A New Space Age

United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs

Space, and our place in it, is a big topic of discussion right now.

We have private companies vying for a place beyond our atmosphere, alongside governments attempting to position themselves for the future as our world continues to struggle with mounting population, resource and climate issues.

We even, apparently, have the United States’ Congress contemplating a ‘space army’… because… um… the Covenant are coming?  Could be the Cylons.  We’d probably want to stop the Cylons.  Probably the Covenant too.  But I digress.

Space is a hot topic and it’s only going to get hotter.

In previous articles, we’ve reported on the body whose job it is to encourage the nations of the world to cooperate on all things “outer space” – the United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs.  It’s also this body’s job to keep a register of all objects launched into orbit.  And there are a lot.

All of that is a hefty responsibility, particularly for what is, essentially, a very small group of people operating from what is, nowadays, outdated legislation.

Governing all things Outer Space for Earth is the ‘Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.’  Yes.  That’s something of a mouthful!

The Treaty, in brief, provides a basic framework on international space law, and includes the following:

  • the exploration and use of outer space shall be carried out for the benefit and in the interests of all countries and shall be the province of all mankind;
  • outer space shall be free for exploration and use by all States;
  • outer space is not subject to national appropriation by claim of sovereignty, by means of use or occupation, or by any other means;
  • States shall not place nuclear weapons or other weapons of mass destruction in orbit or on celestial bodies or station them in outer space in any other manner;
  • the Moon and other celestial bodies shall be used exclusively for peaceful purposes;
  • astronauts shall be regarded as the envoys of mankind;
  • States shall be responsible for national space activities whether carried out by government or non-governmental entities;
  • States shall be liable for damage caused by their space objects, and;
  • States shall avoid harmful contamination of space and celestial bodies.

Obviously, they need to update the language to say “humanity”, instead of “mankind”, but they also need to review the whole thing because unless I’m mistaken we’ve launched quite a few harmful objects into orbit that threaten the safety of any mission that carries humans into space, as well as the lives of every astronaut on the International Space Station (and if a satellite goes rogue and smashes into the ISS, I don’t know if any nation could afford to repair it), plus, things fall to Earth and if they survive re-entry, some of those things are very radioactive.

I’m also pretty sure some businesses, and perhaps even governments, want to lay claim to certain celestial bodies for mining rights.

The International Space Station

The Treaty was signed in January 1967, by the Russian Federation, the United States of America and the United Kingdom.  Over time, others have become signatories or ‘party’ to the Treaty, though not all nations on Earth have bothered – mostly because they don’t have space programs.

The Treaty has been amended over the years, but could still do with a rework as we face that once final frontier, right now.

Treaty Declaration - UN

50 years ago, when the Treaty came into being, years before most of us were born, all of this was the stuff of science fiction.  Now it is science fact.

Elon Musk intends to die on Mars, Australian Scientists have just worked out a way to make astronauts safer in space (thank you Australian National University) thanks to a new nano-material they’ve created that can reflect light on demand and has a temperature control, and can, it is believed, be developed further to protect our brave space pioneers from harmful interstellar radiation.

As each year passes, we grow closer and closer to making those things that inspired my generation – and possibly yours – a reality: China and Europe are exploring the idea of building a human outpost on the moon (hello Space: 1999), multiple agencies and governments and businesses are gearing up to travel to Mars (hopefully not is any sort of a disastrous way – we’re looking at you, Mission to Mars and Red Planet), and multiple space-mining companies are springing up (Planetary Resources, Deep Space Industries, and Kepler Energy and Space Engineering bringing with them visions of The Expanse and the dynamics that exist between Earth, Luna, Mars and the asteroid belts in our solar system) looking at ways to help Earth and humanity.

What’s going to happen as industry and government vie for control of the incredible resources that exist beyond the atmosphere of our small but beautiful blue-green planet?

What happens if greed overrides the common good?

News.com.au and other outlets around the world, recently reported that one particular asteroid’s precious metal deposits could crash the world’s economy.

How long will idealism stand against the level of wealth available to us beyond Earth?

The ideal would be that we could all come together, like Space: 1999 and Star Trek propose, but the reality of human nature is that greed is here and it’s been around for a long time, and, sadly, a lot of people are motivated by that.  As a result, we’ve justified wars for resources on this world for centuries and chances are we will find ways to justify wars for resources off world too.  Is it possible our next big conflict won’t be a World War, but a resource war fought over the Asteroid Belt or the Kuiper Belt?

One thing is certain, we as a species are finally heading into space.  We got there, at least as far as our moon, then sort of retreated, built an international space station, and dreamed while waiting for someone with courage to propel us forward again.  Now it looks like we’re finally returning to space and planning to go further than we’ve ever gone before.  Hopefully we’ll be able to do it in a way that is measured and sensible, and that benefits all of humanity and not just the rich, and hopefully the United Nations will help us do that and do it with wisdom.

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be alive, and an incredibly frightening one as well.  Some of our greatest minds don’t believe we, as a species, can survive on Earth much longer because of our growing population and disappearing resources, and as a result have to go out into space.  They’re probably right.

The decisions we make right now, the precedents we set, and the way we go about establishing this foundation of exploration, is so vitally important.

What can you do about it?

Get involved.  Whether through aspiring to be one of those space pioneers one day, or by holding your elected representatives accountable, you can, in some small way, have a say on whether or not our future as a species takes these next steps wisely, or selfishly.

We’ve kind of screwed up Mother Earth.  It would be nice if we at least learned from the mistakes we’ve made.

As much as I love some of the almost dystopic science fiction out there, I don’t want our future generations living any of those possible realities.

Do you?

As all of this starts to ‘nut’ itself out, we’ll report on it here. The future is being built right now, and hopefully it will be built on strong and lasting foundations.

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SciFi Standard Bearers

SciFi Standard Bearers

Televised science fiction has been enjoying something of a resurgence these last few years, with some people wondering if we’re entering into a kind of ‘Golden Age’ of scifi.

Maybe!

People my age, who were born in the 1970s and 1980s, once thought that the latter half of the 1980s and the entirety of the 1990s was that Golden Age, because of the number of science fiction shows on free-to-air TV at the time.  Shows like Star Trek: The Next Generation and its spin-offs, Quantum LeapThe X-Files, Space: Above and Beyond, Farscape, Babylon 5 and it’s spin-off Crusade, Stargate SG-1Earth: Final Conflict, SlidersSeaQuest DSV, and more.

Honestly, it was pretty amazing.  Even in Australia, where we still don’t get a lot of scifi content on free-to-air and have to wait for those shows to arrive on DVD (or at that time, video cassette), we could still catch two or three shows a week – The X-FilesFarscapeSeaQuest DSVBuffy the Vampire Slayer and Space: Above and Beyond.  All while waiting for the latest Star Trek or Babylon 5 episode to arrive on video.

With that amount of content, you’d expect some duds, but most of the science fiction and, what eventually came to be known as ‘genre shows’ (thanks to Buffy) were pretty good.

Then it all stopped.  We had the odd ‘sputter’ with the amazing Battlestar Galactica reboot, and we had CharmedAngelV, and the Stargate spin-offs for a while, but suddenly genre series seemed to all but disappear from our screens.  Until recently.

Now, over the last few years, all sorts of incredible, not easily definable television shows have captivated science fiction and fantasy fans, as well as mainstream audiences alike – The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, Vikings, the revamped Doctor Who, Westworld, Ash vs The Evil Dead, Supergirl, Flash, Arrow, The Strain, Legion, Once Upon A Time, Grimm, Agents of SHIELD, The Exorcist, The Expanse, Dark Matter, Killjoys and soon, the brand new Star Trek: Discovery.

There are so many ‘genre’ shows airing right now that it’s actually difficult to keep track of them!  But, how many are traditional science fiction?  Scifi set in space, on a starship, zooming about all over the place?

Very few, actually.

I don’t think anyone really knows why.  At one point it might have been an issue of cost, because science fiction shows have never been cheap, but with Game of Thrones costing a whopping six million dollars per episode, that’s probably not a consideration any more.

It might be because, as Commander Jeffrey Sinclair from Babylon 5 would say, “Nothing is the same anymore.”  We’re not watching television in the same ways as we used to.  We’re streaming shows and we’re watching them on multiple platforms.  Also, we’re getting, on average, half as many episodes per season as we once used to.

People are time poor in the 21st Century, and on top of that the old studio system doesn’t hold as much sway as it once did.  Plus, many of us are paying for our content and because of that we’re expecting something special.  We want ‘event’ television, but event television that tells an intimate tale.

Science fiction is definitely event television, but it hasn’t always done the intimate bit very well.

Thankfully, that is changing and we’re starting to see more traditional scifi again.

Right now, there are three standard bearers for science fiction television.

The Expanse, Killjoys, and Dark Matter.

All three take place on a larger canvas, telling bigger stories, but focus episode to episode on the lives of a few characters, taking us deep into their worlds.

With The Expanse, we’re following a crew of four, learning about them and their relationships episode to episode.

With Killjoys, we’re following a crew of three people, unravelling the mystery of their lives.

With Dark Matter we’re following what was a crew of six (but that fluctuated in Season 2) as they try to remember who they are – and on discovering that, try to fight against who they were and become better people.

In just two seasons, for each of these shows, we have learned more about their main characters than we did most of the characters on any of the old Star Trek shows.

These new series are showing the way for modern science fiction, and it’s exciting.

I haven’t seen The Expanse yet, because it hasn’t aired on television or been made available to us on DVD or BluRay, for reasons that are just stupid, but I am a fan of the books and follow all of the news on the show and it looks amazing.

Killjoys and Dark Matter, however, I can comment on, and both are outstanding.

Killjoys took me four episodes to get into, but by episode five of Season One I was hooked and I’ve been in love with the show ever since.  What hooked me?  The characters.  Dutch, Johnny and D’avin.

Dark Matter grabbed me straight away and has kept me wanting more season to season.  What grabbed me?  In particular Two (Portia), Three (Marcus), Five (Emily), Six (Kal) and the Android.

All of the other stuff in both shows is just icing on the cake.

As well as the intimate story lines mentioned above, those shows have something else in common – they have strong female leads, they don’t shy away from issues of sexuality and gender, and they show us a multicultural future where light and dark dance around the edges of what are very ‘grey’ realities.  I love Star Trek‘s utopia like future, but I get that today’s audiences want some sort of discourse on just how screwed up we all are.  They want to it see it reflected and mirrored on television, and they want to see our heroes fighting, and at times submitting, to that.

Rather than break these shows down in any detail, I encourage you to watch them if you haven’t – and to continue to support them if you already enjoy them.

If you want to know more about these three excellent series, you can visit their official websites here: The Expanse, Killjoys, and Dark Matter.

As someone who hopes to see an old favourite, Space: 1999, rebooted, there are lessons that can be learned from these new shows about how to structure a series and most especially about what a modern audience wants.  Intimacy.  Inclusion.  An exploration of modern issues.

Space: 1999 was already doing some of that back in the 1970s, with a very multicultural crew on Moonbase Alpha, and any reboot of it would no doubt be able to tackle that and other things that are important to us now, and in very creative and intimate ways.  I can imagine a transgender crew member, and with a character like Maya an episode or two or five focused on inclusion and the occasional bigotry that can come with not understanding something or someone.

More and more, as I dissect both of these more traditional science fiction shows and compare them with other genre offerings, I see a place for Space: 1999 in modern television (obviously with a few changes), and get more and more excited about the possibility.

Moonbase Alpha was a microcosm of Earth, and it’s philosophical ‘bent’ was all about us (in the 1970s) asking “who am I?”  “Why am I here?”  Where am I going?”  Things many of these genre series are debating right now in their own unique and dramatic ways.

I hope that this renaissance of science fiction that we are enjoying right now continues for some time, and I hope that a new Space: 1999 becomes a part of that.

I first wanted the show to get a reboot in the 80s.  Then again in the early 2000s.  But now, looking at the world as it is, and looking at what genre television has become, I feel NOW is the time.  It would have been too soon a couple of decades ago.

As far as I know, ITV still own the rights to the television series.

Hopefully they realise the potential of Space: 1999, and give it the new life it deserves.

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