Science fiction inspires you

Probably the very first science fiction novel was already outrageous: Aliens live on the moon, and a damp sponge in front of the nose helps against shortness of breath in space. Some critics would give up and shout: "Everything is unrealistic!" But if they knew the name of the author, who knows, they might fall silent. Because it was the great astronomer and natural philosopher Johannes Kepler, who in his story "Somnium" (Latin for "the dream") described a dream trip to the moon - in 1608, some time before Galileo Galilei pointed his telescope at the stars and more than 300 years before US astronaut Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.

So the moon landing in 1969 was actually old hat. At least if you start from the idea. In his novel, Kepler describes a space odyssey, does not skimp on physical details about weightlessness in space and speculates about the conditions that may well prevail on the earth's satellite. Even if many things are not particularly realistic, Kepler's idea was prophetic. Needless to say, Kepler wrote down just one thought that had smoldered in the minds of other thinkers many centuries earlier, for example those of the ancient writers Plutarch and Lukian. Science fiction as a literary genre is much older than most people think.

The moon landing is a good example of how much the course of the world and also the development of science and technology are reflected in the stories that you read or see in films - and how much these are reflected back in science. All the more strange is the arrogance with which many cultural workers and literary critics, but also scientists, look down on films or books that do not deal with the past or the present, but with the future. Science fiction is something for escapists, it is often said.

Exactly the opposite is the case. Because of course it is important to deal with the draft thoughts about the future. Humanity is changing the world in which it lives at such a rate that yesterday's visions can quickly become today's reality. Science fiction has also long ceased to be the domain of pimply nerds: Having long since arrived in the mainstream, it influences people's opinion of science - and at the same time its direction. It reflects our worldview and points to social issues that are to come.

There are tons of anecdotes about which technologies first appeared in fictional stories and later became part of reality. Stanley Kubrick's "2001: Space Odyssey" from 1968 is considered a classic, in which talking computers, artificial intelligence, iPad-like computer flounders, a moon landing and many other visionary gadgets appear. It is not for nothing that the first flip phone from Motorola was called StarTac, based on Star Trek, in which, as is well known, calls have long been made with "communicators" who basically look like today's cell phones.

The film Minority Report from 2002 is also a veritable treasure trove: Face recognition, personalized advertising, video telephony, gesture control and the Internet of Things can already be found here. It is said that around a hundred patents arose from the film. And that's no coincidence, if you consider the professionalism with which Steven Spielberg and his production designer Alex McDowell approached the fictional future in the film.

McDowell sat down with some of the most influential computer researchers of the time, urban planners and scientists, including from MIT in Boston. They gave him a detailed explanation of what the transport systems, the weapons of the future and the education system might look like in 2054. From the results he created a future catalog, which he called the "2054 Bible". Therefore, the Minority Report acts like a forecast for the future that is still not out of date.

The film "The Martian" would not have been made without the expert knowledge of NASA

But what is even more interesting is that the science-inspired futures of the entertainment industry, in turn, influence the real world. Alex McDowell, for example, today heads the World Building Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, which advises non-governmental organizations, architects and companies - those who, inspired by his ideas, build buildings and plan cities. "I'm more interested in the problems of the real world than the problems of the movie industry," says McDowell. Mind you, McDowell was originally "just" a production designer in Hollywood.

In general, the influence of fictional stories is much greater than a few visionary gadgets in film sets would have you believe. "In the USA there is a close connection between Hollywood and space research," says Alexandra Ganser, Professor of American Studies at the University of Vienna. In her own research project, she examines Hollywood's visions of the future and how these are reflected in US politics and science. At least since the beginning of the space race with the ignition of the Soviet Sputnik rocket on October 4, 1957, the Hollywood space film and actual astrotechnology have been mutually influencing one another.