Space inspires sci-fi. NASA uses sci-fi to inspire

The space agency is betting that spinning a few threads of yarn is a good way to get people psyched about science and technology.

astronaut outside the space station
Scenes like this could inspire writers to inspire people to make scenes like this. Is NASA about to trigger a causality loop? NASA

Want to boost NASA, inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers, and help humanity explore space? Write a science fiction novel.

That's the idea behind a collaboration between the U.S. space agency and publisher Tor-Forge Books: NASA scientists and engineers will work with Tor-Forge writers to produce NASA-inspired works of fiction that tap concepts from the space agency's missions and operations.

Giving science fiction writers access to NASA brainiacs seems good. But I'm a little queasy about a government agency influencing popular culture to promote itself. And exactly how science fiction-worthy are NASA operations? Still, it could be worthwhile. Many a scientist, engineer, and astronaut credits science fiction with sparking their career.

And it may go further than that. In my case, science fiction was inspiration for writing about science and technology. (Not all of us are called to do the heavy lifting.) I wonder whether science fiction has produced more hacker-coders, wannabe space travelers, or aeronautical engineers.

What kinds of culture-rocking masterpieces will the collaboration between space scientists and sci-fi writers produce? There's plenty of fodder, incliding all the cool space technology out there: ion propulsion systems , robotic rovers , zero-gravity toilets . And then there are the political questions the folks at NASA are wrestling with: humans vs. unmanned probes, moon vs. Mars, public versus private.

Here are five titles I'd like to see:
1. The Hitchhiker's Guide to Former Shuttle Facilities
2. 2021: A Space Agency?
3. The NASA Budget Chronicles
4. Do Americans Dream of Lunar Vacations?
5. The Martian Tweets

What are your suggestions?

About the author

    Crave freelancer Eric Smalley has written about technology for more than two decades. His freelance credits include Discover, Scientific American, and Wired News. He edits Technology Research News, where he gets to preview the cool technology we'll all be using 10 years from now. Eric is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CBS Interactive. E-mail Eric.


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