Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Boldly going

It's a nice coincidence that I recently wrote about Battlestar Galactica, because the whole business of being out there in space is the topic of my latest book which I'm pleased to say is now available. In Final Frontier we discover the massive challenges that face explorers, both human and robotic, to uncover the current and future technologies that could take us out into the galaxy and take a voyage of discovery where no one has gone before...but one day someone will. In 2003, General Wesley Clark set the US nation a challenge to produce the technology that would enable new pioneers to explore the galaxy.

That challenge is tough - the greatest humanity has ever faced. But taking on the final frontier does not have to be a fantasy. In a time of recession, escapism is always popular - and what greater escape from the everyday can there be than the chance of leaving Earth's bounds and exploring the universe? With a rich popular culture heritage in science fiction movies, books and TV shows, this is a subject that I just couldn't resist and, like geeks everywhere, find fascinating.

One of the joys of writing a book like this is you find out a lot more about a topic that has always intrigued you. It's not that I've always wanted to be an astronaut - I'm far too fond of home comforts and minimising personal risk for that - but as a real-life story you can get your heart behind, it's hard to resist. I'm old enough to have been allowed to stay up all night by my parents to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing - and it's one of the most powerful memories of my childhood. And at the same time, I've boldly gone in fiction with Dr Who, Star Trek, Star Wars and so many more works of fiction, particularly in book form.

So the emotional connection was there already. But two things have really stood out for me in pulling together Final Frontier. One is the need to go beyond the traditional nationalism at the heart of early space exploration. Future manned exploration of space would benefit hugely from being an international venture, and, as recent developments have demonstrated, a mix of private and public funding.

The second is to detach space travel from science. I have always heartily agreed with those who say that having manned space vessels is a terrible way to do science. It is vastly more expensive than using unmanned probes and unnecessarily puts human life at risk. It would help enormously if we totally separated the two reasons for venturing into space. Science needs great unmanned probes. But humanity needs people out there. I'd suggest that rather than fighting over a relatively small science budget, manned space travel should be lumped in with the defence budget, as it would transfer cash from the dark side to the positive side of the human spirit, and arguably it has the same goal of expanding the cause of human survival, though in a much less nationalistic fashion.

We shouldn't send people out into space to do science (although they are welcome to do some while there). Instead, such an adventure (in the literal sense) should be to fulfil the human spirit that makes us more than just animals that live to breed and die. And that's kind of important.

You can find out more about Final Frontier at its web page, or buy a copy at Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.

Here's what the inestimable John Gribbin said about it:
An enjoyable romp across space and time, from Cyrano de Bergerac to future space-warp driven interstellar craft, via Verne, Wells and the possibility of colonising the solar system. 

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