Ask An Engineer: Space Travel
While science fiction isn’t always engineering fact, it inspires generations to make it so.
Since the earliest imaginings of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, science fiction has sought to explore the what ifs of space beyond our world.
With the advent of moving pictures, those literary worlds were brought to life—and from the 1902 “Le Voyage dans la Lune” (“A Trip to the Moon”) to modern day sci-fi like “Star Trek” and “The Martian,” humans are perpetually intrigued and inspired by the adventures of exploring the deep reaches of space.
In Maryland Engineering’s latest installment of Ask An Engineer, join University of Maryland (UMD) alum and Keystone Lecturer Jarred Young (’09, M.S. ’13, Ph.D. ’17) along with Lindsay Newman, an undergraduate student majoring in fire protection engineering, to explore the fact, fiction, and inspiration of space travel in sci-fi film, TV, and video games.
For Young, “Star Trek” was more than entertainment when he was growing up; it was a show about transformative possibilities.
“Watching the show, I thought, wouldn’t it be nice to explore these strange new worlds, and—even though I knew the show was fake—the concepts behind it were really interesting, from the teamwork and technology to the overall act of discovery,” explains Young, who is now an expert in space propulsion systems.
Young isn’t the only engineer inspired by sci-fi in pop culture.
“Science fiction is what introduces many people to a world with possibilities outside of what we see on earth,” says Shirah Abrishamian, an aerospace engineering undergrad who cites the “Star Wars” spoof comedy “Spaceballs” as a favorite film for imagining life in space. “As soon as you see flying cars on screen, you start thinking ‘When are we going to make those?’ I think that inspires a new generation of people who want to make that happen.”
While sci-fi on screen may represent space exploration in ways that aren’t possible—yet—they are a fertile ground for future realities.
“Science fictions spark an idea, a question, a possibility that inspires people to dream of achieving an audacious goal,” says Joynob Kaoshar, an aerospace engineering junior inspired by films like “Interstellar” and “The Martian.” “As more people start to dream the same goal, it becomes a mission, and scientists and engineers take it upon themselves to fulfill that mission.”
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December 19, 2022