Monday, May 21, 2007

Captain's Log

On a day last week, the four top stories at included two with a Star Trek connection: the news that the space capsule containing ashes of James Doohan was finally found and recovered, and a story headlined "NASA's planet-hunting mission could find Spock's homeworld." The story states, "NASA's upcoming planet-finding mission SIM PlanetQuest will scan the star system 40 Eridani for signs of a habitable planet. If found, that planet would be the real-life counterpart of the fictional planet of 'Vulcan...' 40 Eridani, a triple-star system 16 light-years from Earth, includes a red-orange K dwarf star slightly smaller and cooler than our Sun. While the planet of Vulcan was not identified with a particular star for many years, "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry endorsed 40 Eridani as Vulcan's sun in a letter published in the July 1991 issue of Sky & Telescope magazine."

Another news story of the week had some Star Trek resonance, when two Humpback whales were discovered in the Sacramento River, and efforts began to lure them back to the sea using recorded whale song. It was the technique that successfully guided another Humpback, nicknamed Humphrey, out of San Francisco Bay in 1985. Humphrey had appeared just as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home was in production. That movie, of course, is about the crew of the Enterprise time-traveling to San Francisco in the 1980s to bring two Humpbacks to the 23rd century, where the species no longer existed, to respond to the inquiry of an alien probe that was inadvertently destroying human civilization. Whale song was the key to both identifying the nature of the crisis, and of communicating with the probe.

The amazing coincidence of Humphrey showing up in San Francisco Bay provided the film with the rare opportunity to photograph a real Humpback. But as Leonard Nimoy writes in I Am Spock, the results weren't usable except as reference footage for designing the special effects, particularly the way that the whales move in the water.

Humphrey returned to San Francisco Bay in 1990 and was again escorted back to sea. But the efforts to lure these two new whales last week were unsuccessful. Then, while thousands of people lined the shore to catch a glimpse of them, and scientists plotted their next efforts, the whales suddenly began moving seaward on their own.

Star Trek fans interested in the science behind warp drive and similiar concepts now have a couple of additional resources in two new books about Albert Einstein (reviewed here). The review notes that both books do a good job explaining these concepts.

There hasn't been much actual Star Trek news lately, which may help account for the attention to an interview on British TV by Patrick Stewart, and a few comments he made in the natural course of it which were isolated to apparently encourage the idea that he was slamming his participation in Star Trek. It provided fodder for those who enjoy slamming Stewart and TNG-- particularly on Anthony Pascale's post at the Trek Movie site. There's really nothing in the interview that directly slights Star Trek, while Stewart is endlessly on record expressing pride in TNG and in the people he worked with there. This is the guy who admitted shedding tears before Picard's farewell scene with Riker in "Nemesis," and still insists his crewmates are among the most important people in his life. It's at best a non-story.

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