Scientific and technological advances do not occur in a vacuum and many scientists have looked to science fiction as fuel for their imagination. CUNY physicist and co-creator of string field theory Michio Kaku has credited Flash Gordon as an early inspiration. So, too, Jules Verne’s 1865 novel, “From the Earth to the Moon,” animated future generations of scientists to develop space travel and rocketry. Indeed, Verne’s story of a rocket-propelled trip to the moon eerily foreshadowed events that would occur100 years later.
In Verne’s story, three Americans blasted off to the moon from a giant cannon in a rocket named Columbiad and parachuted safely in the Pacific Ocean on their return. Apollo 11’s commander Neil Armstrong, the first man to step on the moon, acknowledged his crew’s intellectual debt to Verne during the mission. “A hundred years ago, Jules Verne wrote a book about a voyage to the Moon. . . It seems appropriate to us to share with you some of the reflections of the crew as the modern-day Columbia completes its rendezvous with the planet Earth and the same Pacific Ocean tomorrow.”
Connections between science fiction and space technology increased in the late 20th century, as television shows like “Star Trek and Lost in Space” helped kids imagine the technologies of the future. While NASA developed the Apollo program in the mid 1960s, “Star Trek’s” creators portrayed contemporary social and political conflicts in the 23rd century and imagined the technologies of the future. Although traveling faster than light “warp speed” appears impossible, “Star Trek’s” writers imagined devices like floppy disks, e-books and tablets years before scientists and engineers made them a reality.
In the late 1980s “Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Enterprise” introduced a holodeck, a virtual reality room where people could become characters in holo-novels and create scenarios of their own. Within the holodeck, the ship’s computer simulated all forms of matter, including people and other living organisms.
This level of sophistication does not appear likely anytime soon, but the holodeck has captured the imagination of scientists, engineers and technology corporations as they refine and improve virtual reality.