The Starship and the Rocket: Star Trek, NASA & Me


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“Space… The Final Frontier…”

I am not where I am because of Star Trek.

You’ll see interviews sometimes with NASA folks, including astronauts, who say Star Trek inspired their love of space.

For me, if anything, it was the opposite.

I grew up in a golden era for space. The first Star Trek movie came out when I was four. “Empire Strikes Back’ was the next year. The first space shuttle launched the year after that.

The idea of space, the excitement of exploration, the siren call of the stars and the adventure that lay between them was a thread woven liberally and integrally into the fabric of my childhood. It fed my love of Star Trek and Star Wars, of the Black Hole and Battlestar Galactica, and it fed my love of NASA and the real world of space exploration.

For years, I’m not sure if I leaned more toward the lightsaber or the phaser, but by middle school, Star Trek had won out. I was Spock for Halloween. I built model starships. I read new Star Trek novels voraciously as they came out each month. I eagerly awaited the launch of The Next Generation, and then followed this new crew’s adventures each week, even if they were clearly inferior to the classic.

At one point, I began writing my own Star Trek novel. It’s long since lost now, but my memory is that I got decently far into it for a middle schooler. The plot involved a hole in space that turned out to be a temporal anomaly, such that the probe the Enterprise fired into it went back in time and landed on the Klingon homeworld, causing the Klingons in the Enterprise’s time to suddenly be technology advanced. What are the odds, you know?

I was writing in a time when the Star Trek canon consisted of 79 episodes and four movies. Today, there’s probably some continuity bible that officially proscribes the name of the first wife of Sulu’s second cousin, but back then, the universe was largely unexplored, and there was room for writers to fill it out. Some of my additions in retrospect were cringeworthy, but back then, they weren’t wrong. There was no official reason to preclude the possibility that Klingons often drank a beverage called “kol’tuns,” other than good sense.

I never finished my Star Trek novel.

I have written two books about actual space.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read a Star Trek novel, but I still watch every Star Trek movie that comes out, and I’m very interested in the new TV series. But today, my favorite space vehicle has neither S-foils nor warp-nacelles, but two five-segment solid rocket boosters.

It was an incredibly experience writing books not about the fictional future of space, but about actual accomplishments of real spacefarers. But even more amazing is now getting to do in real life what I sought to do with that book — to be part of adding to the story, of filling out the next chapters. Of exploring a little bit more of that universe.

Because, on this 50th anniversary of Star Trek, the work we’re doing in the real world echoes back to the work of Kirk and his crews.

I get to sit in on meetings regularly about such topics as the first human landings on Mars, or sending probes to icy Europa, and the plans scientists have for studying the past or current habitability of those places.

Or, to put it less prosaically, to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life.

But there’s more to it than that. A big part of the appeal of Star Trek was always the idea of a brighter future, and of the call of the unknown. It’s the part that resonated with me; it’s the part that has inspired others. It’s the part that I aspire to in my own work.

NASA, like Star Trek, offers the idea that we can be more than what we are, as a society and as individuals. It encourages and challenges us to reach further than we have. To know all that is knowable. To learn, to build, to explore.

To boldly go where no one has gone before.

The Case for Klingon Christ


Image from A Great Work, via io9

I’m glad that serious thought is being put into the subject of Klingon Jesus.

I read an article on io9 recently about a panel titled “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?” that addressed issues related to Christianity and alien intelligences.

Basically, the issue is this — if there are intelligence species on other planets in the universe, then, from a Christian perspective, there seem to be two possibilities: God becomes incarnate as messiah on each one, or Christ came once to Earth, and it’s the responsibility of humans to tell the galaxy about Him.

I’ve had this conversation several times over the years, beginning with a conversation with some friends in a Mexican restaurant in Jackson, Miss., during which one of my friends argued that this was why he believed there was no extraterrestrial intelligence — the theological implications were too daunting.

Interestingly, we ended up with the same nickname for the question that this researcher, and apparently some others have, all independently — “Klingon Jesus.” If there were Klingons, would God send them a Klingon Jesus, or would we have to tell the Klingons about Jesus? Why it’s not Vulcan Jesus or Wookiee Jesus I don’t know, but Klingon Jesus seems to be the inevitable name for the quandary.

The researcher tends to disagree with the “one Jesus for all the universe” hypothesis, arguing it would make humanity too special, but I personally don’t know that, in a universe in which interplanetary cultural interactions are common place, it would necessarily be any more of a big deal than it was sharing a Jewish messiah with the rest of the world over the last 2,000 years.

There’s a related issue that this article doesn’t get into — Christ had to become a man in order to die for men; can he become a human to die for Wookiees? Or does a Wookiee have to die for Wookiees for it to be equivalent? I suppose the same argument applies — how much different is it from a Jew dying for an aborigine? Answer: I have no idea.

The other issue that this article barely touches on that has been central to some of the discussions I’ve had is the issue of original sin and Jesus as the second Adam. One could argue that, for a human Jesus to die for the sins of other intelligences, they must have been without sin prior to the Garden of Eden on Earth; that no species anywhere was fallen prior to the Terran Fall. And that just seems unlikely, and thus a seeming argument for multiple planetary messiahs. (Which in turn begs for speculative Christian science fiction — what would have happened if a planet which was in its post-messianic era had made first contact with Earth between the fall and the coming of Christ — could humans have been saved by another species’ incarnation of Christ during that period?)

My favorite implication of this is that, really, until humans know that either there is no extraterrestrial intelligence in the galaxy or that the multiple planetary messiah theory is correct, it is arguably a Christian theological imperative to support space travel, lest aliens who need to hear not receive the word of Jesus.

“Go ye therefore for into all nations (on all planets) …”

So, what do you think? Are their aliens out there? And, if so, is there a Klingon Jesus?

The Turnabout Intruder


It was bad enough with Star Wars.

The boys saw a scene from the Original Trilogy on a television, watched for a moment, turned to me, and asked, “Why are those clonetroopers shooting good guys?”

Sigh.

But then, yesterday, the seven-year-old and I are talking about aliens, in reference to the movie Megamind, which has one character, Megamind, who is very clearly and alien, and another, Metro Man, who looks like a normal person, despite both being from other planets. So I’m explaining the diversity of aliens in science fiction.

And then there are the aliens that look almost like humans, like Mr. Spock.

“Who is Spock?”

Knowing that he’s seen the J.J. Abrams Star Trek movie, I try to explain which one Spock is.

“Is he the one who was always kissing the girl?”

Um, yes. Yes, he was.

The next generation thinks that stormtroopers are good guys, and that the guy on Star Trek who’s always kissing a girl is Mr. Spock.

Angels and ministers of grace defend us…