The View From Here

Star Trek Times

Written by: developer

“The original Star Trek imagined the futuristic fulfillment of John F. Kennedy’s inspirational oratory, in which his New Frontier became “the final frontier.”

The budget surpluses and budding space program of the early 1960s gave rise, in the 23rd century, to the utopian United Federation of Planets. On the Starship Enterprise, men and women, blacks and whites, Americans, Russians and Asians — with names like Uhura, Chekov and Sulu — worked side by side, reflecting Mr. Roddenberry’s belief that “when human beings get over the silly little problems of racism and war, then we can tackle the big problems of exploring the universe,” said David Gerrold, a writer for the original Star Trek series.

The New York Times | May 9, 2009
If all a person did was to scan the headlines and watch the talking heads, you might be forgiven for assuming that Gene Roddenberry’s optimistic view of the future couldn’t be farther from reality than it is today. We are assaulted by news reports of the violent dying gasps of ignorant barbarism still at work in the world. We are reminded that while the Cold War is dead, some Cold Warriors live on. We see, with pain in our hearts, that illness, hunger and contagion cannot yet be solved with the wave of a Tricorder.
But if you cast your gaze toward the heavens, as Roddenberry was wont to do, you will see a very different story unfolding — a story of exploration, and discovery, and of people all over the world working together, to expand our knowledge and understanding, expand our presence in space, increase our mastery of the universe, indeed “To Boldy Go Where No One Has Gone Before.”
As I write this column:

  • The European Space Agency (ESA) spacecraft Rosetta orbits comet Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, preparing to make the first landing on a comet, and carrying 11 major science experiments from ESA, NASA and from scientific consortia across Europe and the U.S.
  • The NASA spacecraft MAVEN has entered orbit of Mars, carrying science payloads from the University of California, Berkeley/Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL), University of Colorado Boulder/Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (LASP) and Goddard Space Flight Center (GSFC).
  • MAVEN is to be joined less than 48 hours later by Mangalyaan, India’s first interplanetary spacecraft.
  • The International Space Station soars overhead. It is a joint project of Brazil, Canada, Japan, Russia, United States, Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Its current crew includes five men from the U.S., Russia, Germany and one woman from Russia.
  • The NASA/Lockheed Martin Orion spacecraft has just completed splashdown tests in the Pacific Ocean, and the team now prepares for Orion’s first test flight. The vehicle will one day almost certainly carry international crewmembers into deep space.
  • Boeing and SpaceX have just been awarded contracts to build the first commercial space “taxis,” the Boeing CST-100 and SpaceX Dragon v2, which will transport international crews between Earth and low Earth orbit.
  • ESA’s Gaia Science Alert Team, which includes scientists from the United Kingdom and Poland, while fine-tuning the recently orbited space telescope, detected a Super Nova in a galaxy 500 million light years from Earth.
  • China has just hosted, in Beijing, a major briefing on its space station program for astronauts from around the world. A significant part of the briefing was to seek and encourage international collaboration in the program.

The list goes on. The exploration, development and utilization of space has become a vigorously multi-national endeavor, one that tasks all participants to rise above political and cultural divides, which admittedly, still vex the planet. But rise above, we do. Despite tensions over Russia’s role in Ukraine, the ISS partners continue to operate the space station jointly; for the moment, at least, deliveries of Russian RD-180 engines to the U.S. continue on schedule; pan-European missions like Gaia and Rosetta continue unaffected, even as partnerships with aspiring space states like South Korea and the United Arab Emirates take root. Commercial SATCOM programs continue to grow globally in geometric progression, and are almost always international in their scope.
This is not to say we don’t have our challenges — we certainly do. But as a global space community, we’re by and large committed to working together, sorting out our political and competitive differences, and finding ways to make the exploration, development and utilization of space happen, for the benefit of all humanity. Last May, nearly 30 nations were represented at the Space Foundation’s annual Space Symposium. Just last month, 10 nations participated in the Advanced Maui Optical and Space Surveillance Technologies (AMOS) conference on Maui, despite the technical and sometimes sensitive nature of the business there. And, as this issue of Space Watch hits cyberspace, many of us will be in Toronto for the 2014 International Astronautical Congress (IAC), which customarily attracts members of the space family from 60 countries or more.

Now, I’m no Pollyanna, and I don’t for a moment pretend that we don’t have major challenges to overcome as an industry. We do. Despite progress in recent years, ITAR continues to be the gift that keeps on giving. Space debris and space situational awareness continue to be major challenges that crave international solutions. America’s 2013 retreat from investment in federal space accounts does not bode well for the global space enterprise, and needs to be reversed.

But, like Roddenberry’s fictional Captain James T. Kirk, I am an optimist, and choose to believe in possibilities. Raise shields when necessary, but keep the hailing frequencies open.

The View from Here is that we’re not yet living in Star Trek times, but we’re getting close. And, as with Roddenberry’s fictional United Federation Of Planets, today’s global space community is leading the way.

This article is part of Space Watch: October 2014 (Volume: 13, Issue: 10).