When I was young and first started exploring the universe through reading, science fiction was considered far more fiction than science. In those stories, ships routinely traveled throughout our own solar system and to planets far away that were either colonized by humans, had its own intelligent population, or both.
By now, people are aware that cell phones were inspired - at least in part - by the communication devices portrayed on the original Star Trek series. We also now have a space station orbiting Earth, as imagined by so many sf authors last century. And thanks to the Kepler telescope, we are becoming aware that our planetary system is not the only one.
In fact, the Kepler telescope has only examined a tiny fraction of our galaxy, and has already discovered thousands of planets, including some that are possibly earth-like, of the proper size in the ‘Golden Zone’, within the distance range from their star to support liquid water. They could be suitable for colonization. Or they might already have an intelligent species we could trade with. Whether we trade artwork and merchandise or bullet-equivalents remains to be seen.
It appears that when we are ready to start exploring outside our own solar system, there will be plenty of places for us to go, just like there were in all those sf books I read as a kid. Science is catching up with science fiction.
At the same time, science has created new branches to explore, which today’s sf writers are using as a springboard to create their futuristic tales. In a few more decades, we get to see science catch up with some of those stories.
I can’t wait.