The SF Signal Podcast (Episode 127): Panel Discussion: NASA vs. Star Trek

In episode 127 of the Hugo Nominated SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester asks our irregulars to weigh in on: NASA vs. Star Trek!

Expanded topic description:

Does science fiction, and specifically Star Trek, lead to unrealistic expectations by the general public of space exploration, and an overall dissatisfaction with NASA in general for a perceived ‘lack of progress’?

Recently, Scott Pace, the current director of the Space Policy Institute at The George Washington University and a former NASA associate administrator, was asked to comment on the April 12th failure of the North Korean rocket launch. He noted that sending a vehicle into space is still a significant technical challenge, and added, “In many ways, the worst enemy of NASA is Star Trek…Captain Picard says ‘engage’ and the ship moves. And people think ‘How hard can this be?’”

Filmmaker James Cameron supposedly made a similar comment about Star Trek’s depiction of space travel several years ago. This, so the argument goes, leads to unrealistic expectations in the public mind about where we should be these days on the Final Frontier. Reality has fallen far short of the galaxy-hopping future envisioned by Star Trek, and NASA takes the blame.

This week’s panel:

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7 thoughts on “The SF Signal Podcast (Episode 127): Panel Discussion: NASA vs. Star Trek”

  1. I have been saying this same thing for years. Most laymen don’t understand that some things just are not possible and will always be in the realm of fiction. Once they learn that Einstein was right, it ruins the fun and they move on to other things. Science is both fascinating and mind-expanding but it also has as a feature a very strong ability to burst bubbles.

  2. NASA blaming Star Trek (or SF in general) is just so much CYA and blame gaming. It is making excuses for failure.

    NASA’s biggest problem is that it is a bureaucracy with no real direction. Now NASA did not create the failure in its leadership, it is following the mixed directives that come out of Washington. One administration sets a goal, the next admin comes in and axes it in favor of something else, etc etc. That is not a way to run anything that is successful.

    When NASA has a clear direction it works nicely, when it is left to wander around in the wilderness you get three decades of the uselessness that was the shuttle program. I know it is not a popular opinion among space fans, but the shuttles were too expensive, too limited, and way oversold. The farming out of the program to as many congressional districts as possible to help ensure its existence certainly hasnt helped. IMNSHO, it is NASA’s greatest failure, they should have been retired in the 90s, heck, NASA would probably have been better off if something besides the shuttle had been chosen as the “next step” in the 70s.

    The space station could have been built with Saturn follow-ons, it could have been bigger, higher, safer, and cheaper. It could have become the stepping off point for many things, a long term base on the Moon, missions to Mars, exploration of the asteroid belt or the moons of Jupiter. Instead it was built simply an excuse to keep the shuttles flying. And it became a perfect example of NASA’s “lost in the wilderness” circular logic. “We need to build the ISS to have an excuse for the shuttles, we need the shuttles to build the ISS, we need the ISS to give the shuttles something to do, we need the shuttles to supply the ISS…rinse and repeat”. My guess is that the ISS will be on the floor of the Pacific before NASA puts another human in space and the shuttles set the US program back decades.

    In some ways, I have more faith in the Air Force getting the US back into manned spaceflight than anything that comes out of NASA these days…too bad we wont hear about it until 2200 or until the kickoff of WW4.

    The idea that NASA has good PR outside of a small select community, is pretty laughable (no offense). The public will look at a Hubble picture and go “wow nice” then something else shiny takes their attention. The public also has a very skewed idea of what NASA costs. I remember reading an article a few years back where people were asked to guess how much of a share of the fed budget NASA gets, and the results were astonishing (I want to say the responses averaged something like 20-25% of the entire budget). That is not a successful PR program.

  3. It’s very plain that Scott Pace was speaking about the missleading the Star Trek -as a overpopular tv series- have done in that the branch of sf fans. He wasn’t making any reference to «Tao Zero» by Paul Anderson, for instance. There are a lot of hard sf that have extrapolated the concept of space travel in a very scientific way. The authors by their part, deal with the possibilities the imagination can brings over the cutting edge sciences that serve like their raw material… not with the economic and political handicaps that those sciece can face in the real world,as it’s the case of the science and technology of the space travel.

  4. As far as the point about nothing in space and thus no profit motive to go–I’ve seen and read a couple of science fiction novels that change the solar system to get around that problem.

    The two Lords of Creation novels by SM Stirling
    A World of Difference by Turtledove.

    Has any of you read them, too?

    I do wish we lived in one of those two solar systems instead of the one we got. I think I mentioned this on the podcast we did on Mars.

  5. A couple of things that I’ve been thinking about since recording, regarding PR. Karen noted that people might not know what the specific experiments are going on the ISS at the present moment. It’s a good point, but I don’t think that that’s any different when it comes to things that people are passionate about. Uber space fans who follow the going-ons at NASA might know, but you can say the same things about what’s going on with the Star Wars Universe with the SW fans, or with the specific batting averages of a particular baseball player.

    With NASA, people *do* notice when things are going on: note the outcry that we’ve seen in political circles over the funding cuts that eliminated the Space Shuttle – people weren’t happy about it. The general public might not be completely in the loop when it comes to what’s going on, but that doesn’t mean that NASA isn’t good at getting the highlights out there, particularly when it comes to social media.

    Now, should people be interested in what’s going on, and essentially become NASA superfans? Totally.

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