Space: from infinite dreams to recurring nightmares

Friday 23 October, 8.00pm until 10.00pm, Royal Observatory, Greenwich, London

Venue: Royal Observatory, Flamstead House, Greenwich Park, London, SE10 9NF

Tickets: £10, includes Planetarium event at 18.50 (part of Sci-Fi Universe): book online at Sci-Fi London.

Early in the 20th century the potential of manned flight and spaceflight appeared limitless. These dreams were expressed in early science fiction movies and series where almost anything was possible, confined only by the limits of our imagination. In 1969 these collective dreams were achieved when mankind set foot on the moon. This new reality gave birth to a new generation of sci-fi films and the groundbreaking series, Star Trek. Boldly going beyond the limits of known engineering with its multiracial crew, it expressed the optimism of its time.

But as the century drew to a close the space programme was increasingly confined by budget limits, and handcuffed by America’s commitment to the shuttle. Science fiction too began to retreat into a narrower vision of space exploration. Now, science fiction is dominated by remakes and reboots of classic films and series, as the major studios avoid risky new projects and opt for known brands. And international space exploration seems tied to its own re-run, a remake of the 1960s classic Race to the Moon, only with different actors and better visuals.

Are space research and science fiction trading on nostalgia, asking us to part with our money for glossy sanitised remakes? Is it time to show more imagination both on screen and in real space exploration?

Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock
space scientist, Astrium; science communicator, UCL; managing director, Science Innovation

Jon Chase
associate lecturer and researcher, Science Communication, University of Glamorgan

Paul Cornell
writer, science fiction prose (British Summertime), television (Doctor Who) and comics (Captain Britain and MI-13)

Dr Simon Foster
science teacher, Wentworth College; runner-up, NESTA FameLab 2009

Timandra Harkness
journalist, writer & broadcaster; presenter, Futureproofing and other BBC Radio 4 programmes; author, Big Data: does size matter?

Produced by
Timandra Harkness journalist, writer & broadcaster; presenter, Futureproofing and other BBC Radio 4 programmes; author, Big Data: does size matter?
Recommended readings
Manned space flight is ‘over-ambitious and no longer viable’

The space agency has become over-ambitious and critically underfunded in its attempts to blast humans back to the Moon, to Mars and beyond, panel members noted.

Jacqui Goddard, The Times, 11 September 2009


Moon is set in a future-world that has solved its energy crisis by mining fuel from the moon. Sam Rockwell plays Sam Bell, a guy with an eerie, lighthouse-keeper job.

Peter Bradshaw, Guardian, 17 July 2009

One Giant Leap: Apollo 11 Forty Years on

The first moon landing in July 1969 captured the imagination of the world in a way that no subsequent 'space spectacular' has succeeded in doing. Forty years later, Piers Bizony has produced a stunning, comprehensive visual record of the mission using high-resolution images selected from the entire suite of Apollo 11's on-board film magazines.

Piers Bizony, Aurum Press Ltd, 8 May 2009

Science fiction powers space research

The European Space Agency (Esa) is studying science fiction for ideas and technologies that could be used in future missions.

Mark Ward, BBC News, 11 May 2000

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