CATEGORY: COL Columns (Journal)
SPACE SCIENCE AND FICTION CONVERGE IN HUNTSVILLE
There's a book out titled "Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Watching Star Trek."
I don't know that I'd go that far. After all, I never saw Scotty change a flat tire on the Enterprise or fix an incessantly running toilet but I assume at some point he must have touched his chest communicator button and cried to Capt. Kirk in his thick Scottish brogue, "I'm sorry, captain! I canna make it flush!"
Still, I did learn a lot from watching creator Gene Roddenberry's vision of what the future would be like if we didn't spend all of our time trying to save other people from themselves by decrying KISS concerts and spent more time learning to live in harmony with each other regardless of the other person's beliefs, skin color, musical tastes or number of antennae on their head(s).
Even so, I have never considered myself a Trekkie, one of those people who collect everything Star Trek, learn to speak Klingon and attend conventions dressed as a favorite character. But my nephew, Derek Russell, is borderline.
Derek, at 11, is about the same age I was when I first discovered Star Trek back in the mid-'60s, years before man had even set foot on the moon. While I was raised on the original, with its cardboard sets and alien creatures with zippers up the back, Derek was raised on the extra crispy variety with all the flashy special effects and big budgets. Derek is the next generation.
So last weekend my wife and my brother - who are about as close to being Trekkies as Dick Morris is to being a saint - and Derek and I attended the big 30th anniversary blowout in Huntsville, celebrating not only the many incarnations of the TV series but also Roddenberry's vision and contributions to the nation's space program.
We boldly went where we had never gone before, into a sea of humanity that was trying very hard not to look human. The crowd of almost 10,000 gathered in the Warnher von Braun Civic Center Saturday night ranged from an infant in complete Star Fleet regalia being pushed in a stroller by its mother in an identical outfit to the two elderly ladies waiting for the shuttle in the hotel lobby clutching their $350 apiece Galaxy Class passes.
I'm still not sure which shuttle they were waiting on, the bus or the space.
Then there was the man dressed as a member of the Borg, a race of half-human, half-machine beings. With the hoses and wires and buttons popping out all over his costume, he looked like a washing machine that had exploded.
Derek and I, of course, enjoyed the show that evening. It was good to see all seven members of the original cast together and in person especially given the age of some of these guys. Shatner was already in a toupee by the time Derek was born.
There was lots of friendly banter among the cast, lots of reminiscing and stories and clips from the series and the soon-to-be eighth movie spinoff. Derek enjoyed it all. But the highlight of the evening for me was seeing NASA Administrator Dan Goldin stride out on stage among all the fantasy and science fiction accompanied by the first American in space, Alan Shepard, four of the men who have walked on the moon and astronaut Fred Haise, a Biloxi native and member of the crew of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.
They were the real pioneers in that final frontier Star Trek first hinted at.
Goldin spoke of plans already in the works to send manned missions to Mars and possibly to Jupiter's moon Europa where the latest information from the Galileo spacecraft shows an icy crust possibly covering oceans of water that could possibly harbor life.
The possibilities are endless that fact is going to turn out to be stranger than science fiction and for that reason, I hope the nation's space program lives long and prospers.
Marty Russell is senior reporter for the Daily Journal.