“This was a powerful theme in science fiction of the time,” Robert Gorsch points out. “It really anticipated a sort of Star Trek-like liberalism and ecumenism—that the human race has to transcend national, racial, and ideological differences if it is to survive and progress.”
The real world didn’t go post-nuclear, and hasn’t yet. By the end of the 1960s, America had met the goal set by its late president, John F. Kennedy, of landing men on the moon. The living legends of mid-century science-fiction storytelling were summoned to help host that milestone on TV broadcasts: Ray Bradbury appeared with David Frost and Mike Wallace, Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke with Walter Cronkite on CBS, and Isaac Asimov and Fred Pohl on ABC.
But in the waning decades of the millennium, the nations of the world proved unable or unwilling to follow Klaatu's advice from 1951, to “live in peace,” instead continuing their military and economic conflicts and seriously depleting their resources. With the space race losing funding and slowing down, our dreams of distant worlds seemed to dim.
Then, in recent months, signals from a NASA spacecraft revealed, for the first time, a temperate planet circling its own sun and capable of supporting its own civilization.
As scientists now turn their radio telescopes towards Kepler-22b, 600 light-years away, it may be time to heed the wisdom that Ray Bradbury, still with us at age 91, shared with John Stanley in an interview: “Don't let your sense of wonder fall asleep. Follow what your sense of wonder feels.”
Photos and illustrations: courtesy Mickey McGowan of the Unknown Museum