Buzz kill

By Phil Plait | July 15, 2008 4:00 pm

Before I begin, yes, the irony of posting this after making fun of a bad scifi movie is not lost on me. But Armageddon was not just bad science, it was a bad movie. So that’s different.

Second update: Others have been posting on this as well, I’ve found, including scifi writer (and BABloggee!) Mike Brotherton and the scifi blog io9.

Buzz Aldrin was the second man to walk on the Moon, has published a science fiction novel, did a guest spot on The Simpsons, and even signed a copy of my book. But that won’t stop me from calling him out when he says something silly.

In a recent interview, he says that bad and unrealistic science fiction is the reason people aren’t excited about space. Basically, he claims that these bad movies and shows are setting up too high a bar for reality, so kids are disappointed when they can’t use warp speed to visit planets or beam themselves across the world:

I blame the fantastic and unbelievable shows about space flight and rocket ships that are on today…All the shows where they beam people around and things like that have made young people think that that is what the space program should be doing. It’s not realistic.

Buzz? You’re a cool guy and all, but on this you are precisely 100% wrong. You have it exactly backwards.

Science fiction, even bad science fiction, inspires kids. Ask any astronaut, any astronomer, any space enthusiast, if Star Trek disappointed them or if it actually made them dream of flying into space one day. I can guarantee that the overwhelming majority will say the latter. I’ve seen countless interviews proving that, as well as having had this exact conversation with many, many of my peers.

Those shows filled our heads with the idea of space travel. Sure, scientifically those shows are inaccurate — even fantasy — but the ideas presented kept us going. I watched Lost in Space as a kid, and Space:1999, and as bad as those shows were to the science, it was the concept of space travel that got me going.

Those shows inspired me. I literally regard them as having helped me be what I am today.

Most of us understand the difference between reality and science fiction, and maybe we’re disappointed that we can’t travel to the stars. But that’s not the fault of the fiction, it’s the fault of reality for not keeping up. It’s our fault for not making sure it happened. I see lots of bloggers complaining "Where’s my flying car?", but I’ll ask: what did you personally do to make them a reality? Did you watch those shows on TV, or did you get off your butt and do something with that inspiration?

Buzz Aldrin sure did something. He walked on the Moon. It’s a pity he said what he did, but he is still a role model for doing something.

So you’re not flying your car around to work, and you don’t live on a moonbase. But what have you done to see that future take place?

Go watch Star Trek. Watch Doctor Who and Firefly, read John Scalzi’s stuff, dream the dream. But when the show’s over, when the last page is read, get up.

We make the future, folks. Go do it.


Comments (110)

  1. Phil, Phil, Phil…. I hope the next time you run into Mr. Aldrin, he doesn’t punch you in the mouth for that! :)

  2. Tercel

    I completely agree. I’d also say that its a bit rediculous to imply that we shouldn’t be enjoying fictional entertainment because it may hinder real science. Sci-fi is entertainment; is Buzz Aldrin really suggesting that we give up on an entire genre of storytelling? I suspect he would not, if he thought about it some more.

    Having said that, I now want to be very clear that I still have a lot of respect for Buzz Aldrin. Everybody says something silly on occasion, and I won’t let one such remark completely ruin my respect for him.

  3. I agree with you 100%.

    I’m personally working on a perpetual motion machine.


  4. BTW, it was a very early 1970’s British show, produced by Gerry Anderson of Space 1999 fame that got me excited about space. Anyone remember U.F.O.? Anderson’s wife had all the characters wear wigs because they felt that wigs would be standard military issue by the early 1980’s when the show was set. Space 1999 was originally conceived of as a sequel to U.F.O. If there is one series that begs to be re-imagined, it’s this one! This is the opening sequence of the show:

  5. Davidlpf

    Darn Michael bet me to the punchline. I agree with Phil and not Buzz on this one.

  6. Perhaps Buzz just succumbed to a moment of group think. Or not, maybe that’s what he really believes. But you’re right Phil, it’s exactly as YOU say, nearly everyone I know who went into science did so because of the science fiction. That was certainly why I went into biology–I wanted to discover immortality, of the sort I read about in books, usually Niven books.

    (Of course, I no longer do science; I just promote it, and clear thinking on my blog from time to time.)

  7. I less than three this post, it’s somehow uplifting & inspirational.

  8. Jose

    You don’t understand. Today’s youth are being inspired by films like Armageddon. They’re learning that they can suck at something, and still make millions. In 10 years the only movies we’ll be able to see will have titles like Urkel Goes to Washington and Unlawful Hamster.

  9. justcorbly

    All true, especially the link between science fiction and scientists, but… I’ve run into a number of people who believe that, one-half century since Sputnik, we should certainly be warping our way around the galaxy. They see Trek, etc., not so much as triumphs of science, but as evidence of how we ought to be living, if only… Since we have yet to build starships, they’ve decided we’re failures.

    So, I wouldn’t totally toss Aldrin’s remarks.

  10. Ron

    Phil, I agree with you that scifi is inspirational and I also strongly agree with Mr Aldrin that the pervasive visual imagery of today’s scifi has removed the ‘wow’ factor from the modern space program.

    I actually had this conversation with my teenage sons shortly after Phoenix landed on Mars and particularly after the image of the lander under its parachute was released. When they first looked at the image (they’re aged 14 and 12) their first impression was “yea, ok – so what?”

    I was really saddened — Here were two boys, strong science students and also big science fiction fans and yet they had no real awareness of the difficulty, the briliance or the achievement that was Phoenix. After talking to them I learned that they were looking at Phoenix in comparison to Star Trek and and other scifi imagery. These are smart kids who know that the movies are not real and yet even they are seduced into false expectations. Hell, look at the number of CSI fans who think that any police department has the same capability.

    In conclusion, I think that that you are both people deserving of great respect and I also think that what should be learned from Mr Aldrin’s comments is that science is under attack from insidious forces as well as direct assault. Look deeper into his words and see the truth.


  11. Ad Hominid

    Yep, Buzz is wrong on this one.

    Back in 1953, when I was 5 years old and starting to kindergarten, my parents got me a lunch box decorated with a luridly colored scene of V-2 style rockets standing on their tails around a lunar crater.
    I asked what it was and my dad explained that it was a base on the Moon. I was very disappointed to hear that no such thing existed in reality but my curiousity was piqued. I was therefore prepared to understand and marvel when Sputnik was launched a few years later.

    I know now that the scene on my lunchbox was technically absurd but it planted a seed that grows to this day.

  12. Kaptain K

    I hold “Lost in Space” directly responsible (by being SO bad) for my missing the first season of “Star Trek:TOS”!

  13. mighty favog

    I agree with Ron. Phil, I think you’re having a bit of tunnel vision because you’re in the biz. Mr. Aldrin wasn’t commenting on the state of people in the sciences–one can argue that they were predisposed to entering some field of science just by genes/environment/brain wiring etc. But as all of us here know all too well, the general populace, the VOTING populace, knows almost nothing of what’s real or possible. And those are the people the space program needs for support.

    But for the record–my thirteen year old son sat through the live stream of the Phoenix landing and was as riveted as I was. The really sad thing? I’m the one who’s more like Ron’s kids. Intellectually, I can get excited by Phoenix, but I’ve been spoiled by the rover images. Face it–Phoenix images are really boring to look at.

  14. One Eyed Jack


    Let’s be honest. What really upset you is that the Tardis didn’t get a mention.


  15. B.A. said, “I watched Lost in Space as a kid”

    OK, this is a bit off-topic but you made my ears perk-up. I have to show this off. I have been working on this since 2001.

    Now, to bring this post on-topic, I watched Lost in Space as a kid and I must say that it helped me grow up loving science (astronomy) and space travel. And, we know the science was pretty bad in that show. But, it didn’t matter to me.

  16. Jim Cruff, really it shouldn’t take you that long to make a Lost in Space sign, especially if you’re a robot.

    Seriously, wow.

  17. Jose

    Let me try some creationist logic.

    Movies don’t inspire people! King Kong has been seen by millions of people over the last 75 years and yet no one aspires for giant ape-hood. And why are there still apes!

  18. … and I still disagree that kids are jaded because of scifi. They may be jaded due to too much TV, too much video games, too much input, and not enough seeing the real world, but I don’t think watching Stargate will remove the wonder from the space program.

    It’s still up to us to show them these things. My daughter loves watching live space events with me, because I explain what’s going on, and I suspect my interest is infectious to her.

    Anyone can do this.

  19. Although I’m one of those who were inspired by science fiction, both good and bad, and have always had a strong interest in science–astronomy in particular–I don’t think Buzz is completely off the mark here.

    I think many in the mainstream enjoy getting an instant gee-whiz space fix from the movies, but don’t like to actually support the space program with their tax dollars. They might ask, why should we pay billions to go to Mars when we can pop a DVD of RED PLANET (or SPECIES II, for that matter) into the disk player whenever we want to see what it’s like? Been there, done that.

    Science fiction is good for inspiring us geeks, but I can see where it might have an overall detrimental effect on the mundane.

  20. Jose

    Jim Cruff, really it shouldn’t take you that long to make a Lost in Space sign, especially if you’re a robot.

    Oh, that was a good one.

  21. Ha, very nice, Phil :)

  22. Rob Speed

    I hope you’re not implying that Firefly is (overall) scientifically unrealistic.

  23. Jeremy

    It’s not like there is a “realistic” sci-fi that has or will imminently replace your precious flights of whimsy. The problem, as I understand it, is that it is all or nothing. Warp-speed or nothing. Space travel has been cheapened by cheap effects. Imagine that.

    I think Buzz is talking more about a general populace and not you folks.

  24. Jose

    If anyone needs a good science fictiony movie for kids, I’m watching Zathura for the thousandth time with my 2 year old right now. Of course the science is much worse than in any science fiction movie intended for an adult audience (Armageddon Included), but it’s not one of the movies he likes that makes me want to shoot myself in the head. That’s a big plus.

    Slightly off subject, my wife and I have taught my son to wave his fist in the air and yell “I drink your milkshake!” It’s adorable.

  25. Mena

    Ok, disclaimer first. I think that there should be a word introduced into the English language that describes the coolness of anyone who has ever had the guts and stamina to be a Mercury, Gemini, or Apollo astronaut and have that word only refer to those guys, with the exception of adding Gene Kranz. That said, I do kind of agree that Buzz was wrong but I can’t really fault him about that. I suspect that coming from an aviation background is very different than coming from a science background so his (and perhaps that generation’s) reasons for going into the space program were probably very different than those of people going into it today. They were raised on WWII movies with air battles. We were raised on science fiction, made main stream by what he and his colleagues were doing. I really do think that it’s just one of those generational things where something gets lost in the translation.

  26. quasidog

    No he is not 100% wrong, I get what he is saying. The way I see it he might be 50% wrong, because 50% of the people might agree with his point of view. I know exactly what he means, as I see evidence for it. For example, when someone that is ignorant of space travel, or how images of stars are made, their main source of anything related to it is usually sci-fi, or some glossy pictures in magazines (that have been touched up to look really pretty) or on TV or movies. So when they finally encounter the REAL thing, it can look boring and unispirrational by comparison, which can deflate interest in the whole topic. My father does this. Some of my friends that don’t share my passion for astronomy do this. Some people I know at work do this too.

    I rekon this is what Buzz means when he says : “I blame the fantastic and unbelievable shows about space flight and rocket ships that are on today…All the shows where they beam people around and things like that have made young people think that that is what the space program should be doing. It’s not realistic.”

    He is not talking about people already into science. He is not talking about people being inspired by sci-fi. He is talking about general young people. These sort of people are my friends, my family (some are not young) , my work colleagues. People that don’t care too much about it anyway, fiction or otherwise.

    I can’t recall how many times I have had someone look through my telescope at something I was in awe of and say, ” oh … is that it ? wow It looked so much more impressive in the book/movie/tv documentary” …. and their interest in it is short lived. Sometimes they can feel cheated, and it can lead to hating sci-fi, or even science for that matter. Sounds stupid, but I know at least 2 people that feel this way. I do not agree with them however.

    I agree with Buzz to a point, and Phil to a point, but it really is specific to the TYPE of people you are talking about. 100% right or 100% wrong is not good enough. It is too broad a brush stroke. I however am one that falls into the people that Phil is talking about, science fiction inspires me! It is a fact however that it does the opposite to SOME people, so for the statement to be made…. “Buzz? You’re a cool guy and all, but on this you are precisely 100% wrong. You have it exactly backwards.” … I can’t agree with that at all. He might have a percentage of it wrong, relative to a select groups interest in which case it would not be exactly backwards, no neither exactly, nor backwards … at all. Too broad a statement.

  27. I wonder if there are actual studies showing how unrealistic sci-fi influences public perception of science. Having hard data to back you up, rather than anecdotes, would be much more likely to convince Aldrin – the plural of anecdote is NOT data.

  28. 74westy

    Mena, I think the word you’re looking for is “the right stuff”.

  29. I think we’re missing some skeptical analysis here. Granted, I may be missing some subtle humor in the post, but do you really mean that you disagree with Buzz 100%? Other comments have touched on this, but is Buzz 100% wrong when the following are true:

    – When we were being inspired by sci-fi, the effects looked amazing for the time, but lame by today’s standards.
    – In the meantime, news headlines about real space efforts back then were about LANDING ON THE MOON as opposed to housekeeping chores (broadcast live) from the International Space Station.
    – Today, most mainstream effects are so well done it’s almost impossible to tell that they’re effects.
    – Some people are/were inspired by sci-fi (me!), most are just entertained. If that level of entertainment is so much higher than the entertainment provided by our current human space efforts, there is some truth to the fact that the sci-fi is distracting.
    – Sci-fi conventions today draw MUCH more interest than space advocacy conferences. How many people attend Dragon Con? Granted, the onus is on space advocacy groups to make their message more appealing, but this is another morsel of truth to Buzz’s argument.

    Also, I think most readers of this blog take the same actions Phil did with their kids at space events. My kids and I had a blast watching the Phoenix news coverage, but I think many more people sit and watch sci-fi with their kids and go “Eh!” when they hear about our real space efforts.

    Remember, this is coming from someone who works in the space industry.

  30. Hugo

    What got me interested in space was a painting. Specifically this one:

    It was in an astronomy book I was given as a Christmas present when I was seven. Of course, Chesley Bonestell’s art may have been scientifically inaccurate (somewhere between ‘slightly’ and ‘woefully’ depending on your disposition :P) but it mananaged to inspire me. Anyone else here a Bonestell fan?

  31. I kind of see where he’s getting at. My advisor and I were getting all nerdy fanboy/girl over documentaries about the Apollo program, but seriously, how many in the general populace do that? They would rather watch Red Planet or some such.

    However, I agree that Buzz’s statement is an oversimplification of a more general problem. People don’t actively think about these things, they just passively accept the entertainment. So real science, in that mindset, doesn’t match up to (good) scifi. It’s like when you get someone behind the eyepiece of (even a really good) amateur telescope and they say “that’s it?” because we are awash in Hubble images. I wouldn’t blame Hubble PR for that, though. It just takes a little bit more imagination to realize, oh I’m looking at it NOW with my OWN EYES.

    Also, very good bulleted list, Tom. That really made me think. And the last one goes back to a big problem, how do we make science more appealing to the general populace?

  32. Davidlpf

    Buzz Aldrin has the nerve to complain about science fiction while he was on the greatest sci-fi shows ever, yeah right he walked on the moon. /sarcism

  33. Mike C.

    Well, Buzz was off-base in that comment, I will say. But then again, what is with this personal jihad against “Armegeddon” ? Come on ! Roughnecks and drillers save the world – what’s not to like ? I’m guessing your astronomy job is not in the oil business…. People in the oil biz generally thought it was one of the funniest comedeys in a long time.

  34. @Michael L
    UFO – wow, I forgot about that show. I remember loving that opening sequence, and then being terribly disappointed by the actual show…

  35. Chip

    # Jose Says: “Movies don’t inspire people! King Kong has been seen by millions of people over the last 75 years and yet no one aspires for giant ape-hood. And why are there still apes!”

    That’s not the point. King Kong is not just about a giant ape or a pretty blond. King Kong is about sailing off to an uncharted island where prehistoric life still exists and where the remnants of an ancient civilization still maintains a gigantic gate to keep something terrible and sublime from entering. Its also about diving into adventure and into the unknown. How inspiring is that? Very!

  36. Viewer 3

    As some have said, I don’t think Buzz is completely off the mark. Because you can’t talk about this in terms of “all kids”. I’m sure there are quite a few people out there that represent exactly what Buzz was talking about. I’ll admit, after watching Star Trek (TNG only please) for a good portion of my life, it has definitely inspired my interest in science and the wondrous possibilities of the universe. But what Buzz means is that kids see these shows and don’t understand the KIND of work it would take to achieve it.

    Let’s say these shows did inspire some kid to become a scientist. Great. But instead of working with all kinds of crazy experiments and tools that it seems like they would be from watching the show, instead they’re confined to a computer day in and day out working with endless number patterns for years and doing absolutely nothing like what they imagined they would be. Sure, they’d be “DOING SOMETHING” to help make time travel or warp-drives a reality, but most kids would find studying such a tiny part of that field so insignificant compared to what they thought it’d be.

    If Buzz was trying to blame the shows, then yeah, that’s off base. I can understand the argument that these shows “inspire, not jade” kids. If you consider yourself “in-the-know” about science, then you’ve already come to terms with all the seemingly “boring research” it takes to make ANY kind of advancement of the sci-fi scope. And by “boring research”, I’m talking from a general “kid” point of view. But outside of the “hands-on” stuff like the LHC that you can tell kids about and get a legitimately “whoa” reaction, kids have no idea what being a scientist is really about, and I think that’s what Buzz was referring to.

  37. t8m8r

    There are also many inaccuracies in that movie of the sort that drillers laugh at.

  38. IBY

    Don’t matter for me, cause both science and Scifi Rocks!!! :) I think both of you are right in some ways, btw.

  39. DaveS

    Characterizing sci-fi conventions as only about fiction is not accurate. My very favorite part of any sci-fi con is the hard science track. It’s really cool being in Southern California, where you get the whizz-bangs from JPL talking about their work.

  40. GP

    I feel Phil can be too harsh sometimes in his effort to make a point and I believe he was too harsh towards Buzz Aldrin (unless he was joking).
    Buzz has a point and his statement is not silly at all. Notice how he says “shows…that are on today”. Phil you were watching “Lost in Space” and “Space:1999” when you were young(er). You were living in different times, when public was perceiving space exploration as something exciting. I am 35 and I work in IT. My reasons to get into software were because I was inspired by new technology, unknown and yes, SCIFI shows. My 10 years younger collegue is in IT because…that is a good career to have. Period. (BTW: he is a great kid).
    I do believe that majority of people today are not inspired by SciFi in a “positive” way. It’s just entertainment that is setting naive expectations for real space exploration.

    Other people did make a good case for this, I just wanted to write my 2 cents and comment on the “Buzz is 100% wrong” part.

  41. I don’t think Aldrin is 100% wrong. Just mostly wrong. Real science/space travel is amazing and beautiful and fantastic, but it’s slow and complicated compared to Star Wars. Science fiction in general is going to keep inspiring those of us who are scientists and explorers at heart. The crappy big budget movies are at best a push with the general public. They don’t help, and they do damage scientific understanding, which is part of Aldrin’s thesis. I don’t think they make the public lose interest in the space program in any significant way, however. Perhaps they do bring about some impatience.

  42. As much pleasure as both science fiction and science have given me in my life, I may be something of an example of what Buzz is talking about. Despite my youthful ambitions, inspired by both science fiction and the amazing achievements of the early space program, my hopes of making a life for myself in the field of astronomy never came to fruition.

    I always did well in school, and was urged to pursue a career in science. But when I went to University, I found that I didn’t have an aptitude for the math that was necessary. I was also informed that somewhere around 11% of those who received degrees in astronomy actually found employment in the field. What’s worse, unless you got a teaching position (which didn’t interest me much at the time), the type of work that entry-level astronomers were expected to do at that time (the late 1970s) looked pretty darn boring.

    I ended up not declaring a major and finally dropping out of college after my third year.

    How I avoided the trap that Buzz is warning us about was keeping up an avid interest in amateur astronomy and supporting the space program through the Planetary Society, the National Space Society, and occasional missives to my congressional representatives urging pro-space votes.

    But I could easily see how someone might lose interest when their initial dreams proved unrealistic.

  43. Plato

    “Perhaps you think that anyone who puts his head back and gazes at a painted ceiling learns something and is using his mind and not his eyes. You may be right, and I may be just simple minded, but I can’t believe that the mind is made to look upwards except by studying the real and the invisible.” – Plato, The Republic, Book VII, 530

    Painted ceiling = television :)

  44. Speaking from the Babylon 5 generation, Buzz’s comments are totally off-target. I believe sci-fi enhances kids (and adults) imaginations, making it easier to embrace the reality of space exploration. I only have sci-fi to thank for my BSc in physics, Masters in astrophysics and PhD in solar physics… besides the women in sci-fi movies and TV are usually damn hot – more than enough motivation to be engrossed in the future of space exploration in my books :-)

    Nice one Phil! Cheers, Ian

  45. Dumb Guy

    Do I detect a double standard around here? Some crap sci-fi is cool while other crap sci-fi is detrimental to viewers?

    They call it science “fiction” for a reason.

  46. Kevin White

    I agree completely with the former astronaut! Remember a couple months ago when NASA had an announcement to make? Speculation among my colleagues at work ran the gamut of science fiction conventions. And the reality, the actual announcement, was abominable to them. The Phoenix lander generated about a 3 on a scale of 1-10 in terms of excitement, and only for basically one day. Hollywood and the video game industry (and even shows like The Universe!!) offer it all up on an instant gratification platter.

    It’s really all about what the public sees. It sees a $420M price tag for an immobile, archaic robot scratching in a couple inches of dirt at an interminably slow rate. And then you have the more sci-fi-inclined fringe who don’t have a clue about the nearly insurmountable engineering obstacles inherent in just trying to establish some type of lunar base. They prefer to speculate endlessly about all the little logistical ideas that might be possible in some “gritty” “near future” sci-fi (which is nonetheless still FICTION). I should know, I’m part of the latter group. I have all sorts of ideas about what we might be able to do on the Moon and Mars in establishing bases, but I’m pretty ignorant of everything it would all entail. So there’s not a huge amount of difference between me and people who think we should be settling on extrasolar planets by now. We’re both deluded, aren’t we?

    I agree with Phil’s point — people need to get up and do and not just wait for engineering miracles to simply happen. But Buzz has an excellent point here.

  47. Evil Dork

    The Sci Fi channel was broadcasting wrestling while I was reading this post. Is this comment from Buzz their excuse for that?

    I doubt the current state of science fiction leaves anybody all that disappointed in the current state of real science. It’s much more likely to leave people disappointed in science fiction. Much of it paints a drastically bleak picture of our future, and scare tactics aren’t known to inspire much beyond irrational fear.

  48. Tom Marking

    Can we get an extended quotation? All that link had was two paragraphs. Moving on to Buzz’s second paragraph we have:

    “But, if you start dealing with fantasy and beaming people up and down and traveling seven times the speed of light, you are doing damage. You’re not helping. You have young people who have got expectations that are far unrealistic, and you can’t possibly live up to the expectations you have created in young people. Why do they get bored with the space program? That’s why.”

    My rejoinder to Buzz is the following:

    If you start repeating yourself over and over and just fly humans into low earth orbit starting in 1973 and continuing on to the present, you are doing damage. You’re not helping by doing the same damn thing over and over and over ad nauseum. You have young people who have some expectations concerning exploration and NASA is not able to live up to them. Why do they get bored with the space program? That’s why – because it actually is boring in point of fact.

    Don’t blame it on movies and TV, Buzz. That’s really lame. The fault rests squarely on the shoulders of NASA.

  49. BaldApe

    I think it goes both ways. Kids who like science and understand pretty well are inspired by science fiction. Kids who don’t understand the science think it’s real and can’t understand why it will take years to get to Mars.

  50. bjorn

    Think if this were true for biotech; The wild and uncanny ideas of reanimation, genetic engineering, etc.: all first imagined by a dreamy author before cracked by a focused scientist.

    The fact that Buzz did something that at the beginning of the 20th century only sci-fi writers penned as a possibility is a paradox he must admit to.

  51. Christopher

    I’m one of the 50/50 people … don’t entirely disagree …

    A few years ago when Mars was much closer to Earth than usual, the city’s astronomy association was running “Mars Viewing” sessions over a series of nights in parks, letting people use their funky big telescopes.
    I think space is cool and I managed to entice some of my more space-lovin friends into the dark night to one of these Mars Viewing sessions.

    Perhaps if any of us had been astronomers we wouldn’t have been so disappointed.
    We expected to see Mars in all its glory, not some pathetic tiny fuzzy dot. Maybe once upon a time, that would have thrilled people but we felt ripped off. We’ve seen brilliant colourful images of Mars so many times … we thought we were going to see the same thing but “live”. But no … apparently that isn’t possible from Earth.

  52. madge

    Buzz walked on the moon AND punched out a moon hoaxer. That makes him a hero in my book. Being a hero doesn’t stop him being DEAD WRONG in this instance. Great post Phil :)

  53. Chip

    Buzz is a great man. He’s wrong on this point. (And that’s OK.)

    There are engineers and JPL folks who were first stirred as kids by SciFi books and movies. They grew up, yet today they still feel a thrill at the realization that a piece of machinery they actually held in their hands is now part of a real spacecraft that actually landed on the planet Mars!

    Expectations may change and life has its ups and downs, but the shimmer of imagination lies deep behind the outwardly pragmatic motivations.

  54. Dave Hall

    In my opinion, Buzz is not far off the mark. He may be a cranky old bastid, about this, but he has a right to be. He was there at the beginning, when NASA had a direction, something I think they’ve lost over the years.

    I vividly remember Apollo 11 landing on the Moon. I was 14. And it looked like the whole world was going to change. And it did. But not in the way I expected. By the time Apollo 17 was on the Moon, most people I knew didn’t give a rat’s patoot about lunar geology. We were in high school, and more worried about passing algebra and somehow avoiding the draft. Star Trek had come and gone on TV, and about the only person in my school that was even really influenced by it was a kid we called Freddy the Martian.

    The main problem I see with his argument is: Buzz is lumping science fiction and fantasy together as most people do. Star Trek and Star Wars and Stargate are not Science fiction. There is damned little science in any of them–they are as much fantasy as anything by Tolkein. And when your entertainment is more exciting than your reality, well most people will be disappointed.

    And I can hear the outcry, “But Star Trek is based in science” What science in Star Trek? Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed most iterations of Star Trek since its first appearance on TV when I was in the eighth grade. It is entertaining, has memorable characters and story lines and even teaches us a bit about our humanity.

    But science is as lacking in Star Trek as Star Wars.
    Warp engines and dilithium crystals are not from real science. Beaming down to planets is not based in sound science, nor are phasers and photon torpedoes. The Starfleet crews visit many planets which are, oddly enough, inhabited by mostly humanoids, which I very much doubt is based in sound scientific research. And if you dismiss Star Wars for supernatural elements–how can you accept the woo Spock or Troi are into?

    Aldrin has a valid point. Those politicians who dismissed science fiction as junk, found a way to validate their funding cuts for space programs, aided and abetted by those sci-fi nerds who expected too much from NASA and were disappointed by the reality. It has been said: “No bucks–no Buck Rogers.” And too many expected more bang for their bucks and so the plug keeps getting pulled on the Space Program.

    Today’s crop of Science Fiction (and Fantasy) fans is far more likely to be able to quote Hamlet in Klingon, or explain the inner workings of the Death Star than explain the retrograde motion of Mars. Most kids spend more time with their X Boys and Game Boxes and Wiis. And they spend more money on the latest collectable stuff at Cons, than they will for astronomy books, telescopes or even binoculars.

    Think I am wrong? Drop by your local bookstore–indy or chain–and check out the Science Fiction section. For every book of Hard Science Fiction (Bova, Clarke, K S Robinson etc) there are 50 or 60 Star Wars and/or Star Trek books. Then check out the Science Section (over there in non-fiction) and there is even less to read.

    It will be a safe bet that there are a lot more scientists who are science fiction fans than there are science fiction fans that are scientists.
    With few exceptions, most Americans have turned inward, facing daily life issues or numbing themselves with 500 channels of the Glass Teat.

  55. Dumb Guy: there’s no double standard from me. Some scifi is inspirational, and some is crap. But you can’t blame it for making people bored with real space travel.

  56. Monti0

    Cent #1. Buzz is even cooler than that. My favourite 2 seconds on Youtube is where he punched the moon hoaxer that ambushed him.

    Cent #2. Phil is right. It’s sci-fi that got me into astronomy as a 5 year old kid in the first place.

  57. As I see it, the problem is that sending robots – no matter how sophisticated they are – to other planets simply doesn’t cut the mustard with the general public. We need a new generation of heroes like Buzz himself to go out there and blaze the trail into space. We sorely lack the human element.

    I remember vividly the feeling of awe when as an 11 year old I watched Buzz and Neil on our tiny black & white TV stumbling about on the moon. That was pure magic. Buzz was my real-life Captain Kirk (before I’d even seen Star Trek – we got it a bit later in the UK). Now what do we get? Still images of a squat little technological footstool scraping in the dirt. Don’t get me wrong – that is still a fantastic achievement, but to the average joe it only serves to motivate him to reach for the TV remote control to change the channel. Even I find it only mildly interesting.

    We sorely need real people with the “Right Stuff” who can relay to the couch potatoes of the world what space exploration is really about. It’s about joy and pain, triumph and failure. And above all, risk. Where’s the risk involved in using robots? Where’s the human emotion? Sure, it’s cheaper, but where would all you Americans be if Columbus had sent ships full of nothing but scientific instruments across the Atlantic?

    I watched “Red Planet” for the first time lat week. It brought back to me the essence of the Moon landings, and proved everything I just wrote. No bad guys, no evil alien monsters, no phasers – just real people strugging to survive in a hostile environment. Sure, there was some dodgy science, but that’s not what the movie was about. It was all about getting humans to Mars, whatever the cost.

    Now, just how exciting would that movie have been with robots instead of real people?

  58. I eem to be having ome trouble with one pecific key on my keyboard…

  59. I’d like to make a point concerning Star Trek too, which follows on from my previous post. Dave Hall laments the fact that there’s not much science in Trek. Well… maybe, maybe not. But as far as I’m concerned (and I’m a Trek fan), I don’t watch it for the science (or lack of it). I watch it because it provides what real space exploration is sorely lacking right now, as per my previous post. Star Trek is about people. It takes real human dilemmas and situations and gives them a new twist. It holds a mirror up to society and show us what we’re really like. It tackles some highly controversial subjects: racism, religious fanaticism, rape, drug abuse, homosexuality, cloning, you name it, Trek’s covered it, and given each one a satisfying and thought-provoking new twist. It shows us that even when we do get into space, we’re still going to be human. But we’ll learn to cope. We’re going to have to.

    Buzz Aldrin is a hero, but Gene Roddenberry was a genius.

  60. J ONeil

    I’m mostly on the side of Buzz on this one. Most of the time Phil – you hit the target dead on, but respectfully, I cannot agree with you on this one.

    Growing up, I watched every sci-fi movie I could, on TV, or at the theatres. I lined up for hours to be one of the very first to see Star Wars on the day it premiered. My DVD shelf is full of sci-fi movies.

    But what I remember most of all, above ALL of the movies, was being a young child,a nd my parents waking me up in the middle of the night to watch the Apollo landings on our small black % white television. The tuner was in such bad shape, we had to use pliers or vice grips to change the channel for a while.

    That memory, above any and all sci-fi movies, is what inspired me.

    Phil, your milage may vary, and for others too. But for me personally, Buzz is 100% right on target.

  61. Another Eric

    Elwood Herring touched on an important point: What excitement is there in sending robots? Where’s the human factor?

    So that’s why we need to redesign the robots! Instead of making them look like a box on wheels, they should be cute, and have a cute face on them. Make them look like Robbie the Robot (but with a cute face)! And above all, they should talk! Instead of just sending back boring data, they should say things such as “Wow, this landscape is Super Zippy Keeno!” in a voice that resembles Johnny 5.

    And when they touch down on Mars, the first message they send back should be “Hey, this isn’t the crater I was aiming for”, or “Ouch, that hurt!”

  62. I think the entire brouhaha is cleared up once you realize that “kids” and “young people” in Buzz Aldin’s lexicon mean “politicians” to the rest of us. Do a search-and-replace, and I’m sure you’ll all see the truth of that.

  63. Dan


    In Buzz’s defense let me say this:

    You point out and I agree, that many people who are interested in science were excited and inspired by science fiction and you’re right. However, that doesn’t account for how many people felt exactly as Buzz said, got turned off by the bar being set too high.

    Maybe you and others who feel the same way as you ARE the minority and maybe Buzz is right. We’ll never know because they never became scientists etc.

    And I do think that sometimes perceptions get clouded. For example, I’m a law student working for a prosecutor’s office right now:

    Every single jury trial requires a long explanation to the jury of why we don’t have extensive DNA, fingerprint, Gunshot residue etc. Basically we have to give a long explanation of why CSI isn’t realistic. I remain convinced that we have lost cases because of CSI and people assuming we can do stuff we simply can’t because “I saw it on TV!”

    I don’t think Buzz is as far off as you think. I think the people you interact with are the exception not the rule, but you wouldn’t necessarily know because they people who got turned off in the way Buzz says…you don’t know about.

  64. Brian

    I remember my first trip to NASA here in Houston several years ago and my first impression of mission control. I thought, that’s it, seriously. It’s just a bunch of PCs sitting on desks. Obviously too many movies had me expecting something much more elaborate.

    Luckily I was able to understand that given today’s technology that’s all that they need to get the job done. And those PCs surely have some cool apps running on them. But I got the feeling like most of the others in the room were just really unimpressed and ready to see something else.

    In other words I do think sci-fi can inspire but, there’s a grain of truth to what Buzz was saying as well.

  65. I was thinking about science in sci-fi shows the other day. See, I’ve been using the new Doctor Who stuff to teach some of the local kids about science (the life cycles of stars from when the Sun expanded and the Torchwood base orbiting a black hole), history (WWI, WWII, etc.), literature (Shakespeare, Agatha Christie, Douglas Adams). I also explain when the science is garbage or historically inaccurate. Pompeii wasn’t an alien spacecraft, etc. We’ve also covered “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” with regards to the people they collected. See, these kids went to public schools in Washington DC which means they compete with retarded kids in better schools. And leaving the subtitles on has helped with their reading.
    Roddenbury tried to get what science right that he could. And where it was wrong he tried to get it consistently wrong. The warp drive won’t work, but the magnetic constrictor that fed the antimatter stream into the dilithium chamber does work and has been used in the ion drive on NASA’s Deep Space probes. The Bussard Collectors are good science. Worm hole theory has been expanded because of how they were used in Next Generation.

    When they talk about the stuff that COULD be true some day people do get excited when they see stories about that stuff being under development. When cellphones got to Star Trek communicator sizes people ate it up. The use of ion drives was about the only thing from Star Wars that is remotely possible and makes ears perk up when they’re mentioned. Plasma weapons and rail guns we’ve wielded in video games and are excited to see real world counterparts even if they are still mounted on trucks. Articles about using quantum entanglement for FTL communication or extremely small scale teleportation get people thinking we may have a transporter … someday. And the mere idea of making a Heim-Drösher FTL drive work sends chills up my spine.

    But there’s lots of shows that get it horribly wrong. Considering how bad many of our schools are we don’t need movies giving them worse information. I’ve had to correct many coworkers when they got their ideas about space travel, computer viruses, and hacking from movies. TV and movie producers need to make a real effort to get their facts correct. In part so we don’t have to uneducate people and in part so when we make progress on the real stuff people can see how it may be useful

    We need a blockbuster movie with a space elevator.

  66. Andy Beaton

    Personal experience anecdote: even the most jaded teens and cynics get excited by the sight of the real moon through a telescope. If you’re looking for something to inspire the next generation and you don’t think Armageddon is going to do it, set up a telescope on the sidewalk one night and show people the moon.

  67. Dunc

    Hmmm…. Is modern SF really any worse and / or more unrealistic than it used to be? I’m not convinced – and I’ve got a pretty heft cache of “Golden Age” SF.

    Where’s my atomic cigarette lighter?

  68. Doug Ellison

    I have to say – I think Buzz is at least partially on to something here. Kids see two space shuttles flying off into space in a hollywood movie, cowboy style and it puts ideas in their heads. It’s that ‘not very sci-fi’ that is damaging. Crazy stuff like Dr Who – I think any kid can separate that from reality. But if they see some fictional vehicle taking off from KSC, they’re going to see it as being based in reality – and that has to be altering their perception of engineering and science. How many times have you had someone say ‘are there people on it’ when you talk about the latest Mars lander. Sci-Fi that takes elements of current, realistic science and butchers it, is not healthy for the engineering and scientific understanding of our youth imho.

  69. Phil, you definitely nailed this one.

    Of course, for me, it wasn’t watching Star Trek that inspired my interest in space, astronomy, and science. It was growing up the the “space race” era, and staying up late on the night of July 20, 1969. (I don’t remember even watching Star Trek as a kid.) We didn’t need sciend fiction to inspire us — we had the real thing. (Unfortunately, my little 3-inch scope wasn’t strong enough to see the lander on the Moon’s surface. I know — I looked.)

    Perhaps it’s not sci-fi that’s “jaded” kids into expecting warp-speed travel, and transporter beams. Perhaps it’s because there hasn’t been much “exciting” in our manned space program for quite some time? Sure, our unmanned probes send back “pretty pictures” (well, that’s all the general public sees from these things), but I don’t think that inspires a desire to go further.

    I remember seeing a discussion recently that even things like “chemistry sets” have been made boring in the name of “safety”. In order to make sure that the kids can’t accidentally blow something up, they really can’t do much at all. Kids love things that foam, fizz, pop. (We’ve had “mad scientist” themed birthday parties for our kids. All the kids [ages 5-9] loves them. Even the adults.)

    Perhaps Mr. Aldrin should use his experience to inspire people to strive for more? There’s nothing like talking from personal experience.

  70. Oh, and I saw a TV show recently called something like “How William Shatner Changed the World”. It was a light-hearted look at how Star Trek’s gadgets inspired people to actually build those things. (Like the guy who invented the cell phone, who was inspired by the communicators. Don’t today’s flip-phones look a bit familiar?)

  71. MDF

    Scalzi ROCKS. If you haven’t read his books, GO NOW. Buy them.

    Right on the money, BA.

  72. Ken B, I saw How William Shatner Changed the World, that was awesome.

    As I’ve thought about this, I also think things have changed today. I’m 43, and when I was a kid we didn’t have computers, video game systems, cell phones, blackberries, and all these other cool gadgets we have today. While we enjoyed things like Star Trek, Dr. Who, UFO and all those shows, we actually went outside and put our imaginations to work while we played. I can’t count how many times my bicycle transformed into an X-Wing fighter chasing TIE Fighters. I think, maybe today, our kids don’t quite get that experience. I recently moved back to the same neighborhood where I grew up. When I was a kid, there were tons of kids my age, 8,9 10, playing outside. Today – none.

  73. Kevin

    And yet movies like Hackers and Wargames make people disinterested in computers? Not even close.

  74. Quiet Desperation

    @Michael L

    Both UFO and Space 1999 were shows that had good first seasons but not so good second seasons.

    Some friends and I actually worked how how to bring Space 1999 into more of a rational science fictiony framework. The nuclear explosion is replaced by an experiment with an intertialess space drive. It works *way* better than anyone expected, making the entire Moon inertialess, thus sending it on its way on whatever vector it happened to be moving when the drive was switched on.

    That takes care of the Moon moving at FTL. The other thing is to have the intertialess drive field interact with gravitational fields. The Moon, in its free flight, is lightly attracted to star systems, and it slows down inside gravity wells, it’s momentum stored up inside the anti-inertia field and released back as it drifts out of the system. That gets them entering systems every couple of weeks and slowing down enough for plot to occur. :-)

    We even had a way for the Eagles to leave and return to the Moon’s weird inertial frame, but it escapes me at the moment. I think it was miniature versions of the big drive that allowed them to synchronize their local frame with that of the Moon or the “outside world.”

    Oh, and the drive itself, in an underground lab on the lunar farside, is surrounded by a dense field that make it impossible to approach and turn off. :-)

    By the end of the series, Moonbase Alpha has managed to gain some control over the drive, and eventually gets back to Earth. We were split on whether to have time dilation effect the Moon and have them arrive home thousands or even millions of years in the future.

    Hey, if David Brin can use E Level Hyperspace, I can use energy conserving anti-inertia fields.

  75. Charles

    I humbly suggest to Mr. Aldrin that he go and re-read Robert Heinlein’s “Destination Moon” — which had an utterly fantastic and unrealistic premise when it was released (humans riding rockets to the moon – it will never happen!) and get back to us on how closely that piece of science fiction fantasy came to mimicking his very real ride to the moon and back.

    The film version of the book won the 1951 Academy Award for best special effects. Even though is seems quaint by today’s standards, this was a groundbreaking film that went far to introduce a lot of concepts of spaceflight we take for granted to today.

    And – a raspberry to you Phil for not mentioning the re-imagined Battlestar Galactica.

  76. Quiet Desperation,
    I actually loved UFO, but maybe it’s because it was the very first sci-fi show I ever saw. I think the effects were ahead of their time. Remember this was 1970 Britain! If any show begs for a re-imagining, it’s this one – minus the cheesy wigs and silver uniforms the women wore! Dinky toys put out the UFO series toys. I had the Interceptor. For some strange reason, Dinky released it in a garish metallic green. I eventually lost it, and now collectors will pay big for that particular Interceptor.

    As far as Space 1999, I could never figure out why they couldn’t evacuate the base using the Eagles. But, I guess if they did that, there would be no show. Kind of like TOS Trek, where the transporter malfunctions and Kirk comes back split in two, one really angry, and the other docile. They leave Sulu and the landing party down on a freezing planet. I kept thinking, “Use the Shuttle, you idiots!”

    Charles, I second tha raspberry, why no BSG? Best sci fi EVER! Although I don’t think Phil ever forgave Adama for constantly excusing Tigh’s behavior! :)

  77. Gary Ansorge

    We really need to remember that SciFi is about asking “What if,,,” and as such is subversive of the status quo. Great SciFi was written by scientists and engineers, people trained in the hard discipline of science. John Campbell established rules for SciFi in the 1930s that there be only one IMPOSSIBLE idea per story and his cadre of writers for Astounding/Analog followed that restriction and wrote really good stories(Asimove, biochemist: Heinlien,engineer: HalClement:engineer, Jerry Pournelle,scientist Phd,etc).

    I note that Dr. David Brin uses his SciFi to speculate about subjects far from his discipline(astrophysics) and for that reason does not append his academic title to his books. His point is that his title has to do with real world science. His stories are speculation and some of those MAY be impossible(in this universe, at least).

    My very first exposure to SciFi was in 1954, about telepathic mutants a thousand years after WWIII. I was 11 years old and greatly impressed that here was a story that was based in reality, but projected far beyond what was known to be possible. Exposure to possibilities prepared this mind for the rapid progress we’ve seen in the last half century. I have rarely been caught unprepared for that progress, though sometimes disappointed(telepathy, levitation, teleportation and FTL being among the disappointments) but that doesn’t impede my enjoyment of SciFi.

    Alvin B. Tofflers Future Shock posited the equivalence of culture shock when we run head on into the unanticipated. Neither of those has ever disturbed me.

    SciFi rules!!!

    GAry 7

  78. Santiago

    I can’t say I disagree with what Buzz says, and this is why: you can make most if not all science fiction better with better science, and a strict adherence to what we know is possible can still make darn good sci-fi. This is important because, as Phil just wrote, we still suspend our disbelief with 90% of SF, but there is *no* reason why this has to be the case. You can have a show in which you’d be able to say that, besides FTL travel, everything in it is completely plausible and doable, and my guess is that THAT would inspire a heck of a lot more people, merely because they wouldn’t have to plainly ignore the techno-babble, but would actually be able to understand the underlying physical processes.

    Imagine, for instance, if everything on Tatooine had indeed cast double shadows, it would have been a subtle tweak, barely noticeable for most viewers, but a fair amount still would have wondered about it and later gone on to learn something about how a planet with two suns really works.

  79. Dunc

    Imagine, for instance, if everything on Tatooine had indeed cast double shadows, it would have been a subtle tweak, barely noticeable for most viewers, but a fair amount still would have wondered about it and later gone on to learn something about how a planet with two suns really works.

    And then you’d have a bunch of Star Wars fans arguing about orbital dynamics and the three-body problem, with many regarding the idea of a planet with a stable climate in a binary system is too improbable to accept.

    Getting the science right is actually a heck of a lot harder than you might think.

  80. Quiet Desperation:

    The nuclear explosion is replaced by an experiment with an intertialess space drive. It works *way* better than anyone expected, making the entire Moon inertialess, thus sending it on its way on whatever vector it happened to be moving when the drive was switched on.

    Um, but…

    Isn’t it inertia which keeps things moving in a straight line? It’s the “force” counteracting gravity, keeping things in orbit. Removing the inertia would mean the Moon would crash into the Earth.

  81. Well, I’ll just plug something I’m doing. As an astronomy professor and hard science fiction novelist both, this topic is near and dear to my heart. I have NASA funding to teach science/astronomy to writers, primarily science fiction writers (including some big names who have won Hugos, Nebulas, and have movies made of their work). This is Launch Pad (see If I have my way, science fiction will have more space science in it, and it will also be more accurate.

  82. I believe Buzz is correct. I’ve experienced kids utter disappointment, that “oh, is that it, is that all there is”, after looking through a telescope, or the “how many astronauts are living on the other planets” question while talking about NASA’s future space exploration plans. I’m 43, and so I was a little young but, I remember the Apollo era and it greatly affected my life. The spirit of exploration and possibilities of the future, all the dreams they gave me. My major in college was Physics with a concentration in Astronomy for 3 years, until I realized the real opportunities in Astronomy were bleak and switched my major to Computer Science. And as far as science fiction, Star Trek (especially STNG and Enterprise) still guide my life today. Lost in Space, Space 1999, Star Wars, and all the others, you name it. The first “big” book I read in the 6th grade was 2001: A Space Odyssey. I’ve read just about everything else since then. The reason I’m saying all this is to make the point that I do know the real meaning of what science fiction and true science are and it absolutely directed my live.
    However, from all the comments here to this point, I see a trend. We are all of the “old” generation. Everyone here’s comments are on the shows of the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. That is not the world or culture of today’s kids. Of course you realize that the kids that graduated from High School this past year, where born in 1990-1991. 4-5 years after the Challenger accident! By the time these kids were 6-7 years old, STNG was off the air, even B5 was gone. There beginning pop culture was filled with Buffy vampires and grunge music and being smart was very, very un cool. Tack on to that the ultra-realistic shows and games of today and even I (a hardcore Halo 2 player) am sometimes amazed at how little we’ve come since the late 70’s in real space exploration. How little our real world resembles the “fantasy world” the kids live in. We have come a long ways in science, but these kids don’t know that. Even with the Internet, their culture is still turned against science and reality. In the US, they’ve grown up in a very anti-science, ignorant world, and what sci-fi is on, doesn’t have the underlying inspirational undertones our “old” shows did. Other than Star Trek: Enterprise I can’t think of a show in this decade that has inspired me. Sure there were some entertaining shows, but they don’t have that undercurrent, that subliminal message of hope and inspiration that older shows had. They are just entertaining, or worse, depressing.
    I guess what I’m trying to say is that, the real culture, experiences, and lives of kids today, are completely different from what we grew up with. We were lucky. I feel sorry for the kids today. The world they are getting and the way they look at it. I still have the fire in me, I hope to somehow, be able to fight off all this depressing, ignorant stuff and inspire some kids today. But there is a real, real problem.

  83. @DaveS: I didn’t mean to say that scifi conventions are only scifi. The scifi conventions in DC have a science track as well. I’ve spoken at them. But if a science convention were to have a scifi track, I’m willing to bet that attendance will be lower than a scifi convention with a science track.

  84. If you’re looking to remake an old show then you should look to “The Starlost” by Harlan Ellison.
    It was a great idea about a colony ship that was carrying the remains of mankind from the doomed Earth. It was divided into sections to help preserve old Earth cultures. But there was an accident and they were all sealed off. They soon forgot they were on a ship. The cultures changed over the years. Finally a refugee from an Orwellian Amish community finds his way into the main ship. He and a few others explore the ship and see what happened to the other communities while trying to figure out what went wrong and how to repair the ship before it crashes into a star.
    They wanted big names in sci-fi of the day to write many of the stand alone episodes while the regular staff moved along the main storyline.
    Alas, the CBC didn’t know how to make sci-fi back then and totally screwed it up.

  85. LaCreption

    Talking for myself, I completely agree with Phil. For several reasons. Science fiction brought futuristic worlds to life. In my childhood there were no computers and you had read all 5 astronomy/space travel books in the local library. Science fiction on TV, any, was fabulous, I didn’t mind sounds in space or having everybody talking with an American voice. I was not expecting it to be really real since I was 7 or 8 years old.

    The discovery of Star Trek in my teens was another gear set in motion. Good stories and more ‘realistic’ technology. Star Trek caused me to explore real concepts. To see how plausible things were. I enjoyed discovering not-so-obvious flaws. And I enjoyed discovering true class, like ‘2001 a space oddyssee’.

    Was I disappointed when I finally got involved with real science and technology? On the contrary. Until now I am discovering things that I did not know. Reality has proven to be far more richer than the most incredible fantasy story. For instance, a deep space picture from Hubble on my desktop keeps fascinating me. It blows my mind, it inspires me. It’s the universe singing in beauty. Billions of worlds. Billions of landscapes. Billions of possibilities. While you’re looking into the past you know you’re actually looking at the present and the future too.

    Back to SF, I do agree that there is a lot of rubbish and stupid mistakes are made. But that doesn’t influence science enthusiasts negatively. We don’t see a decline in musicians because there is more and more bad music available. The same thing.

  86. Tom Hill, we have had a few science meetings with “science fiction tracks.” Similar to how science tracks at sf cons are for education as much as fun, so are the science fiction tracks at some astronomy meetings. This year at the American Astronomical Society meeting in St. Louis, I participated in a workshop about using fantasy series to teach science (read about it at A couple of years ago at another AAS meeting in San Diego, there was a track about using the humanities to teach astronomy at which David Brin was a speaker, and I presented a paper about a short story anthology I’m editing (not out just yet but coming later this fall) designed to enhance intro astronomy courses. These sorts of talks/tracks have been quite well attended at these meetings. Educators are looking for any method they can find to reach kids.

  87. As far as I can remember (even when watching TOS when I was 8 or so, or Star Wars way before that), I never *expected* space to looked like it did on TV. I wanted it to, but even than I was aware of what we could do versus what we couldn’t. It was inspirational, though. The BA has it right!

  88. @Mike Brotherton – Great! Hope you had a good turnout.

  89. Quiet Desperation

    @Ken B: The inertialess mass has a gentle tendency toward gravitational sources, but just strong enough to steer the Moon to a different star system every so often. When the inertia drive is switched on, it merely projected the anti-inertia field with no force vector applied, so the Moon, freed mostly from the effects of external gravitation, would just go off on what ever vector it was following at the moment.

    See Blish’s Cities in Flight and the E.E. Smith’s Lensmen series for similar ideas.

    Hey, it was *our* made up physics. 😛 Stop arguing. :-) The point is to get a different adventure every week.

    In fact, the drive used gravitational fields as part of its drive mechanism, which we *totally* stole from First Men In The Moon. The dreaded and cliche “reversing the polarity” actually does something sensible with our space drive. :)

  90. Andy

    Actually… I’m thinking both Phil and Buzz are wrong.

    Phil: if you can’t blame sci-fi for making kids bored with real science, you also can not blame it for inspiring them to study real science.

    Also, it’s just plain bad reasoning to say “Ask any astronaut, any astronomer, any space enthusiast…”

    It’s both begging the question and confirmation bias.

    Of course many will call it an inspiration. And not one of them will say it was the sole inspiration. But, really the point is that sci-fi is an incredibly popular genre and that there are *more* people who fall outside of those groups who have enjoyed it and been inspired by it. I would be willing to bet that there are more people who have been inspired by sci-fi to become writers, movie makers, animators, and actors than there people who have been inspired to go into science.

    And finally… I’m certain there are many people in the groups you name who *won’t* say it was an inspiration for them…

    Buzz Aldrin, for example.

  91. Jeremy

    Buzz also said what he did inside the context of the documentaries For All Mankind and In the Shadow of the Moon, the latter of which has talking heads of many astronauts including Buzz. I`m sure you guys have probably seen these films but for those who haven`t it would help to further understand where he is coming from.

  92. Just a comment on the order of the comments here: It’s a tad annoying to come back to this page (or any page of comments on Phil’s blog) and discover that there are new comments embedded in the old ones. I want to read the new posts when I return to the page so I usually find the last one I’ve read and go down from there. But now I’ve noticed that some posts have appeared in between ones I’ve already read.

    What’s going on? Are some posts being delayed for some reason? I thought the old “moderation limbo” had been abolished here. I don’t want to have to scan through the whole list every time I return, but I don’t want to miss a post that’s been held back for some reason. So if a post is delayed, would it be possible to place a marker at that point to inform us of the fact?

    Just thought I’d mention it.

  93. Ronn! Blankenship

    Michael L Says:
    July 15th, 2008 at 4:16 pm

    BTW, it was a very early 1970’s British show, produced by Gerry Anderson of Space 1999 fame that got me excited about space. Anyone remember U.F.O.? Anderson’s wife had all the characters wear wigs because they felt that wigs would be standard military issue by the early 1980’s when the show was set.

    – – –

    Well, back in the early 70s (Vietnam era) some soldiers did invest in wigs to wear off-duty so they wouldn’t stand out so much among their longer-haired peers, but I don’t require any of those wigs being purple . . .

  94. Ronn! Blankenship

    # Dunc Says:
    July 16th, 2008 at 7:51 am

    Where’s my atomic cigarette lighter?

    – – –

    More importantly: Where’s my flying car?

  95. Ronn! I believe this is what you’re looking for?

  96. Sillysighbean

    The man WALKED ON THE MOON! get off his back.
    Who remembers ‘Colonel Bleep”? That cartoon got me interested in space travel.

  97. Gary Ansorge

    Mollers been working on that flying car concept for over 30 years. Vertical take-off and landing craft are unsubtle devices, requiring that there be enough power to lift the vehicle against gravity. Aircraft work by using low pressure lift. They don’t need to overcome gravity directly. As far as helicopters, the rotating blades are an airfoil, acting in much the same way as wings. The airframe is stationary while the “wings” move. If Moller was able to use large blades on his motors he’d have a helicopter but it wouldn’t fit in a garage,,,
    I expect if Moller had just applied his ingenuity to perfecting user friendly helicopter control systems, by now we’d all have 2 passenger choppers in our drive ways,,,and just think of the five PM traffic jams in the sky,,,

    GAry 7

  98. Gary, Moller recently stated that one of these things was going into production and would be available in 2010 I think. But, he’s been stating that for years. Personally, I wouldn’t touch one of those things with a ten foot pole! It’s bad enough that we have people driving our freeways text messaging, talking on the phone, surfing the net, and eating a cheeseburger all at the same time. Can you imagine what would happen if these people were flying around over our heads in these things?

    Personally, I don’t see the point. I don’t think flying cars will ever catch on. ( 😉 How many times have those been someone’s famous last words!) Seriously, we don’t have the infrastructure. It would cause us to overhaul every major city, and how would you determine traffic routes? People would be flying all over the place?

  99. Gary 7: regarding flying cars, the idea had no chance of ever getting off the ground (pardon the pun) even if the cars themselves were cheap and efficient. The problem until now has always been sky management. You can’t simply let every loon who currently owns a driving licence take control of a potential guided missile. No, there has to be a solid failsafe infrastructure in place first, namely computer control of all vehicles via an accurate GPS system, which will keep all air traffic safe from collision from other vehicles, buildings and pedestrians. This is now just about possible, but it still requires a great deal of planning and financing.

    Once we have all that, then maybe – maybe…

  100. James Davis Nicoll

    That Space:1999 idea sounds a little like something I once toyed with:

    In my version, they could turn the inertialess drive on and off and steer to some extent but because the leading edge would be polished smooth due to interactions with the interstellar medium, they have to wait until the Moon is oriented so that a part of the Moon that they don’t care about is pointed in the direction they want to do.

    I hereby admit my version probably violates all kinds of conservation laws.

  101. quasidog

    This is all about point of view.

  102. tim

    Counterpoint for Buzz: Paul Allen. He financed the first privately-funded human spaceflight, and he’s a huge scifi buff.

    Buzz should know better – he’s been to Paul Allen’s Science Fiction Museum here in Seattle, and he was at the SpaceShipOne first flight.

  103. Buzz Parsec

    Sturgeon’s Law :-)

  104. Beauxdean

    Just because you can moonwalk doesn’t mean you can write or be a critic…


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar