Films suggest that our future is full of fantastically large spacecraft in galaxies far, far away. But the reality is that our ambitions in space are small – and seemingly getting smaller – says Quentin Cooper.
Space is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind- bogglingly big it is.
Spaceships are really big too.
The first few lines, as you probably recognised, are from Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The other line about spaceships? That’s from pretty much every other off-world sci-fi movie of the last few decades. But it’s beginning to look like – at least for the foreseeable future – it’s wrong.
It’s tempting to blame the error on something that happened a long time ago in a cinema far, far away – the overwhelming opening shot of the first Star Wars film. That’s first as in the first one made and the first good one in the finished sequence. After the backstory has crawled by, Princess Leia’s (fairly sizeable) spaceship zips across the screen. Then behind it, with the speakers shaking the seats, comes the Imperial Star Destroyer which takes a full 12 seconds to rumble over our point of view. Twelve seconds – we’re into a whole new galactic scale of bigness.