Science fiction and Pluto

Sci-fi becomes reality: 10 books about our future with Pluto

Pluto photographed during New Horizons flyby.

Pluto photographed during New Horizons flyby.

“If you can imagine it, you can achieve it. If you can dream it, you can become it.”

–William Arthur Ward

by Andrea Sefler


Stargazers are having a momentous week with the Pluto flyby of New Horizons. With this success we have now made close inspection of most of the largest objects throughout much of our solar system, from the sun and all the planets, even the tiny one 4.67 billion miles out. And I refuse to engage in any “size matters” arguments here; I grew up learning nine planets, and nine planets there be.

While scientists will spend many years analyzing data from the mission making new discoveries, there is already a great deal of impressive accomplishments from the mission. Let’s just take the spacecraft itself. Are you one of those people impressed with and lusting after a high-tech Tesla? Well the New Horizons probe engineers managed to pack everything needed for the 9.5 year journey and the data collection upon arrival at Pluto into a craft smaller and lighter than many automobiles. Not to mention the fact that this baby was ripping along at more than 50,000 mph. Okay, maybe we can’t get the benefits of a gravitational assist from Jupiter on our highways, but this still makes a battery life of ~265 miles on an electric car seem weak.

Many will disparage this mission’s $720 million price tag and the space program in general as a waste of taxpayer money for esoteric and useless knowledge about places far too distance to be of concern. But the data collected at the destination is almost hardly more than icing on the cake. The real value lies in the journey and what needed to happen in order to make it a possibility. Most of our public companies, even those considered to be our most innovative, such as Apple, are concerned with small, incremental product changes, e.g. a few more pixels in the camera, a little bit larger screen. With NASA and the space program, the absolute necessity for small, robust, energy efficient components compel designers to push things to the limits. And then we all get to benefit from the successes as the designs find their way into our everyday devices.

Whether this gets done through solely at government agencies or through public/private consortiums, the point is to have these big, shared dreams and goals. My earliest datable memory is of the Apollo 11 moon launch. I am still staggered ever time I visit the Kennedy Space Center by the Saturn V rocket and all the incredible infrastructure developed to build, transport, and launch this behemoth, including the Vehicle Assembly Building, which is so large it sometimes rains inside.

The dream of sending a person to the moon united people to a common mission and, as such, everyone had a part in the success. Even better are the missions involving international collaborations, such as Apollo-Soyuz where we can begin to imagine ourselves as citizens of planet Earth and not Greeks or Germans or Americans or Russians.

But these missions all begin with dreams: dreams that came straight out of the pages of science fiction novels, leapt into the minds of curious, adventurous men and women, and wound up at the far end of our solar system. Many a great scientific discovery throughout history has been preceded by a fictitious imagining of it. Jules Verne published From the Earth to the Moon in 1865, and then in 1969 we did go from the earth to the moon via Apollo 11. H.G. Wells imagined tanks in The Land Ironclads (1903), and tanks were invented in 1915. There are many more examples, and whether these works of sci-fi were merely prophetic visions or actually served as inspiration in some direct or indirect way, the point is that the ability to imagine something comes before the actual doing. And in this respect sci-fi often has stronger ties to the real world than some people give it credit for.

One of several novels about Pluto

One of several novels about Pluto

Today’s far fetched concepts may be tomorrow’s reality. And today’s flyby may be tomorrow’s manned expedition to Pluto. In celebration and acknowledgement of this idea, here are some sci-fi works over the years that have involved Pluto in some way. Some of these are forgotten works, but may they be rediscovered and inspire future generations to imagine new discoveries.

Details about the books at:


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August 8, 2015 · 11:04 pm

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