About C.C. Petersen

I am a science writer and media producer specializing in astronomy and space science content. This blog contains news and views about these topics.

Live Long and Prosper: Celebrating Star Trek at 50

B0ldly Going for Half a Century!

Star Trek

Star Trek at 50 and counting! Courtesy StarTrek.com

It’s hard to believe, but I’ve been a Trekkie for 50 years. I was a tiny kid when the first Star Trek episodes showed up on TV.  I remember watching it on the first-ever color TV we had. Daddy parked it in the corner of the living room of the house we had bought a few months earlier.  I was immediately taken with the show, its premise, and its exotic travels. Oh, and the characters, too. They were over-the-top cool! Although I liked Captain Kirk, I thought the characters of Mr. Spock and Lt. Uhura were just amazing.

What Star Trek  Did For Fans

Scratch the surface of many an astronomer, scientist, and even a few doctors of my acquaintance, and you find a Trekkie. It matters not if they came of age during TOS, TNG, DS9, Voyager, or the latest incarnation of the series in an alternate universe. Many who grew up watching it came away with an indelible sense of infinite possibilities in their lives. Because of Uhura (and the lovely Ms. Nichelle Nichols who brought her to life), many of us female types found that we could dream about careers in science, exploring the cosmos.

Thanks to Mr. Spock (and the amazing Leonard Nimoy), we also found that it was cool to be a geeky science type. Best of all, we could follow that passion wherever it led us.  Many folks I know are talented artists who create amazingly gorgeous Trek art (such as Tim Kuzniar) and music.  Thanks to the exotic settings and aliens the crews encountered, more of us realized that life was possible, with infinite diversity in infinite combinations. Most of all, thanks to the ideals of the original show and sequels, movies, and books, we learned about diversity and tolerance. Those are ideals sorely needed in these times. Moreover, many episodes are great stories that tug at the intellect and the heart-strings.

Trek and Me

Trek still influences MY life even today. I participate in a popular award-winning podcast called Outpost, a Star Trek Fan Production, playing a ship captain and a Klingon pirate.  Professionally, I’m just as much of a scientist as I ever was, boldly learning about the cosmos. But, thanks to other Trekkies (among them my dad and my co-author Jack Brandt)  and the influence of the late Carl Sagan (whose son Nick Sagan wrote for Star Trek at one time), my life’s work has been centered on sharing astronomy and science with the public.  I’ve written many documentary scripts, countless articles, several books, and it just goes on. I have a universe of material to share! One of my greatest joys is organizing and giving science talks at our local con, where attendees get to meet and mingle with scientists and celebrities from the science fiction and fantasy universes.

Celebrate the 50th anniversary of Trek with all of us who recognize what major contributions this series has made — from spacecraft to astronomers to everyday technology.  You have a cosmos of episodes, books, and movies to learn where it all came from (if you haven’t already). You can always find something to learn and like in Star Trek. 


Lose Your Craft in a Crack and You Can’t Get it Back

That’s a Philae !

I know. I couldn’t resist. As soon as I saw the headlines about the lost Philae craft and how the Rosetta mission team found it lost in a crack, I had that song running through my mind.  But, behind the levity is a great story about loss and redemption, space-exploration style.

As you may recall, the Rosetta spacecraft studying Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko sent a tiny little lander called Philae down to the surface of the comet’s nucleus. It landed on November 12, 2014, but it was a bouncy landing that placed the little robot in the shadow of an icy cliff.  Due to its peculiar orientation, the batteries couldn’t recharge (very little sunlight was hitting the solar panels). That meant the lander only worked for a short time before falling to sleep.  It actually did wake up again in June 2015, but that didn’t last long either.  Philae has been in hibernation ever since, and the mission scientists have spent time trying to locate its exact landing spot on the comet.

Philae  Craft Found!

Philae craft found on comet

The Philae lander identified via narrow-angle camera image taken by the Rosetta spacecraft on Sept. 2, 2016. Earlier images provided for scale and orientation. ESA/Rosetta/MPS for OSIRIS Team MPS/UPD/LAM/IAA/SSO/INTA/UPM/DASP/IDA; context: ESA/Rosetta/ NavCam – CC BY-SA IGO 3.0

On September 2, Rosetta passed within 2.7 kilometers of the comet’s nucleus and snapped images of the region where Philae landed.  There, in the narrow-angle images, the mission team finally found what they were looking for: evidence of Philae’s location and orientation. It was an amazing finding, considering that the spacecraft is moving with respect to the comet, which is moving with respect to the Sun, and rotating, too. It’s really like finding a needle in an icy haystack.

When you stop to think about the fact that Rosetta is due to encounter the surface of the comet during a final “one-way” mission  in about a month, the discovery of the final resting place of the Philae craft is all the more amazing. You can read more about the logistics of the search on ESA’s Rosetta site.

Comet Exploration Done Right

The Rosetta mission is an astounding success, with its almost three-year exploration of a cometary nucleus. Back in grad school, I studied comets, and always wondered about the chunks of dirty ice at their hearts. Rosetta has shown us that these are eerie-looking worlds with familiar-looking features. Canyons, mountains, sprays of ice and dust, piles of chunky ice that look like rocks, and smooth plains all tell a tale of the comet’s origins and evolution. Philae’s short life of data-taking told a tale, too, lending a lot of new data to our knowledge of comets. So, even if it did get its craft in a crack and can’t get it back, Rosetta has given us a great gift in our search for an understanding of all the objects in our solar system.