As a young person growing up in the midst of America’s race to the moon, I was lucky to have exposure to the original Star Trek when it was first aired. Arguably a little young to appreciate it for all its nuance, it certainly made an impression on me and my friends. During many recess hours we were always able to improvise some makeshift ‘bridge’ among the playground equipment, and we were always destined to explore some new ‘frontier,’ if only in our minds eye.
It wasn’t until later in its syndication, while I was going to school studying Aerospace Engineering at the University of Maryland that I came to my full appreciation for the series. Both its characters and compelling storytelling, in no small part, probably helped get me through college. After a long day of classes, I looked forward to its airing daily over the dinner hour. I used to watch it as an essential break to eat, relax and steel myself for the long night of study that lie ahead. At that point, a few years older, and better able to appreciate it, the series spoke to me even more and inspired me – the friendship and camaraderie of the crew and exciting worlds they explored left a lasting impression. It did not escape me at the time, nor does it now, but I was studying aerospace engineering at the time – what are the chances (wink, wink)?
I even remember going to the first Star Trek movie with closet friends – making a party of it, and having a great time. We all had different views on which friend filled the role of each character most. Who we each thought we were did not always match what others had concluded. Regardless, the show and its characters had become important to us not just as individuals, but also important to us as a group.
Fast forward to the theater debut of the Wrath of Khan several years later. By this time I’d graduated and left Maryland, friends, and family to take my first career job. I was a young engineer working for Rockwell International on the Space Shuttle in Southern California. If I had left family and friends, I had not left Star Trek, because there I was – waiting in line for the first show. So new to California that I hadn’t had enough to have made many friends yet, I was there alone, and lonely, with the exception of one friend – Jack Daniels, he being present in the form of a half-pint bottle. To be clear, this story is not about getting drunk at the movie theater, but rather it is about a lonely guy at the time, who wanted to recreate a little bit the party atmosphere of seeing the latest Star Trek movie his friends. A lonely guy who just wanted to compensate for the absence of his friends – people with whom he had a deep bond.
So there I was, enjoying this great movie, and every now and then taking a swig off the bottle – UNTIL…. (do you see where this is going?) – until…. wait, what? NO, NO, no, nooooooo!!!! – Spock dies!!! Gah… I was devastated, unprepared for that twist, and oh, uh, maybe a little tipsy. Surprised at how easily and unexpectedly they flowed, tears found their way out – I cried. Not just regular tears mind you, but hot tears that seemed to burn my face. Such was my appreciation for the character of Spock, and of his friendship with Kirk. This affected me greatly, and truth be told – I likely would cried without the slight nudge provided by the Jack Daniels.
If my tears were fueled in part by the whiskey when Spock died in the movie, now with the passing of Leonard Nimoy, I am sober, and very sad. With gratitude I have to acknowledge both the role that he played in bringing Spock to life and what he taught me about friendship. And so, a question; without Spock and Star Trek would I have become an Aerospace Engineer? Likely the answer is yes, but if you ask, would I have become the same engineer, then the answer is definitely no – I’ve been influenced, for the better by Star Trek, Spock, and Leonard Nimoy. Goodbye Leonard – LLAP, and thanks!