The Ocean of Dreams: Science Fiction, History and Space Exploration
Humans have always been pioneers. Discovering, exploring and conquering new places and frontiers is an inherent part of the story we tell about ourselves. This narrative has fueled both personal aspirations and multi-national ones, often enlisting thousands of work-hours and billions of dollars in budget. No matter how far human society has come, we still like to think of ourselves as liminal pioneers, obsessed with the search for the next (and, perhaps, final) frontier. All of this in the search of the ultimate unknown, the unknown which contains all other unknowns: space.
Space exploration is, by definition, the ultimate frontier.. How will exploration and exploitation of this frontier work? What will it look like and how will we take part in it? Science fiction seems to be the place to look for answers. The literary genre has always been obsessed with a journey to the stars. It has imagined countless visions of this journey, some optimistic and some bleak. But how can we know which vision is the most likely one? Is there a way for us to create more accurate models for how space exploration might work?
We might be able to do that by joining science fiction with history. History can tell us how things might be by looking at how comparable things actually were. it can sift through the different models which science fiction offers us and speculate on which one sounds most likely, the most insightful or the most interesting.
The closest historical endeavor to space exploration is the exploration of the ocean. Whether we're talking about the so-called "Age of Explorations" or journeys which took place prior to it or after it, the ocean has always been a key factor in accelerating technological advance, breaking apart and rebuilding social structures and capturing the imagination of humans, wherever they are.
Therefore, my talk will mostly focus on examining past models of oceanic exploration for clues as to the coming forms of space exploration. By looking at organizations which fuelled oceanic trade, exploration and exploitation I will attempt to model the organizations which will fuel space exploration. By examining economical models which made oceanic exploration possible, I'll try and theorize economical models which are likely to be necessary for space exploration. In using historical precedence, I'll attempt to ask one of the most important questions presented to humanity today: how will we go to space and how will we make it our own?