Star Trek and science have had an interesting relationship over the last 40 years — each has inspired and influenced the other. Star Trek was based on the limitless possibilities of advanced science (and humanity’s potential when it focuses on intellectual development, without racism and nationalism getting in the way). Meanwhile, lots of scientists have been inspired into their careers by Star Trek, and have thus written a little Trek-ness into our everyday lives.
This relationship folded in on itself by the time the fifth Star Trek series, Enterprise, went on the air in 2001. The somewhat controversial opening sequence of Enterprise includes footage and images of actual historical scientific accomplishments intermixed with moments from established Star Trek lore. Collectively, the 80-second opener was intended to draw a rough outline of how humanity advanced from misguided geocentric quasi-astronomers to a species that could travel faster than light, colonize new worlds, and date green-skinned Orion slave girls. (The opener controversy largely centered on the maudlin Russell Watson/Diane Warren theme music, though there were some claims that the above-listed images were rather NASA-centric.)
Included in the opening Enterprise montage are:
- Overlaid schematics of a Mercury Redstone rocket
- Footage of the Spirit of St. Louis taxiing on a runway
- Footage of the space shuttle prototype vehicle Enterprise as it is rolled out from a hangar
- Footage of Amelia Earhart posing next to an airplane
- Footage of the Wright Brothers testing an early Wright Flyer
- Footage of Chuck Yeager flying his Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis
- Overlaid schematics of Leonardo da Vinci’s imagined flying machine
- Footage of the Apollo 14 crew (led by Alan Shepard) walking in their spacesuits
- Footage of the space shuttle engine bells during pre-ignition
- Multiple clips of Saturn V rockets during launch, atmospheric flight and first stage separation
- Footage of a space shuttle and its crew during launch
- Footage of Robert Goddard doing calculations on a blackboard
- Footage of Buzz Aldrin leaving a footprint on the moon
- Footage of an Apollo Lunar Excursion Module on lunar descent
- Footage of the Sojourner Rover working on Mars
By some fans’ measures, Aldrin, Shepard, and their fellow astronauts were the first of their profession ever “cast” in a Star Trek series. This is untrue. Aldrin, Shepard, and company may be the first astronauts to “play themselves” on a Star Trek show, but another real-life astronaut beat them to the Trek casting couch by eight years.
WHO IS THE ONLY REAL-LIFE ASTRONAUT TO BE CAST IN AN EPISODE OF A STAR TREK SERIES?
Dr. Mae Carol Jemison is the astronaut in question. She flew aboard the space shuttle Endeavour as a mission specialist on STS-42 in September of 1992. She also briefly appeared as Lt. Palmer in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Second Chances,” which first aired on May 22, 1993. (Trekkers may remember it as the episode where Commander Riker met his transporter twin, Lt. Riker.)
Dr. Jemison found her way onto the show through LeVar (Geordi La Forge) Burton, who through mutual acquaintances learned that Jemison was a serious Trekkie, and had pursued her NASA career in part because she identified with Lt. Uhura from the original Star Trek. This is a significant parallel, as Jemison was the first African-American woman to fly in space, effectively becoming the first real-life analog to Lt. Uhura, as originally played by African-American actress Nichelle Nichols.
Jemison’s Trek synchronicity doesn’t end there. While obtaining her medical degree from Cornell University, Jemison also studied jazz, African, and modern dance at the legendary Alvin Ailey school. Dr. Beverly Crusher, the chief medical officer on The Next Generation, was known as the “Dancing Doctor” thanks to her prowess both in sickbay and on the dance floor. (Crusher’s jazz and tap skills were revealed in the NextGen episode “Data’s Day,” which first aired in 1991.)
Meanwhile, Jemison’s biography reads like that of a Starfleet applicant. She graduated from high school at 16 and entered Stanford University, where she simultaneously earned a BS in chemical engineering and a BA in African and Afro-American studies. From there it was on to Cornell, where Jemison completed her aforementioned medical studies. Jemison did her medical internship at USC Medical Center in Los Angeles and then joined the Peace Corps, working in Liberia and Sierra Leone. While in the Peace Corps, Jemison commandeered a U.S. Air Force plane to evacuate a meningitis-stricken volunteer to Germany, despite not having any authority to do so.
When Jemison returned from the Peace Corps, she immediately began taking graduate engineer courses for the express purpose of applying to the NASA astronaut corps. She was part of the first class of astronauts accepted after the 1986 Challenger disaster — effectively, the group expected to save NASA from its darkest hour since the Apollo 1 fire. Her glass ceiling-smashing flight helped accomplish just that.
Today, Jemison runs a private technology consulting group, choreographs dance projects out of her home studio, serves as a professor for Cornell and Dartmouth Universities, raises money for charity, and makes for some fact-over-fictionally fantastic Geek Trivia.
The Quibble of the Week
This week’s quibble is breaking the rules because it’s an invitation for some collaborative elaboration. But, as always, if you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week’s Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article and it too will be considered for future call outs within the friendly confines of Geek Trivia. Thanks for the quibbles and counter-quibbles, and keep ’em coming!
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