On Star Trek: The Original Series

To Boldly Teach What No One Has Taught Before

By David DeGraff

I don’t know who’s more to blame for my being an astronomer, Neil Armstrong or Gene Roddenberry. I remember wearing the astronaut’s helmet I got for my sixth birthday as I watched Neil Armstrong step onto the lunar surface. A month later, my grandfather showed me the full moon through his binoculars. I told him I could see the flag sticking out of the side, and when he showed me the landmarks to look for to find the landing site, I was sure I was going to be an astronaut. Then came glasses three years later. I was devastated when I found out you can’t be an astronaut if you need glasses. How could anything be better than being an astronaut? Six years later, I turned on the TV after school and there was this gray saucer with two big tubes on the back orbiting an orange, cloudy planet. I was hooked.

Now I’m a professional astronomer teaching physics and astronomy. Since Star Trek and science fiction in general played such a big role in my appreciation for the subject, I try to give my students the same feelings of awe and wonder I had watching Star Trek.

I discovered Star Trek in syndication, so even though this is the fortieth anniversary of the show, it’s closer to my personal, thirtieth anniversary with it. It was a time when the U.S. had no space program. Apollo was over and the space shuttle was still years away from launch, but on my TV  …

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