The notion that traveling between planets could someday be as easy as traveling between continents finds its roots in science fiction. But a thriving community of activists is doing its part to make that idea a reality. Among them is Elaine Walker - Pro-space activist, microtonal music composer, and founder of the band ZIA, whose music promotes space exploration.
Elaine considers herself first a musician, and in fact she writes and sings most of ZIA's songs. A classically-trained pianist since the age of six, and a graduate of the New York University with a Masters Degree in Music Technology, Elaine wrote her thesis on Chaos Music Theory. She currently lives in Phoenix where she spends her days doing music editing for the Pokemon cartoon.
So music is in her blood, but so is space. Just look at a sample of Elaine's repertoire - "Space Man," "Back to the Moon," and "To Mars!" - or the names of her solo albums, "Space Dancer," "Frontier Creatures," and "Space Elevator Music" - or ZIA's new album "Big Bang!"
In fact, space activism is so woven into her life that Elaine maintains a resume of her pro-space activities. The resume includes a serving as president of the New York City Chapter of the National Space Society and NSS Region 8 chapter organizer, designing and maintaining several pro-space web sites, singing at national and international space conventions, and organizing several special events. She is currently helping to organize a July Lunar Development Conference in Las Vegas and is Groups Team Leader for the Extropy Institute, a futurist organization. She serves on the board of directors of both the National Space Society and the Space Frontier Foundation.
"To continue to evolve and thrive as a species we must push outward into space to create new challenges for ourselves, technologically, socially and spiritually."
For science fiction lovers, space travel is a form of entertainment, but Elaine feels it's something more.
"We have always been a frontier species, since our beginnings. We will always need a new frontier beyond our horizons," she said. "The only periods of time throughout the millennia where humans have become stagnant socially and technologically coincide with being stagnant geographically, and we aren't left with many new frontiers on the Earth. To continue to evolve and thrive as a species we must push outward into space to create new challenges for ourselves, technologically, socially and spiritually."
"Besides, what if we're someday faced with a natural disaster like an asteroid collision, and we need to evacuate Earth? What about overpopulation? Eventually we'll run out of space on Earth, leaving us with the options of limiting our growth or relying on disease or war to keep the population down. These are depressing alternatives," she said.
"To the contrary, it is a grand adventure to spread out into space and not only learn to adapt to different extreme environments, but learn as much as we can about our universe and where we came from," Elaine said. "I cannot think of a more profound calling."
Elaine is particularly excited about the idea of humans traveling to Mars, and she's been watching developments the Mars Exploration Rover Mission with great interest.
"Although the landers don't carry instruments that would be needed to test for actual life or past life, they're gathering data that will help determine whether Mars was ever conductive to life in the past. If the results are positive then hopefully the next rover to be sent out will be equipped with life detectors! And we finally have a mission that is studying potential radiation hazards to possible future astronaut missions," she said.
Elaine's interest in promoting space exploration started in the early 1990s when she read the "Frontier Files," started by Rick Tumlinson, founder of the Space Frontier Foundation. Tumlinson is one of a "small, potent combination of folks who are really making things happen," Elaine said. Others include Pascal Lee, co-founder and chairman of the Mars Institute and leader of the research on Devon Island with the NASA Haughton-Mars Project; Henry Vanderbilt, Director of the Space Access Society, known for "keeping NASA on its toes"; and Peter Diamandis, founder of the X-Prize Foundation, sponsor of the X-Prize, a $10 million prize to jumpstart the space tourism industry.
When asked about her interest in science fiction dealing with space, Elaine admitted that she doesn't read much science fiction, though (not surprisingly) she has read Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Series, as well as most of David Brin's books and Isaac Asimov's works.
"I like his science fiction, but even more, I like to read his short essays on different science related topics," Elaine said. "He can actually write an article describing the different atmospheric layers of Earth's atmosphere, and make it interesting and even humorous. I have been caught laughing out loud on NYC's subways, learning the most mundane of science facts via Asimov."
Having watched plenty of bad Mars movies, she would like to see a realistic movie about pioneers settling in space. "It seems plenty exciting and dangerous enough to be a pioneer on a completely new planet, without needing ghosts or aliens involved."
But while science fiction may have brought space travel to our minds, the life of a space activist is steeped in reality. "The prospect of getting humans permanently into space is extremely challenging, politically, technically and economically... Most space activists I know personally do not think that any permanent space settlements will necessarily happen in our own lifetimes. This type of activism takes very long term thought.
"I will never die peacefully, but if I do have to go someday, I hope that I can rest assured that humans are venturing into space."
Chris Africa is a veteran writer and editor, with eight years' experience in Web site development. In November 2003, she founded Ultraverse e-zine of science fiction and fantasy. For more information about Chris Africa, browse her personal web site, Parola Scritta. Feel free to contact her at either of her e-mail addresses: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
© 2004 Chris Africa
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