William Shatner made a guest “appearance” at the Star Trek convention in New York.
Star Trek and NASA have enjoyed quite the love-in over the past half-century, and it continued this weekend at Star Trek: Mission New York, where top NASA scientists are on hand to discuss topics such as the search for life on other planets and the science of exoplanet discoveries.
The three-day Trekkie convention features panelists Dan Werthimer from UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, Bobak Ferdowsi of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, as well as Jeff Volosin, project manager for NASA’s Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite, who opened his session with a video message from none other than William Shatner -aka James T. Kirk- on the symbiotic relationship between science and science fiction.
“NASA works by science -it’s all mathematical,” says Shatner, still able to give a commander-in-chief performance despite his 85 years. “But science fiction is totally imaginative, it’s the exact opposite. All these imaginative exercises of science fiction are food for the imagination of scientists who are actually working with technology.”
NASA honoured the Montreal, Quebec-born Shatner in 2014 with its Distinguished Public Service medal, NASA’s highest award given to non-government personnel.
“William Shatner has been so generous with his time and energy in encouraging students to study science and math, and for inspiring generations of explorers, including many of the astronauts and engineers who are a part of NASA today,” said David Weaver, NASA’s associate administrator for the Office of Communications at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
Over the years, Shatner has lent his time and talent to a variety of NASA promotional events, including a 30th anniversary documentary of the space shuttle missions and a presentation on the Mars Science Laboratory mission involving the Curiosity land rover. In 2011, Shatner spoke his famous Star Trek opening sequence, “Space… the final frontier…” as the final wake-up call for astronauts on the STS-133 mission, the final flight of space shuttle Discovery.
Enjoying a recent run of success, NASA has just published the latest pictures from its Juno space probe which has been in orbit around Jupiter since early July. The probe recently completed the first of many fly-bys of the gas giant planet Jupiter, coming within 4,000 km of the planet and producing dramatic images of the violent storms occurring at Jupiter’s North Pole. “First glimpse of Jupiter’s north pole, and it looks like nothing we have seen or imagined before,” says Scott Bolton, NASA’s principal investigator of Juno. “This image is hardly recognisable as Jupiter.”
Furthering the search for life on other planets, NASA researchers confirmed earlier this year the discovery of over 1,000 new exoplanets – planets known to be orbiting stars other than our Sun – made possible by the Kepler space telescope, launced in 2009, and raising the total of currently identified exoplanets to 3,518.
“Is it possible that life exists … on that planet that’s only a shadow in a telescope?” says Shatner. “Those are the imaginative things that NASA is looking at, that’s every bit as passionately imaginative as science fiction. It’s incredible.”