a digital list which would one day accompany the rocket on its mission to save the planet…[More Background]

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