There was a time in American history--say, the 1940s & 50s--when Americans looked at science with love. We had the best engineering schools in the world. We took pride in our nuclear program and space race. And we consumed science fiction like a hungry man devours a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos.
Times have changed.
You practically can not teach science in our public schools (at least in some states) and the numbers of math, science and engineering students falls a little every year. Science went from cool to the stuff of horror movies to something beneath the cultural radar. Science fiction, while still a popular genre, was first swallowed by the horror craze of the 80s and is now playing second fiddle to fantasy. When was the last time you looked in the YA department of your favorite bookstore and saw teenage girls snapping up SF novels? (As an aside, I feel certain this has a lot to do with the unsexiness of space suits. We need scantier space apparel, NASA, and we need it ASAP.)
We, as genre writers, have got step things up. We aren't to blame for Creationists running amok over the curriculum of the nation's schools--but we have obviously been slacking. Guys like Robert Heinlein made outer space cool. Even the extremely old school Jules Verne showed kids that science was the shit. We can do just as well. We can say "no" to sparkly vampires and evil wizards and give a little back to the genre that nurtured our culture to a new cultural era. We can write incredibly amazing, sexy SF novels.
The good news is that we've got a little help finding inspiration in our friend the blogosphere. If you haven't checked out the new Science in My Fiction blog, you're missing out. It's a great resource for real science you can use, digested by real writers who rock. So click on over and geek out. It's the least you can do.
I mean, if you're not too busy designing sexy new togs for NASA.