Before science can do it, writers must dream it.
We've seen it in the fiction of Jules Verne, who imagined a voyage to the Moon 100 years before it happened. We've seen it in the fiction of Arthur C. Clarke, who proposed the idea of geosynchronous orbit long before cable TV made it so.
Now we're starting to see it in the voyages of the Starship Enterprise, at least the 1960s version starring William Shatner and created by the late Gene Roddenberry.
In the video above, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, chief propulsion engineer Marc Rayman does impressions of engineer Scotty in front of a control board, followed by images of actor James Doohan at a similar-looking board and, then, the voice of Shatner himself narrating a description of Rayman's latest project.
That would be Dawn, a coming mission to the Asteroid Belt using computers and sensors to create "standard orbits" around multiple asteroids and an "ion propulsion" drive described in the episode "Spock's Brain" back in the 1960s.
The look-and-feel of Rayman's enterprise is very much in keeping with the original TV show, and is in contrast to the slicker look of the later show Enterprise, starring Scott Bakula, which was supposed to take place a century earlier in "real" time. Actually about 100 years into our own future.
What's most interesting about all this, beyond the science, is how seamlessly NASA and the old TV warhorses are working together in order to create buzz for the enterprise.
And that's an important lesson. Nothing big happens without wide popular support. Entertainment can help create that support. It's this kind of public-private cooperation, in the name of maintaining funding for space, that may be the big story here.