International Space Development Conference

And the View from Today

Last Monday, I wrote about the way National Geographic had dealt with the wonder of the moon landing when it happened, and felt the same wonder that readers must have felt back then, the same sense that nothing was impossible, and that the future was truly on the way.

But then 50 years passed.

Much of society, in the meantime, have become jaded to the fact that the moon was reached, and look at it in purely economic terms, or view space exploration as a waste of resources hat could be used for whatever pet social project people favor. It seems incredible to me, a mean and miserly way to consider humanity’s greatest achievement, something only minds with small horizons should be capable of, but I’ve seen it often enough that I’m no longer surprised when people say things like that.

In light of this, one might think that Ad Astra‘s edition dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the landings (which I was also given at the ISDC) might contain a certain amount of bitterness, a sense of betrayal by the rest of humanity.

But I forgot who I was dealing with. People who love space exploration are, above all, believers in the invincibility of the human spirit. Not for them reproach or recrimination; this magazine is a wonderful celebration of the past, sometimes a reminder of the fact that we still have work to do, and an affectionate look at the true heroes involved.

If you never read another issue of ad Astra, this one is worth your time. It teaches you how to look back in admiration. Which is the only way to think of the past.

Gustavo Bondoni is a novelist and short story writer whose novel Outside is a look at a future in which humanity has not only conquered the stars but become bitterly divided between those who live a physical existence and those who live only in uploaded versions of themselves. It will make you question what it actually means to be human. You can check it out here.

More ISDC Goodies

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Humanity’s greatest achievements are the moon landings. Nothing comes close. It’s literally (as well as figuratively) on another plane to everything else we’ve ever done. It was a statement of intent, that we are not going to live and die as a single-planet species doomed to irrelevance.

Since the landings, of course, the misguided souls who believe that we need to focus on Earth first have, unfortunately, stunted humanity’s growth, but a new generation of explorers are now focused on important stuff again… and they’re rich enough not to care if someone whines, which governments sadly could never do. Spurred by this, governments have been forced to put space front and center again, and we have a new space race.

But when I went to the International Space Development Conference in 2019, it was poignant to see what the last thing humanity has to be proud of actually is. They gave me a reprinted copy of the article in the December 1969 Issue of National Geographic that reported the Apollo 11 landing, complete with the original covers.

We should have something better by now. But the closest thing we currently have going for us is that the last time there was no human being in space was on October 30, 2000. Hopefully, that will be the last day in history in which the human race is chained to a single ball of dirt.

So I reread this Nat Geo excerpt. It’s an emotional experience. Sometimes, the fifty-odd years that have passed seem to have blunted the importance of the event in daily life. We forget that a quarter of the humans on the planet were watching the Apollo 11 mission. Everyone in the world stopped what they were doing when the landing occurred. Baseball games were interrupted so people could sing patriotic songs. Foreign leaders were glued to the TV. We just can’t imagine, in 2020 what it was like for those who experienced it.

That emotion and sense of something incredible happening hits you with full force as you read the fifty-year-old coverage. Thanks to this reprint (more than 60 pages), I lost hours watching moon landings one after another. 11. 12. 14. 15. 16. 17. Each different, and each the most important thing any human has ever done except for the others.

If you’re too young to understand, try to get a copy of the magazine (no one throws away National Geographics, so they should be cheap) and read the coverage from people who appreciated just what they were seeing, unsullied by years of earth-first dullards and pessimism breaking the human spirit. It will be an eye-opening experience into a world where anything seemed possible. It was possible, but people who hate seeing others spread their wings have worked against it since.

It’s the only way you’ll truly understand the new space age which is coming.

Gustavo Bondoni is a science fiction writer from Argentina whose critically acclaimed Siege deals with how humanity can evolve and still find itself at the brink of extinction… taken there by its own offspring. You can check it out here.

My ISDC Participation

Back in 2018, I sent a story entitled Acid Test to the Jim Baen Memorial Award contest. It was awarded second place (it was later published under a different title, and you can read it here), and with that, I was invited to the awards ceremony held during the International Space Development Conference in June 2019 in Washington DC. This is also how I ended up with my latest few copies of Ad Astra.

I had no idea what to expect as a conference VIP, so I kind of drifted around with the three other science fiction writers at the event, chatting, talking to other people, and even sitting in on some of the sessions (there were usually several conference rooms occupied at once, and they were all packed). The session I sat in on was one where they were talking about the differences between the philosophies of government space programs and the private sector, effectively (if not sexily) illustrated by an example using a valve purchase process. (Essentially, the private sector can do things cheaper because they allow themselves to iterate faster and give their suppliers less restrictive contracts, as well as being more open to innovation).

One of the most surreal moments of my participation came during the prize-giving lunch session. The keynote speaker (whose name I won’t mention), essentially said that one could achieve immortality by creating something she called a mind clone, basically letting your electronics gather all they can about your preferences, actions, habits and activities and making that data available for upload. That way, she argued, you would live on in an AI indistinguishable from your own self.

Now, I have given this a certain amount of thought, and I utterly disagree with this particular position. My own take is that immortality MUST imply a continuation of consciousness, so this doesn’t count. But more important than my own opinion is the realization that being a futurist must be full of this kind of skepticism. To have any shot of being a true visionary, it’s not enough to extrapolate current trends. Anyone can do that. You need to imagine the things that are going to come out of left field and catch everyone by surprise.

Her prediction most certainly does… even if it’s wrong.

Gustavo Bondoni is a science fiction writer. His novel Outside looks at the lines between artificial and natural consciousness, and at what happens when they blur too much for comfort. You can check it out here.