Take my love, take my land / Take me where I cannot stand / I don’t care, I’m still free / You can’t take the sky from me
— The Ballad of Serenity, Firefly
Rare is the science fiction story that does not involve aliens and faster-than-light travel. Rarer still is any story set more than a century or two in the future that does not take human colonies in space as a given. But will we ever get there?
One science fiction show that bucks some of these trends is Firefly. The characters in the show are all human, and the animals are all recognizable Earth animals. If aliens exist, the characters never encounter them. Furthermore, faster-than-light travel was never developed; their ancestors migrated from Earth to a large, far-away solar system in multigenerational starships.
Even Firefly, however, involves a human civilization spread out over multiple planets, with people in space ships constantly travelling between them. And these are all conveniently terraformed planets, with atmospheres that humans and livestock can breathe and plants thrive in. In real life, however, we seem depressingly far away from designing colonies for long-term habitation. Take a Moon colony for example – even if turns out to be possible to carry a pregnancy to term in 1/6 Earth gravity, anyone born on the Moon will presumably never be able to go to Earth, as their bodies would be unable to deal with our gravity. This is just one of the many, many issues with long-term human habitation on somewhere other than Earth that the Smithsonian Institution’s Roger D. Launius brought up in his talk “Robots vs. Humans in Spaceflight.” For now, perhaps, spaceflight lies with remote-controlled robotic expeditions. On the other hand, who knows what the future, years, centuries, or millenia hence, will bring?