Once, mankind were wanderers and gatherers travelling almost thousands and thousands of miles in a lifetime, not knowing where the journey will take them. Our ancestors came down from the trees in the African savannah to discover the vast land all around. Thousands of years later they travelled from island to island in the pacific ocean, having already conquered the African, European and Asian continent by feet, not knowing that Earth will one day be seen not as endless, but just as a small ball of dust in a much vaster universe. Another few thousand years later mankind became settlers, building civilisations all around the world. Large empires rose and felt, the world was discovered a second time (much faster now) and the world view changed dramatically.

Today we are even another thousand years further - now reaching for the stars. But access to space is costly and dangerous. Maybe it's not yet time for such a step - and therefore Mars (maybe the most discussed "next step" into space) is believed to be just beyond our range by many critics. But let me cite Carl Sagan to put our history against this:

"Our ancestors walked from East Africa to Novaya Zemlya and Ayers Rock and Patagonia, hunted elephants with stone spearpoints, traversed the polar seas in open boats 7,000 years ago, circumnavigated the Earth propelled by nothing but wind, walked the Moon a decade after entering space - and we are daunted by a voyage to Mars?"

We have been wonderers for all time, and still are. It is part of our deepest nature to discover new frontiers and reach for the (seemingly) unreachable. I don't want to say that discarding these things would stop our evolution - but it will most likely slow it down. The greatest frontiers have always lead to new, prior unsought discoveries and developments.

From Visions to Reality

But let us have a look around - not only Mars is a goal, but many more - especially in long term. It often have been visions, which started revolutionary developments that rang in new stages of mankind's history - circumnavigating the Earth or travelling into space or even to the Moon are only the three most well known to mention in this context. To reach for the skies is one of the oldest dreams - the saga of the Tower of Babel is one of the earliest record of such a vision. After realizing that Earth isn't flat but a round globe, it was the vision of a fast transition to India that lead Christopher Columbus to his journey into the unknown - even the Vikings must have had some visions to take the risks of such a dangerous endeavour.

The normal timeline for an outstanding development is often a very long way, consisting of many steps, lasting even for decades or centuries. First there is the vision or fiction of an idea, where simply our dreams are hoped to be realizable. It might not take long, when the fiction turns into speculation, where the fiction is brought into relation with the existing world view or (nowadays) with science. If the speculations indicate some (even very small) possibilities for realization of that old vision, a theory might be derived from the facts already thought about. The phase of theory seems to be the most vulnerable point of the whole development: if the speculations can't be shown to be realizable, or the theory is not in accordance to other (proven) theories, the development will (in most cases) stop. There would only be two slight chances left for such a speculation to turn into theory: by either developing an alternative theory or adopting existing theories to the newer one (if this corresponds to reality) making the vision realizable. So this is the point when fiction turns into reality or rather into theory. So if our visions takes this hurdle the most important step is made. With the theory in our hands we can begin to do research on realization - therefore we need to have already some necessary basic technologies (imagine a car without the knowledge of the wheel), or we will have to wait (or to develop even these ones). So when research shows the practical realizeability of our vision we will develop a prototype - from there it is only a very small step to a usable technology and the application of the latter.

Such developments may take centuries or even millennia - e.g. the dream of sending a man to the moon in Jules Verne's "The voyage to the moon" took about 100 years to become true: from 1865 to 1968. The dream of reaching the sky (beginning with the Tower of Babel) has taken over 4 thousand years to be realized. But finally they turned into reality. So visions existing nowadays, seeming to be impracticable, might - as others did before - turn one day into applicable technology - our dreams become true.

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 ©2007 Carsten König