The end of the space shuttle program symbolizes a sea change in American popular culture. For years, the space program helped to promote and legitimize science fiction as the space race of the 1960s and the moon landing advanced an idea of the future where man traveled through the stars. It is no coincidence that the original “Star Trek” aired during the peak years of the Apollo program (1966-69). Similarly, sci-fi franchises like “Star Wars” and “Battlestar Galactica” emerged in the 1970s when the moon landing was still more than just a distant memory.
As the space program’s popularity declined in the 1990s and early 21st century, sci-fi movies made a move toward a dystopian earth-bound future (The “Matrix” and “Terminator” films). Furthermore, fantasy seemed to supersede science fiction as the dominant theme of blockbuster films. It’s no coincidence that fantasy franchises like “Harry Potter” and “Lord of the Rings” were the dominant film series of the first decade of the 21st century.