This past weekend saw the opening of what I feel is the best space movie to date, even better than "2001: A Space Odyssey". The movie "Gravity" deals with a space mission gone horribly wrong. This has been a recurrent theme in most space movies, and repeatedly points to the obvious.
Space is a dangerous place.
In spite of this danger, humans have felt compelled to go there for the past five decades. Things have gone wrong, yet we still go, with more countries seeking human access to space, if only in slow steps.
Space enthusiasts have had to endure the naysayers for decades, and whenever a movie premiers that shows what can go wrong, they usually fear that it will have a negative effect.
What is important to note, however, is that most movies dealing with space have built around the danger to be found there. For instance, while the basic theme to "2001" was humanity's discovery that we are not alone in the universe (and, indeed, these beings shaped our destiny), it also dealt with how dangerously alien an environment space. Not long after "2001" was released, the movie "Marooned" dealt with a crew being trapped in orbit after the failure of their Apollo spacecraft to have retro-burn and begin de-orbit. In the 1950's, the potential problems of spaceflight manifested themselves time and time again, from the first modern space movie, "Destination Moon", forward (I should mention "Rocketship X-M". another mission gone wrong. While released before "Destination Moon", it was actually made in response to it). Time and time again, the movies have shown the hazards of spaceflight.
And yet, we still chose to go.
Many of my colleagues who fear that "Gravity" will have a detrimental effect on interest in spaceflight have legitimate concerns. However, I feel that the biggest threat to public interest in spaceflight has little to do with entertainment and more to do with attrition and a lack of effort to get the positive word out. That's the challenge. For those of us who fear that humanity will be forever stuck on this sensitive little ball of mud, and who also feel that the best hope not just humanity, but life itself, has to be the moving beyond our world, it is easy to see this lack of interest as a death knell. It isn't, and shouldn't be; it is simply a setback.
When skeptics approach us with negativism and point to movies such as "Gravity" as proof that going into space is folly, just remind them that the oceans of the world are littered with hundreds of examples of what was once before also considered "folly". Dangers exist, yes, but we press on.