You mess with Harpo Marx, you get the horns.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Things Star Trek Can Teach NASA

President Obama recently gave a speech about the future of NASA.  This made me immediately think of Star Trek. No, not "The Next Generation" or "Deep Space Nine" or "Voyager" or "Enterprise" or even the souped-up recent film that begs for a sequel, if only to clean up the temporal mess it created. No, I was thinking about "The Original Series," or as some fans call it "TOS," or as other fans call it, "The Only Real Freakin' Star Trek."

Let's face it, without Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Uhura, and Chekov it's not really Star Trek. Even the movies with the original cast outpace the spinoffs. Heck, I'll even take the cartoon version from the seventies (especially the hilarious outtakes).

Anyway, thinking about Star Trek has made me realize just how much the show has to teach us about future space exploration. I'm not just referring to the lessons of respect for all races and peoples and facing the future with optimism. I'm thinking of very specific lessons with obvious applications NASA will need to consider, whether it's landing on desolate asteroids or checking out the nightlife on Gamma Epsilon VII.

Here are a few of the things Star Trek can teach NASA:

  • Invest in seat belts. When a big starship gets shaken around in the weightless vaccuum of space, it's just like bad turbulence in an airplane on Earth.
  • Forget "prime directives." People ignore them the way U.S. government officials ignore tax law.
  • Never take books about corrupt societies into space. Extraterrestial peoples will throw aside thousands of years of their own civilization to model themselves after a moderately well-written history book. "Good grief, Jim! The inhabitants of this planet are both gangsters AND Nazis!"
  • A libido-obsessed lothario can rise to command, even if it's only as a means to score green alien babes. It's that kind of drive that gets us into deep space.*
  • There's an interstellar market for textiles and clothing. Races of lizard men may be advanced enough to travel in space and bombard sophisticated human colonies, but they can't stitch together a decent uniform to save their scaly lives.
  • If your astronauts run into exact copies of themselves, only with beards, this means they are in another dimension.  If the women have beards, it is a dimension to be avoided.
  • Repressing your emotions may lead to really freaky courtships and eventual violent confrontation with friends, but apparently, it also makes you the smartest damn person in the room.
  • We need medical space research. There's no disease so lethal and debilitating that it can't be reversed with futuristic medicine. "Our bodies have aged to 100 years and our extremities have fallen off, but I think I can reverse it all with this hypodermic shot!"
  • Don't develop teleportation unless your astronauts enjoy looking like the sparkling vampires from Twilight.
  • It's a really bad idea to create an "overload" switch to something that could explode violently, like phasers, starship engines (and actors' egos). Stick to "on," "off," "stun," and "kill."
  • Alien races hate our violent impulses, and to demonstrate this superior philosophy, will force us to rip each other to bloody shreds in an arena of their choice. Avoid these snobs whenever possible.
  • Tranya is a delightful beverage. It's Tang for aliens!
  • Hire loads of Scottish engineers. Apparently, guys named Scotty can fix anything. As further evidence, does the name Angus MacGuyver ring a bell?
  • Always keep track of the exchange rate for Quatloos.
  • Hippies of the future are even more personally reckless than the current ones, and will have far worse taste in music. Stick to the usual NASA squares, baby.
  • Time travel only messes stuff up. Sure you may meet Joan Collins in her heyday, but is that really worth it?
  • We are all alike in many ways, meaning that every major alien race in the galaxy has two arms, two legs, one mouth, and bad 60's hairstyles. Anything outside these parameters isn't worth communicating with, or asking out.
  • Keep loads of spare starships around.  Apparently, these are the only thing that can destroy giant, planet-eating machines.**
  • Make room for specialists. For example, space doctors can't do anything outside medicine. "Bones, would you hand me that towel?" "Damn it, Jim, I'm a doctor not a cabana boy!"
  • In the future, all cuisines will die off except for cafeteria food. Partner with Luby's now.
  • Doors of the future will open automatically, like those of today in stores. Strangely though, they will all be considerably noisier. Invest in oil or earplugs.
  • If you see Tribbles, set phasers to kill.
*Supply your own jokes here, you perverts.
**Which just happen to look like oversized shillelaghs.

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