Perhaps in the future, space stations will be like cities in space….
The cosmopolitan future of life in space is one that many people have envisioned. It’s fascinating to think of regular people living regular lives in a different world—planet, spaceship, or space station. I think it’s especially fun to imagine an outer space place not controlled (or visited) only by the elite—government organizations and highly trained astronauts—but experienced by regular people like us.
If such a thing were true, it’s very likely we’d have many of the same problems that Earth cities do—crime, homelessness, poverty.
In an ideal, Star Trek space station like the one seen on Deep Space 9, we have a happy future where most people lead good lives. In a grungy future station, like “Babylon 5,” we have idealism and alien cultures mixed with grinding poverty, political refugees, clashing religions, powder keg politics, and plenty of crime.
In comparing the two, I think Babylon 5 has the more realistic view. It talks about more aspects of human reality—poverty, religion, politics, wars. But Deep Space 9’s hopeful future is a siren call for us to aim for, like a future model of the International Space Station, where ideally everyone will get along and work together for peace. (That was the purpose of Babylon 5, too—it just faced more challenges generally than did the station in the Star Trek universe.)
My latest story, “The Space Station Murders,” is set on a space station where grinding poverty and homelessness abound, where jobs are scarce and murders are going unsolved. It’s a ‘city in space’ with a veneer of respectability, without graffiti, and with beautification projects like public benches and artificial streams with bridges over them… but at night, homeless people fight over the benches and sleep under the bridges, and sometimes freeze to death when the heat gets turned down to save money.
All our fictional ideas about space stations are just models, of course. And I hope a real space station would be better than the one I imagined.
What would a real ‘city in space’ be like? One thing is for certain. We take our problems with us—even to the stars.