Put the author of 2001: A Space Odyssey in the same room with the second man to walk on the Moon and you’re likely to hear some lofty conversation — so lofty, in fact, that it stretches to Mars and beyond. That’s exactly what happened on Sunday when Buzz Aldrin visited Arthur C. Clarke’s home on the island nation of Sri Lanka. During a videotaped chat with Space.com the two futurists engaged in some far-ranging predictions — and prescriptions — for humanity’s real 21st-century space odysseys.
| Clarke"s Believe It or Not|
| Arthur Clarke is known for spinning elaborate, visionary tales of futures that might be, none more famous than 2001: A Space Odyssey. But according to Clarke, the real 2001 has some pretty unbelievable things to offer.|
Mindful of the upcoming 40th anniversary of the first human space flights this spring, Aldrin and Clarke took turns forecasting space activities over the next four decades. Astronauts will reach the Red Planet in 2020, he said, also venturing to the larger of the two Martian moons, Phobos. In the year 2041, Aldrin said, "I think we’ll have a permanent settlement on Mars."
Such an optimistic prediction may seem hard to believe today, when astronauts are still confined to Earth orbit. But Aldrin believes the road to Mars begins with space tourism. The spacecraft developed for such activities, he said, could also be used for interplanetary voyages.
"I truly believe we will not be able to afford a political decision to return to the Moon or go to Mars with NASA explorers, or whomever," said Aldrin, "until we until we get the people behind it and we start doing adventure travel [in space]…. This is not a government space program just for government people. This is the American space program for the American people."
Aldrin also voiced support for Dennis Tito's efforts to become the first space tourist by flying to the International Space Station later this year. Said Aldrin, "I'm very strongly supportive of Dennis. He's a good friend of ours from Los Angeles." If Tito succeeds, he said, "I'm hopeful that enough people will realize that this is really just the beginning," and that other space tourists will follow Tito into orbit on space shuttles and Russian Soyuz craft.
When it was Clarke's turn to predict the future, he offered a caveat. "It's never possible to forecast what will really happen; it depends on political considerations." And he described another factor, one that trumps politics. "For all we know, a large asteroid may be heading this way right now, and you'll never get this [conversation] on the air. The danger of asteroid or comet impact is one of the best reasons for getting into space…. I'm very fond of quoting my friend Larry Niven: 'The dinosaurs became extinct because the didn't have a space program. And if we become extinct because we don't have a space program, it'll serve us right!"
Arthur C. Clarke and Buzz Aldrin discuss the future of space travel.
Aldrin agreed. "Sooner or later, a responsible society owes it to themselves or their potential offspring to ensure their survivability." That, Aldrin said, means establishing a human settlement beyond Earth. "And Mars is clearly the location where you're going to want to do that."
"And the Moon," said Clarke. "I think the Moon has tremendous potential."
Aldrin replied with a chuckle, "How do you know? Have you been there?" He added, "The day is 14 days long, and it gets hot! And the night is 14 days long, and it gets cold!"
"No, it doesn't at the poles!" said Clarke, laughing.
"We should go back to the Moon en route [to Mars]," Aldrin said, "as a practice. Develop the science. It's in our backyard." But Mars, said Aldrin, "is really the clear objective of this millennium."
Clarke responded, "I hate to argue with a man who's been there!"
"I agree that Mars is the big objective, the exciting place to be," Clarke said.
The discussion soon ranged farther out into the universe, as Clarke, who gave us the mysterious black monolith from 2001, speculated on finding intelligent life beyond Earth. "I've been saying for a long time that I'm hoping to find intelligent life in Washington," quipped Clarke. "I'm reasonably sure there must be life in this solar system, on Mars or on Europa, and other places. I think life is probably going to be ubiquitous, though we still don't have any proof of that yet -- and still less, any proof of intelligent life anywhere. But I hope that will be coming in the next decade or so through radio astronomy or, perhaps, the discovery of objects in space which are obviously artificial. Astronomical engineering -- that may be the other thing to look for."