Library Index » Science Encyclopedia » Introduction to Space Exploration - Ancient Perspectives On Space, Enlightened Observations, Space Travel In Early Science Fiction, The Wright Stuff

Introduction to Space Exploration - Space-age Science Fiction

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The advent of the space age introduced a wealth of information to science fiction authors. They were able to produce works much more sophisticated than those of the past.

One of the most innovative of these authors was Gene Roddenberry (1921–91). During the mid-1960s he created a television show called Star Trek. This was a futuristic tale about space exploration set in the twenty-third century. A mixed crew of humans and aliens travel around the galaxy in the starship Enterprise. The television show was not popular during its original run but developed a loyal fan base over the next few decades and spawned a number of movies.

In 1974 more than 100,000 Star Trek fans wrote to the U.S. government requesting that one of the newly developed space shuttles be named Enterprise. NASA gave the name to the prototype shuttle model used for flight testing.

Another notable science fiction work of the 1960s was the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, based on a story by Arthur C. Clarke. Astronauts exploring the Moon find a mysterious artifact. Believing that it came from Jupiter they set off for that planet on an amazing spacecraft. The ship is equipped with a supercomputer named HAL that malfunctions and turns against the human crew. The film features little dialogue, but became a hit for its very imaginative plot and spectacular views of futuristic space travel.

In 1977 the science fiction film Star Wars debuted and became one of the most popular movies of all time. Set "a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away," the film tells the story of an adventurous young man who leaves his home world to join a band of rebels fighting against a tyrannical empire. The movie was renowned for its story, characters, adventure, and special effects. The Star Wars franchise went on to include five more highly successful films and a book series.

Hollywood movies featuring hostile space aliens invading Earth were a staple of 1950s pop culture. Such films captured the paranoia and fear that Americans felt about the communist threat from the Soviet Union. Beginning in the 1970s a kinder, gentler viewpoint of aliens emerged in movies such as Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), ET: The Extraterrestrial (1982), Cocoon (1985), and Contact (1997). However, horrific and murderous aliens remain a staple of science fiction films, as evidenced in the popularity of Alien (1979) and its sequels, Independence Day (1996), and War of the Worlds (2005).

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