Why is the utilization and eventual colonization of space necessary both for the near-term preservation of Earth’s environment and for the long-term survival of humankind? And why, despite the efforts of many dedicated space advocates, is the public so slow to support it? Science fiction author Sylvia Engdahl argues that in the light of history it’s not surprising that acceptance of a new outlook on the universe is slow, since all past human advances were made by visionary minorities. The book also contains all her other essays about space plus an epilogue containing quotes from dozens of well-known people.
Targeted Age Group:: Adults
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Some of these essays have been at my website for many years, while others are new, and I wanted to preserve them in a more permanent form. Furthermore, I want them to reach a wider audience than readers of my science fiction novels. I feel very strongly about the importance of expanding our civilization into space not only to benefit Earth in the near term, but to ensure the future survival of our species. Now that I'm in my late 80s, I want to make sure that my ideas about it are passed on. For this reason I have made the book permafree.
We should not be surprised if more interest is shown in science fiction movies than in real flights. Inwardly drawn to the thought of venturing outward but unable to break away from the safe and familiar, people tell themselves that the fiction they enjoy is just entertainment, not be taken seriously. And science fiction is sometimes criticized for promoting unrealistic dreams.
Will we always be bound to Earth, then? Of course not. Evolution is slow, but it can’t be halted. Humans have been seeking new lands to settle since for millennia, first new villages, and eventually new continents. The negative expression of this instinct has been the urge to expand a group’s territory through war, which hopefully most us have outgrown since the time when young men dreamed of glorious conquest. On the positive side, there has always been a desire of ordinary people to , even at the cost of hardship. For some time it has been evident that Earth has, or soon will, run out of vacant land. How could there not be an impulse to go beyond, quite apart from the plain fact that a species that fails to move beyond the niche in which it has evolved must be periodically decimated or else fall victim to extinction? In the long run, how could humankind fail to follow that impulse?
The dream of extending our species’ range beyond the world on which we evolved is hardly something so trivial as entertainment, however much entertainment may be derived from it or how gradually it is absorbed. It is an often-unconscious expression of the deep-seated instinct present in all species to expand their ecological niche, an adaptive response to the ever-present threat of extinction. It has become trite and unfashionable to compare movement beyond Earth to the movement of life from the sea onto land, as was done during the Apollo era, but that comparison is still valid.
These are not new ideas–space advocates have been expressing them for years. Why then have so many lost sight of them and become discouraged? I think it is because in our era people are so used to rapid change, and to instant gratification of their wishes, that they have lost all sense of the evolutionary timescale. A dream is not unrealistic merely because it is not achieved within one’s own lifetime or even that of one’s grandchildren. Enthusiasm for one ambitious space dream after another has died out when its supporters came up against the fact that they wouldn’t live to see it fulfilled–a reaction that strikes me as all too close to “sour grapes.” As has often been pointed out, settling space is not as simple as picking up stakes and moving one’s family westward. It requires a very long lead time. During that time, the clock would stop if there were no far-sighted dreamers willing to pay the price of personal disappointment in order to keep it going. The more followers they can attract by offering entertainment, the better; but to suppose that their motivation has no deeper roots is to ignore the essence of what enables our species, or any species, to thrive.
Sooner or later, like an eaglet destined for flight, humankind will break through the invisible shell in which our planet has been confined. It is happening now with the advent of commercial space flight, and the minority with far sight will carry us forward despite reluctance on the part of the majority. In times to come men and women will travel far from this green earth. And then, with our ancestral home at last open to the universe, we will discover our place among the countless worlds of the stars.
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