Except for a few alternate reality stories, science fiction writers no longer write about the first trip to the Moon. NASA’s successes have had a tremendous impact on science fiction written after the1960s. If Elon Musk’s plans for his Starship succeed it should change the course of science fiction too. If you follow The Space Race on YouTube it appears SpaceX’s Starship is going to happen. Yesterday’s video was about how SpaceX is working towards the industrial capacity to build one Starship a day. What would that mean?’

Elon Musk could become Heinlein’s, D. D. Harriman – the man who sold the Moon. Musk wants to put a million colonists are Mars in the 2030s. And SpaceX is now working in conjunction with NASA to return to the Moon.

After NASA’s planetary probes in the 1960s science fiction stopped writing about Mars and Venus being inhabited. Before that Mars was a wintery desert world and Venus was a steaming jungle world but with life, even intelligent life. After the Mariner probes, Mars was as lifeless as the Moon, and Venus was hot enough to melt lead.

If Elon Musk succeeds then he will shape the future of the Moon and Mars, and of science fiction that will be written about those worlds. There is no guarantee Musk will succeed. SpaceX might get people to Mars and people might discover it’s a horrible place to live and not want to colonize the planet. Or that Mars is so toxic that it’s not practical to live on Mars. But if colonization is possible we’ll see how a colony on Mars will be designed. That design will shape the direction of science fiction for decades.

SpaceX’s Starship isn’t revolutionary. It’s not powered by nuclear engines or some other exotic drive. It’s stainless steel, methane, and oxygen along with some highly refined chemical rocket engines. But it could become the Model T of space travel.

Along with SpaceX, there are two other technologies that could reshape the evolution of science fiction. The first is AI. The second is Boston Dynamics robots. When the two are combined we might not need human explorers in space. Science fiction has always pictured robots becoming like humans. ChatGPT can process thousands of concurrent queries at the same time. Soon robots will be stronger, faster, and more agile than humans. What happens when we have a robot that has all recorded knowledge in its head and can multitask thousands of problems at once? Isn’t the Singularity getting awful near?

Science fiction often pictures robots acting like humans, even being our pals. Human minds will appear to them as gerbil minds appear to us. Right now we picture humans using Starship to conquer the solar system. Just think how much more efficient it would be to combine Starship with AI robots? Intelligent robots are perfect beings to live in space. What if we sent a million intelligent robots to Mars instead of a million humans? They could build us a deluxe civilization to move into much quicker than we could.

I’m not reading much science fiction that speculates realistically about the near future. Too many stories are about super-science that will probably never exist. Or it’s about cute robots that vastly underestimate what robots can do. Or they are silly stories about people falling in love with sexbots. Or even worse, there are lots of silly stories envisioning robots wanting to be human. That’s like us fantasizing about becoming a gerbil or having a love life with one.

The whole point of a Singularity is one day AI will be equal in capacity to the human mind. But the next day it will be 2x us, and a little while later 10x, and pretty soon 1000x. Why hasn’t science fiction explored the idea we’ll be the second banana in this neck of the galaxy soon.

By the way, have y’all read any science fiction stories based on Elon Musk’s plans for Mars and the Moon?

James Wallace Harris, 3/5/23

4 thoughts on “How Will SpaceX’s Starship Change Science Fiction?

  1. Good column. “ That’s like us fantasizing about becoming a gerbil or having a love life with one.” Ha!


  2. It is a good column, nice posting, Jim. Sentient Robots to Mars are still easily 30+ years out. I wanna see humans there first in my lifetime. If Musk can do it, then perfect.


    1. I don’t think we’ll need sentient robots to build a Mars colony. Just ones that can autonomously build an underground city and automated factories that will produce the essentials.


      1. You’re right, I should’ve been more specific. It’ll be extremely specific, seemingly AI-driven robots who could autonomously manufacture, “print out” a Mars Base before humans arrive to settle and conduct research there.


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