Comic-Con: Turning Science Fiction Into Science Fact

Wow. What’s going on Comic-Com? Man, I can’t
tell you how pumped I am to be here today with all you guys with this panel. This is
a dream come true for me. So, what’s everybody’s name? Okay. Got it.
All right. Good to meet you. My name’s Jay Ferguson. I am–oh, thanks. Hey, mom.
I am a lifelong sci-fi/all things space related nerd, geek, fan boy, bordering on the obsessive
at times, which I feel like a couple of you in this room might know what I’m talking about.
Quick story. I was around 33 and my wife and I were about to be married. And we woke up
one morning and we were having coffee and she said to me, you know, Jay, I’ve been really
tolerant, I’ve been really patient, but I just cannot wake up one more morning opening
my eyes to Darth Vader looking down on me from your framed Empire Strikes Back poster
on your wall. Conversely, there was a Star Wars poster on
all of my walls. But, now, I’m 40 and the Star Wars posters
aren’t on my walls anymore, but they are on my son’s. I am proudly raising three little
nerds. Took them to Star Wars celebration a little while back. It’s pretty awesome.
You know, the beginning of my love of space and sci-fi really started with Star Wars.
That was kind of the fantastical side of it. Then it hit on a real side for me when I saw
the right stuff and that became kind of the catalyst for me to follow my dream of becoming
an astronaut. So, I started to do all the things I thought
I needed to do to do that. I went to Space Camp when I was 16. For those of you who went
to Space Camp, I went to Aviation Challenge as well. Great time out there. Incredible
experience. To follow that up, go into the Air Force Academy
in Colorado Springs. I had every intention of going there. All right.
Then I took flying lessons. Got about two flying lessons in, and it became quickly apparent
to me that I was going to have a hard time piloting a shuttle or any other spacecraft
if I couldn’t stop throwing up. So, those dreams were dashed. But, I was afforded
this incredible opportunity to become a mediocre actor and excel at that.
But, this topic is really incredible. You know, turning science fiction to science reality
is a real deal now. I mean, you know, you think about the guy making the video phone
call to his daughter on her birthday in 2001 and you think about the com links in Star
Trek and then you look at this, you know? Those are just toys. You know, you got Lexus
coming out with the hover board. Unbelievable, right?
But, these are all just fun things. I mean, I think that really I believe–and it might
seem a little bit silly, but, you know, to me, the survival of mankind depends upon what
these people on this panel are doing with their life’s calling. And it is–yeah.
And it is absolutely imparent [sic]–imperative, excuse me, that, you know, we continue to
raise awareness for the Space Program, we continue to raise awareness for space travel.
It depends heavily upon public opinion and public support. And without it, it is–makes
their job a lot harder. So, continue to spread the word. Why don’t we get started, huh?
So, first thing we’re going to do–man, this is so cool. I don’t know about you guys. I
watched every single piece of the International Space Station built live on NASA TV from my
computer. My wife would walk in and wonder if I had lost my mind.
So, it is my absolute pleasure to introduce a little video greeting from the International
Space Station. And this is featuring Scott Kelly, who is currently on the station on
a year trip. He’s about 100 and some odd days into it, I believe. So, let’s roll it.
I’m Astronaut Scott Kelly of NASA aboard the International Space Station. I’m flying at
a speed of five miles a second, 250 miles above the earth aboard this magnificent laboratory
where every day we turn science fiction into science fact.
It can’t be a station adventure [sp] without robots. Like the droids in Star Wars, we’re
testing robotic devices to help perform autonomous satellite servicing in the future and other
selected tasks normally reserved for astronauts to conduct during space walks.
And very much like in the movie, 2001: A Space Odyssey, the space station is a destination
for commercial companies to deliver cargo, and in the not too distant future, astronauts
as well. As I conduct research during my one year mission
on the station, lessons learned will pave the way for a journey to Mars.
Oh my God, that’s Scott Kelly. All right. Let’s meet our panelists, shall we?
To my left here, we have Amber Straughn. She is an astrophysicist. Let me tell you something.
I don’t get starstruck easily by, like, actors or musicians, but you put an astrophysicist
in front of me and I become like a giddy fifth grader; okay?
She’s from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Goddard was the name of my team at Space Camp,
by the way. That’s awesome.
Amber works on subjects ranging from the James Webb Telescope to exoplanets. Why don’t you
tell us a little bit more about what’s going on, Amber?
Sure. Well, there’s a lot going on. As an astrophysicist, I use the Hubble Space Telescope
and telescopes on the ground to study how stars and black holes form in distant galaxies,
which is pretty much an incredible job. So, it’s a lot of fun.
And I also work, as Jay said, on the James Webb Space Telescope that we’re building right
now and we’re launching in 2018. And I’ll talk a little bit more about that.
Yeah, it’s very exciting. Next, we have Kevin Hamm–Hand, excuse me, Kevin; Deputy Chief
Scientist for Solar System Exploration from JPL. Kevin’s an astrobiologist and planetary
scientist and a National Geographic Explorer. Stop showing off already. Kev, why don’t you
tell us a little bit about what’s going on, buddy?
Well, my focus is on what I like to call the ocean worlds of the outer solar system; these
moons that have liquid water beneath their icy shells. And these are worlds where I think
we might be able to go in the coming decades and actually find living life. Life that is
alive today and we can poke and prod it and see if life has originated a second time in
our own backyard. So, we’ll talk more about that.
Yeah, that’s exciting. Hello. Hello, sir. That guy’s name is Adam Nimoy. And he is a
producer and the son of space royalty, Leonard Nimoy.
Adam, why don’t you say hello? Hi, my name is Adam Nimoy. I’m really happy
to be here and share the stage with such a distinguished panel.
I’m here to talk a little bit about, For the Love of Spock, a documentary I’m now writing
and directing based on the life of Mr. Spock and the life and legacy of Leonard Nimoy and
the man who brought Spock to life. And we’ll be talking a little bit more detail about
that later, but I’m really happy to be here. And I–you know, the turnout is phenomenal.
Yeah, it’s incredible. So, thank you all for coming out.
All right, cool. Finally, we have Aditya Sood who is the producer of a movie I think we’re
all excited about, The Martian. Coming up soon from 20th Century Fox starring Matt Damon,
the man. Why don’t you drop a little fun little thing on us right now?
Well, apparently–and I didn’t know this until the beginning of this panel, I’m also responsible
for, what was it, the future of humanity? That’s right.
Okay. Yeah.
Yeah. And–. –No pressure.
What? Sorry? No pressure.
No pressure. Well, I’m really excited to be here and really, really excited about The
Martian, which, you know, was a book that Andy Weir wrote that I found when it was still
a self published book on Amazon. And here we are two and a half years later. And thanks
to, you know, a lot of great people at NASA, we are about to show it to the world on October
2nd. In fact, we actually have a little something
I’d like to show you guys if you’re interested. Huh? Come on, let’s see it, baby.
Every human being has a basic instinct. To help each other out. If a hiker gets lost
in the mountains, people coordinate a search. If an earthquake levels the city, people all
over the world send emergency supplies. This instinct is found in every culture. Without
exception. At around 4:30am our satellites detected a
storm approaching the ARES 3 mission side on Mars. The storm had escalated to severe and we had
no choice but to abort the mission. But, during the evacuation, astronaut Marc
Watney was killed. I’m entering this log for the record. This
is Marc Watney, and I’m still alive, obviously. I have no way to contact NASA or my crewmates.
But, even if I could, it would take four years for another manned mission to reach me, and
I’m in a Hab designed to last 31 days. So, in the face of overwhelming odds, I’m
left with only one option. I’m gonna have to science the **** out of
this. Okay, let’s do the math. I got to figure out
how to grow four years worth of food, here, on a planet where nothing grows. But, if I can’t figure out a way to make contact
with NASA, none of this matters anyway. Houston be advised.
We’ve got a video message. It’s directed to the whole crew.
Play it. Mark Watney is still alive. In your face, Neil Armstrong. We left him behind. Let’s go get our boy. This is something NASA rejected. So, we’re
talking mutiny. And if we mess up the supply rendez-vous,
we die. If we mess-up the earth gravity assist, we
die. It’s space, it doesn’t cooperate. I guarantee you, that at some point, everything
is gonna go south on you. And you’re gonna say “this is it”. “This is
how I end.” Is it possible that he’s still alive? That guy really has it all, doesn’t he? He’s
the bad guy in Interstellar; he’s the good guy in The Martian. I mean, good Lord. Well,
that looks incredible. Really excited. All right. Let’s get started with our first
part here. Really just talking about the relationship between space science and science fiction.
Really throughout NASA’s history, it’s been inspired by science fiction and it’s conversely
influenced it. So, I guess I’ll pose it to you guys first.
Amber, you can go first, you know? How were you directly influenced by pop culture and
sci-fi and everything under the sun there? Yeah, I definitely was. I think pop culture,
science fiction all along the way has had a big influence on me. I mean, yeah, movies
like that and Star Trek, the whole thing. It’s just–yeah, it’s awesome.
I also–I grew up in rural Arkansas on a farm in the middle of nowhere. And so, the beauty
of the universe itself has also been a big inspiration to me from the time I was a little
kid. But, I think–I don’t know. I think that the
way that NASA and science fiction sort of mutually influence each other is really cool.
It’s a really fun thing that happens. And I don’t really think it’s surprising.
You know, I think both of these realms, science fiction and NASA, they sort of strive for
great things. You know, they’re all about imaging a better future, imagining things
that is just barely beyond a reach of what we can do now. And I think that’s why that
they’re so related and they influence each other and why so many of us find those common
interests of science and science fiction. Kev, what about you, buddy?
Similar influences. Yeah, I wanted to be Elliott in E.T.
Mm-hmm. Grew up in Vermont and was always looking
for that spaceship in the woods. Sadly, it never came.
Would you not be here anymore had it had? Think about where I would be. But, that sort
of lifecycle of science fiction, feeding into science fact, and then that continuous loop
is so important. And just watching Aditya’s great video here,
it makes me think of how long Mars has been in our sort of social consciousness.
And I’d like to sort of put forth a challenge to this community, such a creative community,
that there are other worlds that really kind of need your help to get imbedded into the
social framework. These are worlds like Jupiter’s moon, Europa; Saturn’s moon, Enceladus. These
are not moons where we’re necessarily going to put astronauts down on the surface, although
I did help out with the Europa report, which I think did a really nice job with that.
You know, we’re going to be sending robots there. And our ability as NASA to send robots
to these worlds is greatly helped by the degree to which the public identifies with and gets
the profound scientific potential and imagination of new worlds and new life forms that could
exist. So, please, you know, don’t just think about
Mars. Think about all these other fascinating worlds out there in our solar system.
Amen. Also, I want to echo that because we need
a sequel to The Martian. Hey. Matt Damon on Europa or Kristen Wiig?
That would be hilarious. Aditya, I’ll throw it down to you? What do
you think in the film and TV world how NASA and the space program’s been a heavy inspiration?
Well, I–you know, I can just sort of speak personally. I’m–you know, I’m, I think, roughly
the same age as you, Jay, and I kind of came of age, you know, definitely on Star Wars
and definitely on–actually, my personal guilty pleasure is 2010, the year we made contact.
That’s okay. Don’t go to Europa. I feel the Europa love.
Yeah, attempt no landings there. Oh, but we must.
But, you know, equally important for me, actually, my first real sort of memories or, you know,
the first time I really thought about space was a little program called 3-2-1 Contact,
which, you know–. –Yep.
I remember at the time, it was just when Voyager 2 was going by–was doing its flyby of Saturn.
Mm-hmm. And I remember that just capturing my imagination
in such a profound way. And I also remember on a school field trip, I think in kindergarten,
listening on an AM radio to the landing of the first space shuttle mission, the Columbia.
And by the way, AM radio is what we used to use to learn things before the internet, but
after the telegraph. Adam, let’s take it to you. What do you think
the reason is that your dad and Star Trek touched so many people and inspired a number
of NASA scientists, astronauts, engineers to pursue careers in their fields?
Well, there’s been a lot of commentary from scientists about how they were inspired by
Star Trek. It kind of–it does go hand in hand because there was a lot of space program
going on in the ’60s when Star Trek came around. One of the things that we’ve heard–you know,
I’ve been doing a lot of interviewing for this film, For the Love of Spock and talking
to a lot of people about Star Trek and really kind of getting into the milieu of what people
are thinking and why it resonates–Star Trek resonates so much.
And one of the things that people have commented on repeatedly is the fact that Star Trek takes
place in the 23rd century and the world is good. You know, the future is good, which
was particularly interesting for the time period in which Star Trek was first premiered
because we’re dealing with the ’60s where there’s all this social unrest and there’s–the
Cold War is still kind of permeating society. There’s anti-war demonstration going on.
So, in the midst of all that kind of turmoil of the ’60s, this positive message that people
can come together from all different backgrounds, races, and nationalities, including, you know,
a gentlemen who happens to be half alien and work together for one common goal, which is
space exploration. And the good of mankind is something that has, I think, inspired a
lot of people. That just–yeah, I think that general message
that Gene Roddenberry was trying to portray which is that the future is good; it’s going
to be good was a great inspiration to people. But, the other thing that is so interesting
about Star Trek is that it really inspired a lot of creativity in the scientific community.
There’s so much technology in Star Trek. A lot of it just by–invented by necessity for
the show to function that has come into reality. We’re talking about communicators looking
like–well, the old cell phone, you know? The flip–.
–Yeah, the flip phone, yeah–. –Phone that we used to have, right? We’re
already past the communicator now. But, the whole idea of the personal computer.
I mean, there’s computers all over all–you know, on board the Starship Enterprise, which
they interact with on a daily basis, which was not–there were no personal computers
back then. So, that was something that was a challenge that inspired people.
The whole idea of a space exploration–we haven’t quite gotten the traveling faster
than the speed of light, you know, quite under our belts yet. This idea of warping space
so that we can get from one end of the galaxy to another within that one hour timeframe
of network TV. You know, I mean, apparently the galaxy–I
just learned this from [unintelligible], the galaxy is 100,000 light years in diameter,
right? Okay. So, it would take a while for him to get one to the other.
So, there are all these–and then the whole thing about beaming down the planet surface
was something that is also inspired people to try to figure out a way to strive for these
things. We don’t have the physics for it yet, necessarily, but these are all things that
have kind of driven the imagination of the scientific and technological community to
make into reality things that we were just dreaming about back in the ’60s.
That’s great. Can I just add something?
Yeah, please. You were talking about the various devices
and it reminded one of the mythical things that we would love to create in the astrobiology
community that evades us is the tri-quarter. You know, we have meetings about what payload,
what instruments could help us definitively say whether or not we have found life and
we don’t have the magical tri-quarter yet. We have various instruments can–that can
triangulate on the question. But, boy, I would love to have that little thing that just tells
me, oh, this is based on this kind of compound and such and such. This is the biochemistry.
We’re not there, but it’s–the tri-quarter is referenced constantly in the astrobiology
world because we want one. We’re getting close. Some of the rovers–some
of those instruments on the rovers, they’re doing a smaller version of that.
Yeah. Yeah. Right.
And one other thing, if–. –Oh, please.
You know, you touched on creativity and I think a lot of times when people think of
science, they think of, you know, cut and dry sort of cold facts. It’s sort of separative
from creativity. But, there is so much creativity that is required
to do all these awesome things that NASA does. You know, rovers on Mars and sending people
to Mars in the future and building these huge telescopes that we send out to space. Amazing
amounts of creativity that are required to make these things a reality.
Absolutely. I mean, we would never go anywhere if anybody didn’t have the creativity.
Okay. Aditya, you talked a little bit about how you found the book and optioned it, but
maybe you wanted to touch a little bit about, you know, how you had to work so closely with
NASA and–. –Yeah–.
–They were there day after day on the set, right? I imagine.
They–NASA was, it turns out, very excited about movies that make NASA look awesome,
and deservedly so because NASA is awesome. I just want to be–you know, they really just
rolled out the red carpet for us. And, you know, Jim Green and his whole team, you know,
answered every question that we could possibly have about, you know, would this thing, you
know, really work. And I think that’s one of the really–for
me, one of the really wonderful things about The Martian is–and it started from Andy’s
book, you know, is really the commitment to reality, you know? I think there’s–you know,
science fiction is great and I love science fiction that, you know, goes very far off-field
from what our, you know, day to day experience is.
But, there is so much drama in what actually exists and I think that this is a rare opportunity
for us to make a movie that really takes advantage of that. And I think NASA, you know, every–you
know, every person that we’ve talked to, I think it’s something that they’ve echoed to
us, too. That, you know, we want people to actually get a feeling of what it’s going
to be like to go to Mars. And I mean, we kind of got a hint of it from
the trailer, but what would you say is the bigger human message that The Martian wants
to deliver to the masses? You know, it’s a really interesting thing.
I think one of the wonderful–one of the other wonderful things about The Martian, it actually
reminded me a lot of–I don’t know if you guys ever read the book, Watership Down, you
know? Mm-hmm.
That–it’s a book–that book’s about rabbits, right, on an adventure. But, I think everybody
who read that book and was touched by that book found their own sort of message and their
own sort of meaning in it. And I actually think The Martian kind of did a similar thing,
for me. And I knew–you know, I read the book overnight
and it’s one of the things that we do in this business is you want to read for pleasure,
but sometimes you just have to read things really quickly because, you know, other people
are also reading at the same time and chasing the same things.
But, I read the book and Fox optioned it and that weekend, I gave it to my wife. And I
will tell you, you could not pay my wife enough money to read a science fiction book. Like,
it’s just–it’s not something that she’s remotely interested in.
And she took that book and she read it, I think, faster than I did. And she just found
something in there that really just spoke to her as well and I think it’s a combination
of optimism. It’s a love letter to NASA, it’s a love letter to science, it’s a love letter
to, you know, stick-to-itiveness. And, you know, I just–I think it’s a really
just fantastic. We’re all very excited.
All right. Let’s switch gears a little bit here.
So, Kevin, there’s hundreds of billions of solar systems in the Milky Way.
Correct. Roughly? Roughly?
There’s a lot. There’s a lot.
Mm-hmm. And there’s 100 billion, give or take a billion
or two, galaxies in the universe. It’s in that range.
Okay. Do you think maybe there’s another planet out there that has life on it?
Well, the Kepler Spacecraft and JWST will do a nice job. Well, the Kepler Spacecraft
has already discovered many of these planets that have given us some confidence that Earth-like
planets do exist out there beyond our sun. And those worlds are fantastic. It’s a little
frustrating, though, because we don’t yet have warp drives. So, once we find an Earth-like
planet, it’s going to take us a long time to get there. And in the meantime, I hope
that we can really push forward with our robotic exploration of these worlds that have liquid
water today. You know, Europa has got two to three times
the volume of all the liquid water that we have here on Earth. It’s good old fashioned
H2O. It’s a little bit salty. You probably wouldn’t want to drink it. But, it’s there
today and it’s been there for the history of the solar system.
And so, this little geochemistry experiment that might’ve yielded biology is out there
orbiting Jupiter waiting for us to explore it.
And recently, NASA gave the green light to a mission that was formally known as Europa
Clipper. It’ll be renamed something soon. And that mission will be fantastic for revealing
lots of secrets about Europa. But, that’s just the beginning.
We need to put things down on the surface. We need to melt through that ice and we need
to explore that ocean in great detail. And what’s great about that is as we develop
those tools and technologies, we need to test them someplace. And my hope is that we can
test them here on Earth and explore our own ocean and better understand the ocean that
is so precious and necessary for life here on Earth.
So, it’s a win-win when NASA decides to explore something and to dare mighty things. We’ll
learn more about our home planet, how to protect it, and we might find life elsewhere.
By the way, Kevin has made nine dives to the bottom of the ocean, just so you know.
Just curious what you were just talking about, though. Where would you–what would be your
first choice to go to try out those landers and that drilling equipment and whatnot? Would
it be just, you know, northern Cali? Or where we going?
No. We’d go down to Antarctica to Lake Vostok and some of the lakes that are underneath
the Antarctic ice sheet. Nice.
Yeah. That’ll be fun. Can I come?
Yeah. If we can get funding. Okay. Okay. So, let’s talk about exoplanets
and the James Webb Telescope, shall we, Amber? Let’s do it.
So, while we’ve discovered many extra solar planet systems and exoplanets, we have yet
to confirm a true Earth-like planet. So, what’s the future for NASA and the search for life
outside our solar system? What are these discoveries teaching us?
Well, I think it’s really important to recognize just how far NASA missions have taken us in
this sort of search for life. And I mean, what–as an astronomer, one of the things
I love most about my job is that astronomy sort of gets to the heart of our big questions.
You know, they’re not just big questions for scientists. They’re big questions for humanity.
You know, where did we come from and how did we get here? And then the one we’re talking
about today. Are we alone? And those are questions that people have been
asking forever. And I think that’s one of the cool things about being a scientist.
And NASA’s Kepler Telescope has completely revolutionalized our understanding of planetary
systems. You know, when I was a kid, we knew of nine planets; the ones in our own solar
system. Didn’t know of any others. And in just my lifetime, you know, now we know that
planets are everywhere. There are probably more planets in our galaxy than there are
stars. So, if you go outside at night, point up at
a star, it probably has a planet around it, right? That’s paradigm shifting. We didn’t
know that, even just 15 years ago. So, the fact that this, you know, relatively
small telescope, Kepler, has changed the way we think about planets is amazing and really
it speaks to the amazing things that NASA missions do.
So–. –I’m sorry. Let me interrupt you just real
quick. Yep.
What’s the count at right now, by the way, of all the planets?
So, there are just over 4,000 candidates and a little over 1,000–we just surpassed 1,000
planets confirmed this year. Wow.
Yeah, it’s amazing. And about–I think we’re at about a dozen of those that are in the
habitable–. –Habitable zone–.
–Zone; potentially Earth-like planets. So, yeah. It’s remarkable what Kepler has done.
So–and that’s–also, all of those planets that Kepler has found is in a relatively small
part of the sky. So, Kepler just stares at one small part of the sky to find these exoplanets.
And so, by, you know, imaging what else is out there and the parts of the sky that Kepler’s
not looking at, that’s how we can kind of estimate the fact that there are billions
and billions of planets in our galaxy alone. And you’ve already mentioned, you know, in
addition to our galaxy that has a couple hundred billion stars, there are a couple hundred
billion other galaxies outside of our Milky Way that, you know, certainly have planets,
too. So, the universe is vast.
So, you’re saying there’s a chance. There’s–there is absolutely a chance. I think
there’s a really good chance. But, thinking about the future–so, the way
Kepler finds exoplanets is it stares at these stars, it watches for a little dip of light,
which means that a planet’s passed in front of a star. And so, by using Kepler, we’re
able to find planets that are out there and determine some very basic properties about
them. But, we can’t learn a lot of detail about those planets.
And so, we’re–we have a couple of missions at NASA coming up. One is called the TESS
Telescope. And that’s going to launch in 2017. And so, what that’s going to do is a similar
thing. It’s going to look for transiting exoplanets, but relatively nearby. So, planets that are
orbiting stars that are a lot brighter. And so, there’d be a lot closer to us.
So, a lot of the planets we’ve discovered with Kepler are relatively far away within
our own galaxy. And then, of course, the James Webb Space
Telescope, which launches in 2018, I believe, is really the next huge step in our understanding
of these exoplanets because what JWST will be able to do that Kepler is not able to do
is to study in detail the atmospheres of these exoplanets, right?
So, when those planets cross in front of their star, Webb is going to take detailed spectra
of the atmospheres of these exoplanets. And that is incredibly hard to do. Really hard
to do, right? Because stars are huge and bright and planets are tiny and their atmospheres
are really, really thin. But, we are building this awesome technology
to launch on these telescopes to be able to do this really, really hard science that will
enable us to learn about these exoplanets and find potentially planets that are capable
of supporting life. So, Webb will be able to, for example, detect
water vapor in exoplanet atmospheres, right? So, we could easily find a water world with
JWST. Wow. I’m just going to go off book here for
a second here. Kev, I want to ask you and Amber both; all four of you really. Have you
guys seen the pictures of Ceres, the dwarf planet?
Yeah. What are our opinions on the tiny little reflective
spots on it? I’m just curious. Go ahead, Amber. You can start it off.
I have no idea. Probably some type of ice. I don’t know. Planetary scientist; let him
tell you. Yeah, we’ll have to wait until the data comes
back so I don’t have to speculate. But, stay tuned. I think it’s potentially some salt
evaporite deposits upweld from below. But, it’s too early to tell. But, the Dawn Spacecraft
will give us a lot more data. It’s going to get closer, right? It’s going
to get closer shots? Or is that as close as it’s going to get?
It’s about as close as it’s going to get. I think it gets a little bit closer later
this summer. Okay.
But, you know, Ceres is a very interesting object in that once upon a time, it likely
did have an ocean beneath its outer shell. And so, even if Ceres doesn’t have an ocean
today, it’s still a very interesting world in terms of having water at some point in
its past. Whether or not it had water long enough to give rise to life, whether or not
it had the right chemistry, the mixture of water and rocks that would be needed for life
to originate, that’s an open question. But, it’s a fascinating world and we’re–what
that big old pyramid is and what those bright spots are, I don’t know. I’ll let these guys
speculate. Go ahead. Speculate away.
I’m going to go for definitive proof of an ancient hybrid alien civilization.
That’s what I was looking for, baby. Yeah. I suffer no professional penalty if I’m wrong.
Adam, thoughts? No, I pass. I can’t follow up on that one.
Okay. I will just say that they did put a picture of Vegas from the International Space
Station, which would’ve been a little too close to compare, but they did put it up next
to it and it did look very similar. So, they were thinking maybe there was some gambling
going on down there. Okay. So, we’re onto our last little section
here. How are we doing on our time? We’re good.
So, two words, guys: Leonard Nimoy. Or as he was better known as, Mr. Spock; an alien
from the planet Vulcan. I just want to switch gears a little bit and talk about your dad
and his life, his legacy, how he was such an inspiration to so many people.
Why don’t you–I mean, he’s been an icon for generations; people that weren’t even born
when Star Trek was on TV. And you know, that’s something that continues to resonate so intensely
for so many people. Obviously, his loss was a loss for the world. And I was just curious
what about Spock do you think touched such curiosity for his character? Why did he become
an icon in our pop culture? It’s kind of a long question. But–.
–It’s a tough one. It’s interesting to me that after my dad passed
away, there had been so much outpouring of emotion about, you know, oddly enough, that
a man who tried to wrestle with his emotions, about the loss of Spock and what he had meant
to so many people. And for a number of reasons, which I can kind of talk a little bit about.
The other thing that was kind of interesting I want to mention now is that not only were
people kind of grieving for the loss of this pop culture icon, but there were a number
of people who expressed their grief about losing Leonard Nimoy, the artist, as well.
But, the two have become so entwined with one another.
And I’ve discovered, interestingly enough, it was kind of a surprise to me that a part
of the longevity of Spock was the various things that people were–that resonated with
different people throughout all of society, including scientists.
But, another factor that I didn’t really quite understand was that people generally liked
Leonard Nimoy as an artist, as a humanitarian, and that he resonated with a number of people
across the planet. And the–you know, the kind of symbiotic relationship
between the two kept them both going, interestingly enough. I didn’t really fully understand this
because I thought it was going to just be a big, you know–the whole thing was going
to be Spock, Spock, Spock. But, it was–there was a lot of Leonard–a lot of love for Leonard
in there, which was very surprising and, you know, heartwarming to me, frankly, and the
rest of the family during the grieving process. But, the thing about Spock that’s so interesting
is that there’s so many different segments of society that have claimed him as their
own, you know? And certainly the science community repeatedly
has come out in support of Spock as kind of, you know, an iconic image for them or as an
ideal for scientists, scientific study in large part because he was logical. He was
the cool head, you know, on the bridge of the Enterprise. He was not the mad scientist
in–you know, in some laboratory basement somewhere on the Enterprise. He was right
there with the rest of the crew. And, you know–and the other thing that was
interesting to me is that Spock was also in a command position. I mean, he’s the first
officer. When Kirk is on the planet, the scientist takes over the ship. And I’m sure most scientists
just love that, you know? That’s the way it should be.
So, that really, you know, resonated with the science community and that he was cool.
You know, that the nerd, the geek could be the outsider, could be somebody who was cool
and logical and thoughtful and interesting to, obviously, to look at.
There was a lot, you know, in terms of–the other way of looking at this is kind of, which
I really want to talk about very briefly but it’s important to cover, is that, you know,
this idea of Spock resonated with Leonard. You see, the whole idea of bringing life to
the character that my dad would use as his method was to bring something of his own personal
life to each of the characters that he was creating or trying to give life to.
My dad reminded me not long before he died that Spock was the only alien on the crew
of the Enterprise. On the bridge, on the core crew of the Enterprise, he is the only alien.
And that as such, his objective, that his issue was how to integrate himself into the
human society of his colleagues on that ship. How to give the best that he had to give.
How to use his scientific knowledge that he had to offer for the benefit of his shipmates
and his crew. And that was sort of, you know, his overall
objective, to stay a part of the group, a part of the team. This happened to be the
exact same issue that my father was confronted with as a young man growing up in the west
end of Boston. He was the son of Russian immigrant parents, living in a heavy immigrant neighborhood
in the west end. It was Irish and Italian Catholics and Russian and European Jews. Very
heavy immigrant environment. And his–and the whole issue for his life
was how to be able to transcend that and give the best that he had to give to society as
a whole. So, it was his ability to bring his own personal experience into the life of Spock,
which enabled him to create this incredibly complex and dynamic inter-life for Mr. Spock
because there’s not–you know, there’s not a bunch of emotion.
There’s not a whole lot of dialogue for Spock. He’s very introspective. Yet, when he raises
his eyebrow, you know that he’s thinking something. He’s commenting on something. There’s something
going on internally for him. So, being the outsider has also resonated
with people. Trying to integrate with the whole of the group has resonated with people.
Being a minority on that crew has resonated with people.
And the other thing that’s been very interesting in the research I’ve been doing for this film,
For the Love of Spock, is that early on–within the first month of Star Trek airing, it became
very apparent that Spock was very much loved by the female fan base.
That by the time they aired the “Naked Time”, in which he had that scene with, you know,
Nurse Chappell in, you know, sick bay, and she expressed her love for him, that unleashed
this incredible letter writing campaign of women fans out there who wanted to echo that
and make sure that they knew that Spock was very much loved, not only by Nurse Chappell.
So, this whole idea of being unattainable. And in fact, there was an article written
by Isaac Asimov for TV Guide entitled, “Spock is Dreamy,” which was–which is a title that
his daughter came up with this idea because he is a scientist. You know, he said that
he’s an open book. He just loved women and they didn’t show that much interest for him.
But, to be a scientist who was no quite attainable was something else, that was a challenge to
women, and it was also resonating with that whole other segment of society.
So, all these things. All–there was so much of Spock that people could relate to on so
many different levels. And then we have the syndication market which
kept Star Trek alive. Yes. Five nights a week, you know, 5:00, marathons on the weekend.
During the ’70s, when I was in college, everybody was in the TV room watching Star Trek. That
has kept him alive. And then we have the movie franchise, which
has kept Spock and the Enterprise and Star Trek and the franchise alive. And then we
have the internet. We have–you know, and we have pop, you know, culture and pop art.
We see the image of Spock just keep showing up everywhere in the most unexpected places;
on TV shows, in movies, in art. And it’s just–it’s so interesting that all
he was trying to do was create an interesting and dynamic character. He never set out to
create this pop culture icon, but the end result is what we’ve come to know and love
as Mr. Spock. That’s great.
I’m curious. We were talking to–back there about this a little bit, but did he always
have an interest in space exploration? I mean, did you guys, you know, sit around the dinner
table and talk about the Apollo program? Or how did that work out?
That would be logical, but that is not what went down. It’s so interesting that, you know,
in the ’60s, there’s this space race to the moon, you know, because of Sputnik. We have,
you know, all this launching of all these, you know–of these probes that are going out,
of the telecommunication satellites, of navigation satellites, of space exploration satellites.
This is all in the ’60s. And then we have the manned space program.
You know, we have the Gemini program. We have the Apollo program. All space exploration
going on while Star Trek starts airing in September of ’66, but it was not something
that we necessarily discussed. In large part because we never had family
dinners and discussed anything because, as you know, these shows are so incredibly difficult
to make, my dad was on a sound stage for 12 to 14 hours a day for three years. We never
even saw him, really. And science was not necessarily his forte.
Remember, you know, although my father had a very fine mind, he was not really–didn’t
have that much formal education, which was something that dismayed his parents I can
tell you right away because they were looking for doctors and lawyers.
And my Uncle Mel, whose oldest son is in the audience tonight, my cousin, Paul–hey, Paul–my
Uncle Mel went to MIT and became a chemical engineer for Johnson & Johnson for 30 years.
That’s what my grandparents wanted, but that is not what they got. And we’re blessed by
that difference, as my dad would say. So, that–you know, although the science,
you know, space exploration was of interest to me, that was not something that we were
discussing at that time. And it was not necessarily something that was of interest, you know,
to him initially. But, since he’s had so much interaction with
the scientific community, he’s constantly being shown research by all these scientists
who he has inspired to do the research. And they want commentary from him about their
research. And he would always use his top phrase, which was you’re on the right track.
That’s great. All right. Well, Adam, I think it’s time for you to show
us some footage. If you’d like to see it, we have a very short
sizzle reel that we put together. Yes now? This was put together early on in the early
stages of making this film, which we’re still in the process of making, which is expanded
to include not only–I got this disclaimer. It’s not just Spock. It is going to be more
about the life of Leonard Nimoy, his process, his artistic career, his humanitarianism,
really. But, this little reel that we put together
very early on to try to generate interest in the project is very Spock centric. So,
let’s just take a look. As you may or not–may or may not have heard,
that was the current Spock, Zachary Quinto, narrating that trailer there. And he narrates
the whole film? He will be narrating the whole.
Yeah. Yeah. Lucky for me, yeah.
So, we’re pretty much out of time. I guess–I don’t know. What’s the over-under on when
we come up with a teleportation device? Kevin? We have–.
–Amber–? –A little work to do, yeah.
I don’t know about the teleportation device, but it is really important to appreciate the
timing of when you’re alive, be it exoplanets, be it the search for life on Mars, be it the
exploration of these oceans worlds out there in our solar system.
Appreciate that for the first time in the history of humanity, we have the tools and
technology. We know how to do the experiments to go out there and see whether or not life
does exist beyond Earth. Never before has humanity been able to do this kind of exploration.
And so, you know, in this life cycle of science and science fiction, it’s important that we
help buoy each other because we can do it, but we need the public to be engaged in it.
We need the public to be excited about it. We need schools to be teaching it. We need
the next generation to be coming up through making the films, developing the instruments,
building the missions so that we can actually make these great discoveries be they within
our solar system or beyond. Math, science, math, science, encourage the
kids to go that direction. Thanks, everybody, for coming out. This has
been a blast and a dream come true for me. Thanks our panel. Amber Straughn, Kevin Hand,
Adam Nimoy, Aditya Sood, thanks, guys. This was a blast.
Thank you. All right.

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