Sunday, July 30, 2006

40 Days until the Star Trek 40th Anniversary!

In 40 days, hundreds of Star Trek fans will descend upon the Sci-Fi Museum and Space Needle in Seattle to celebrate “the show that changed the world” in an intimate 40th anniversary celebration and conference. As we count down the days in anticipation of meeting our favorite stars up-close and personal, several of the conference presenters and panelists have submitted blog entries to whet our appetites. Yet, this blog is as much about you, the fan, as it is about the “stars” of PlanetXpo’s STAR TREK 40th Anniversary Gala Celebration & Conference. We want to know how Star Trek has changed your world, too! Did you become a doctor in the hope of emulating McCoy’s bedside manner? An engineer so you, too, could be a miracle worker like Scotty? Perhaps you went into the entertainment industry after hearing Uhura’s sultry voice. Or became an Olympic medalist after viewing Sulu’s impressive fencing skills. The possibilities are endless. So, send your story of 500 words or less to Amy Ulen, and you may be selected to appear on this blog. Send a photo, too, if you have one.

We have 40 days until we celebrate 40 years of Star Trek, so we’re kicking off the party with one blog entry each day until we hit 40. Hailing frequencies are open!

Blog #1 by Dr. Seth Shostak,
Senior Astronomer, SETI Institute
There was always something reassuringly campy about that first Star Trek series, and I don’t mean the way they managed to engineer the Enterprise to have exactly 1G of gravity so the crew didn’t walk funny.

For example, there was an enormous wall of flashing lights behind Captain Kirk’s command chair…it looked like a Times Square light-bulb sign after a lobotomy. The lights flashed quickly and, as far as I could tell, pretty much at random. This was, I supposed, important information pertaining to something happening in or around the starship. Very hi-tech, at least in the days before personal computers shrunk all information displays down to 17 inches diagonal measure.

But what did it mean, this ten-foot-high-at-the-shoulder light show? What was it trying to tell the crew, and what human could possibly process that luminous banner of bits? The obvious suggestion – that this was the equivalent of the cockpit displays in an aircraft – seemed ludicrous. So I came to believe that Kirk actually ran the Enterprise with an “on-off” toggle switch under his seat. It was an idea I felt comfortable with – perhaps because it was an interface even I could master.

The campiness was confirmed when one of the Star Trek writers showed up at Caltech for an informal chat one evening with a handful of students. This fellow doled out droll tidbits of pseudo-information (such as the fact that Leonard Nimoy’s ears were real, but William Shatner’s were prosthetic), all of which had the Techers enthralled and bemused. At one point, I asked the affable screenwriter, “well, how fast is Warp 1, 2, etc., anyway?” Mind you, this was before the technical manuals for the show were written, so my question was earnest, honest and true.

“Well,” the writer replied, “Warp 1 is the speed of light. Warp 2 is the speed of light squared. Warp 3 is the speed of light cubed…” It didn’t take long for the students to apply some inductive reasoning and figure out the algorithm. This started my brain reckoning at what Warp number you would careen completely out of the Galaxy before you could even smash the brake pedal.

Fortunately, before I could blurt out the result of my calculation, one of the undergraduates (who were, as everyone knew, much smarter than we grad students) interceded: “So…suppose I define the speed of light as ‘one light-year per year.’ Then Warp 1 is 1. Warp 2 is 1 times 1. Warp 3 is 1 times 1 times 1. Warp 4 is…”

All speeds were the same speed. Warp 10 was no faster than Warp 1. The visitor from Hollywood threw up his hands: “Hey, man, I’m just a writer.”

Every week we watched Star Trek while doing physics problem sets. Outer space became familiar, even friendly. Maybe that was Roddenberry’s intent: to bring to life the ultimate, humanist dream. Facts are, true space – the real “final frontier” – is dark, bitterly cold, enormously vast, and implacably hostile. But not within the monochromatic, occasionally upholstered interior of the Enterprise. Here was a comforting refuge in a cosmos that was both immense and dangerous. It was a warm womb in a perilous world – at least until those flashing lights scrambled your brain.

5 Comments:

  • Its STILL a refuge this many 40 years later. As an Oncology RN, when my patients find out I'm a fellow trekker they find comfort and companionship in the shared passion. Chemotherapy is a huge challenge and they BOLDLY GO for it as we share our memories of the Star Trek world we all know.

    By Blogger Diane, at 9:05 AM  

  • Diane,

    One of the earliest emails I received after writing DeFOREST KELLEY: A HARVEST OF MEMORIES came from a woman with Stage 4 breast cancer. She was undergoing chemo treatment and wrote that she was enjoying the book so much -- getting so many laughs from it -- that she decided one day to carry it to the hospital and share it with the other ladies undergoing the grueling process in the room with her. She reported that, in a room with so few expectations of joy, the air was filled with laughter and the smiles and joy were something to behold. I don't need to tell you that my first thought after reading this heart-warming email was, "If I never get another 5-star review in my life, this one will be enough!"

    I am blogging this to thank you publicly for all you do to give cancer patients smiles, support and hope during the most frightening and challenging times in their lives. I have been there too many times myself, supporting people who were going through cancer, including DeForest Kelley and my mother. I well know the toll it takes, short-term, on caregivers. You folks on the front lines daily (even 24/7 since it's hard to leave a job like yours at work when you go home) who bring a touch of "McCoy" to patients are my heroes.

    De used to inscribe photographs to doctors and RNs in this way: "To the Real McCoy from the Reel McCoy." I want you to know you were his heroes, too.

    I pray that the scourge of cancer will be eradicated in our lifetimes and applaud you for your dedication and for the love and encouragement you give to people whose brave battles to survive should be the stuff of legends. Their families hang their hopes on your wisdom, knowledge and expertise, and the care you show is a blessing they never forget.

    God bless you!

    Kris Smith

    By Blogger Kristine M Smith, at 9:30 PM  

  • So good to "hear" your voice...in one of my roles as a Pediatric nurse I worked w/and MD who loved Star Trek. I hung a photo I had of DeForest on his office door and called him "BONES" whenever I could get away w/it. And we really did have a good I haven't read your book but I heard you talk about it a Star Trek Con...thanks so much for sharing your wonderful times with him. See you at the Party!!

    By Blogger Diane, at 9:54 PM  

  • Hi again Kris,

    I meant to say that the MD who I called "Bones" was a great leader for our little crew. Can't wait to see you again...Diane

    By Blogger Diane, at 9:59 PM  

  • Diane,

    So... email me at KRISTINEMSMITH@MSN.COM and give me your email address and we'll be sure to connect on the 8th. (I fly to Sacramento on the 9th for another convention.. so Friday is our only day to connect!)

    By Blogger Kristine M Smith, at 1:59 PM  

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