How Space Travel Happened Before Spice Was Discovered

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Interstellar space travel in Dune is made possible by the use of spice. But how did it happen before Arrakis and its spice were discovered?

Warning: This feature contains spoilers for Dune.

In the film Dune, interstellar space travel and spice are interconnected, with the former only being possible by means of the latter—so how did it happen before spice was discovered? Denis Villeneuve’s latest sci-fi epic opened to very positive reviews, with critics praising the worldbuilding and the accurate depiction of author Frank Herbert’s technological concepts. One of these concepts is traveling across vast distances of space, which in Dune is achieved by the navigators of the Spacing Guild who consume large amounts of the Spice Melange in order to chart courses across the stars.


However, since spice is only available in the deserts of Arrakis, it begs the question of how exactly space travel was possible before humans colonized the planet and became aware of the substance and all the benefits that it could afford. This is but one of many of Dune’s unanswered questions that the movie is not able to address during its limited running time, and it’s worth demystifying the seeming paradox as the source novels have the answer readily at hand.

RELATED: What The Sandworms In Dune Actually Eat (Not Just People)

The reason why the Spacing Guild and its spice-dependent navigators are necessary to travel through space is because the Imperium has banned the use of advanced computing and artificial intelligence. Thousands of years prior to the events that the film Dune covers, humanity developed “thinking machines” that eventually gained a conscience. These machines were capable of a myriad of superhuman calculations – including the calculations necessary to make space travel possible.

However, a series of conflicts collectively known as the Butlerian Jihad ensued, the result of which saw a prohibition of artificial intelligence across the entire Imperium. This is why Dune’s future doesn’t have computers, robots, or AI, and why interstellar journeys now require the use of spice as an alternative to traditional computing machinery. The aftermath of the ban on AI led to the rise of the Spacing Guild, which established a monopoly on space travel by developing its navigators into spice-addled superhumans capable of prescience – the ability to see into the future, and thereby plot pathways for spaceships to take without colliding with celestial objects.

The extended world of Dune is a fascinating one, and this tiny detail is one of many that make Frank Herbert’s novels so appealing, and Villeneuve’s current adaptation so encouraging of analysis. Regardless of how realistic Dune’s future ultimately is, the fact is that Frank Herbert’s ideas are plausible enough to make the world of Villeneuve’s film a compelling depiction of science fiction, and one that abides by its established rules. Even something like space travel is thus thoroughly illuminated upon, and how it’s possible before as well as after the discovery of spice on Arrakis.

NEXT: Dune: How Space Travel Works & Why Spice Is Important

  • Dune 2 (2023)Release date: Oct 20, 2023

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