On August 31, 2011 the U.S. shuttle program was officially ended. Due to high-profile shuttle disasters, increased results from unmanned space research, and the overall humongous expense the US decided that the money invested in the shuttle program is not worth the dividends. Now with one of the main pieces of the Space Race being the Cold War is long over the zealotry behind sending people in space is long gone. There are no dirty Commies to beat to the moon. The America that dreamed of sending a man into space, creating lunar and martian colonies, and extending its reach beyond the solar system is no more. Growing concern over domestic issues and a perceived notion that space travel is frivolous and dangerous has transformed modern space travel from a high concept to a farcical joke. Look at the reaction to Newt Gingrich’s proposal for a lunar colony. He might have well suggested throwing money into time travel research and cloning dinosaurs for a gigantic amusement park. In America, the dream of space travel is dead or at least in a fairly permanent coma for the time being.
At the same time Japan still seems oddly optimistic about manned space travel. I remember being slightly shocked that Sumire Kanou from Toradora! legitimately was studying to be an astronaut. I also remember Orihime Inoue off handily mentioning she wished to grow up to be an astronaut. While it is foolish to assume the aspirations of fictional characters are a one to one correspondence to the desires of a nation the fact that Japan still writes popular stories in which people dream of exploring space in their fiction is remarkable.
You have the anime and manga for Planetes and Moonlight Mile both of which involved characters who wanted to explore deep space. Even the recent Kamen Rider Fourze has a space travel motif with Yuki Jojima being a hardcore space otaku and the rest of the cast having various levels of interest in space. You don’t get three space travel anime every season but they do appear frequently enough. Two series that we have recently beeen enjoying exemplify this infatuation with the hope for cosmic exploration: Twin Spica and Space Brothers. In their own way both of them revolve around a passion for celestial exploration.
Having just finished the Twin Spica manga and starting to watch the Space Brothers anime in the new season, I’ve become very emotionally attached to the dream of space travel again. These two series show so much hope and promise to the idea of becoming an astronaut and taking that first trip to space.
This was once a big dream in the U.S., too, but in the last decade excitement over current space exploration seems to be drying up. I recall one of my elementary school teachers being way into space and she worked it into lessons as much as she could. We built moon colony dioramas and I wished for space camp. I never did but I maintained a fond attachment to the idea of space travel.
I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but believe in that impossible yet incredible dream of space. Putting a face to the hope that traveling out past our atmosphere is what makes it resonate so strongly. Maybe in the U.S., we need our own Asumi and Mutta.