The next generation's view?
Recently the Cassini probe detected chemicals that could indicate life on Titan, prompting renewed speculation about what exactly space travel means to our current world, especially as a lander will be needed to confirm if some form of utterly exotic life exists on Saturn's largest moon.
That, of course, brings to attention the current crumbling state of just about every space program out there, especially that of the United States. It's hard to imagine that the assumption that we would increasingly explore — and eventually live in — space used to be widely-held.
A lot has changed since the moon landing. The economy got shakier, the Cold War wound down and perhaps most of all, the novel majesty wore off as we realized exactly how difficult, bloody and expensive it was to actually tackle the void.
It's also worth mentioning that Sci-fi, the genre that had acted as a cultural spearhead of the space race, got much bleaker and more cynical about the whole effort.
The result is that, while most still think of the future primarily in technological terms, it's not exploring space, but communication devices and various forms of physical augmentation. Transhumanists are, on a lot of levels, the descendants of the space nuts of yesteryear, projecting out today's technology to a point of mythical transcendence (and just as full of bullshit, but that's another story).
However, there's still hope. The costs of space programs were overstated in the first place, and don't seem so bad compared to bailouts and environmental cleanup. Little discoveries, like the possibility of life on Titan, remind us of how vast and strange a universe is waiting out there, and what opportunities it holds. The desire to be part of a grand endeavor has not faded from humanity. If anything, it seems to be slowly building as our current cultures seem shakier. Perhaps space will soon be the place again.
Perhaps, also, we didn't exactly realize what we were in for when we all too accurately dubbed it "the final frontier." Frontiers are messy, dangerous things, full of false starts and unintended consequences, not to mention horrifically high body counts. Yet somehow we end up going towards them anyway and succeed in part because we have no idea what we're getting into.
Plus, not every country's vision evolved in the same way. One notable feature of the anime that's rapidly infected Western culture over the past 15 years is that, even in the bleak stuff, humanity gets to space (though Japan's tech research is more concentrated on another obsession: robots).
So, it's fitting to end with something I played here before, a long time ago: an interesting remix of anime space visions. Watch it and try not to smile at the wide-eyed, earnest determination.