Monday, July 31, 2006

Get to know DeForest Kelley through Kristine Smith!

I met Kristine Smith at a Star Trek convention last summer and was so moved by her description of DeForest Kelley and the excerpts she read from her memoir that I immediately rushed to her table to buy a copy of the book for myself (which she graciously personalized for me)! I was pleased to learn that she will be presenting at the PlanetXpo conference on Friday and contacted her about contributing an excerpt from her book to this blog. As chance would have it, she only lives an hour away from me, so she invited me over to take a look at her DeForest Kelley memorabilia. We spent 4 ½ hours together this afternoon combing through boxes of photographs, personal notes, articles, and other interesting items that once belonged to De. She gave me several photographs to scan for the blog, which I will include tomorrow with an excerpt from DeForest Kelley: A Harvest of Memories. Until then, I will leave you with her description of how Star Trek has changed her world.

Don’t forget, I’m still looking forward to including YOUR story on this blog; so, send it (along with a photo if you have one) to Amy Ulen as soon as possible!

Blog #2 by Kristine M Smith,
Author of DeForest Kelley: A Harvest of Memories

Star Trek and Me
(© 2006 by KM Smith)

Forty years ago, on September 8, 1966, I sat in front of a black and white television set and for the first time heard a riveting adventurer’s creed, “SPACE, THE FINAL FRONTIER. THESE ARE THE VOYAGES OF THE STARSHIP ENTERPRISE…” Little did I know, that evening, that my black and white world was about to explode into full-blown Technicolor and that 40 years later I would be looking back on that date as being among the most significant in my life.

What has this television show done to me and for me? To fully understand what Star Trek meant to many of my generation (we were teenagers at the time), we need a brief look back to the decade in which the series premiered: Star Trek arrived in the mid-60s, when it seemed the United States was very close to coming apart at the seams, thanks to downright scandalous racial injustices, college campus unrest and violence, and various other societal ills too numerous to mention. We had not long before just barely survived the Cuban Missile Crisis, then there was the assassination of President Kennedy; we were embroiled in a divisive Vietnam War; and, in the midst of the series’ first run (in 1968) we suffered the additional assassinations of the slain President’s brother Robert Kennedy (then a candidate for President) and of Martin Luther King Jr., the blacks’ only real hope for a peaceful end to a struggle for equal opportunity and justice that had worn on for more than a century.

Into this nightmare of a pressure cooker stepped Gene Roddenberry’s science fiction series Star Trek, peopled by a cohesive and mutually supportive multi-racial and multinational crew, not only of humans but even a pointy-eared, green-blooded Vulcan. These people got along – not perfectly, but certainly a whole lot better than we were doing in the world in which we were living at the time!

As I watched the series, I couldn’t help but grow hopeful. Forty years later we still have a long way to go, but we’re still here, no small miracle in itself! Star Trek inspired us back then, and still does – gave us hope that one day the world’s people will be united in peaceful, cooperative space exploration (and other pursuits) instead of staring at each other through the sights of a weapon; hope that people will realize we share a limited ecosphere and that we all have the same basic needs: water, food, air, land, and an instinctive need to be heard and understood, to be loved, to feel safe; and a desire to be celebrated, not just tolerated.

Additionally, the lifelong friends I have made as the result of being a Star Trek fan are legion. The ethic of Star Trek sowed into my life an abiding love for a lot of people I would not otherwise have met or even thought much about, as well as a love for a lot of people I may never meet, from all over the world. The emotional bank account from this series’ legacy has by now grown at such a compounded rate of interest that not even terrorists will ever bankrupt it or the hope it has given me for a world at peace. I continue to believe in the potential of mankind to “live long and prosper” despite our differences. We all have much more in common than we have that divides us.

To read a description of the Kelley book, along with reviews, or to order online, please click here:

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.