So… what if sci-fi and real science met in the middle? What if a popular genre actor chatted with a respected scientist-educator? What if we got to the point and said we’re talking about Robert Picardo, who so brilliantly played Star Trek: Voyager’s EMH, the Doctor, and Bill Nye, a/k/a Bill Nye, The Science Guy, who’s just plain brilliant? And what if StarTrek.com moderated the occasion, but mostly just hit “rec” on our recording device and let the two men – who happen to be good friends and were enjoying lunch together at Picardo’s house -- engage in a chat? Well, then you’d have our very exclusive exchange, part one of which ran yesterday and part two of which can be found down below. Oh, and we should note that Picardo and Nye had such a good time doing this that they’ve agreed to an encore in a couple of months and, next time, we’re going to videotape the conversation.
Picardo: Bill, when did you become a Star Trek fan?
Nye: I… watched… the first Star Trek… with my friend… Val… who had a color… television… (Nye is doing his best William Shatner imitation, in case you’ve not realized it). Color television, that alone was fascinating. It was the stories, I guess, that got me. These guys were flying around the universe in the coolest costumes. And this was during the Space Age. We were going to the moon. We were going to beat the Soviet Union to the moon. Star Trek was part and parcel with that. It was like, “This is the future. If we stay on this course and keep investing in space flight, pretty soon everybody’s going to be flying around the universe at warp speed and have all these extraordinary adventures that we’ll somehow resolve. And everything will be OK in the end.”
Picardo: Now, Bill, Star Trek fans know an awful lot about me already, so I’m going to keep asking you questions, if that’s OK.
Nye: Actually, I don’t know how much everybody knows about Bob. Did you know that when you come over here to his house, you get fed extremely well?
Picardo: Yeah, he’s happy because I made him lunch before we started doing this.
Nye: Bob is a hell of a cook.
Picardo: Back to my questions, Bill. You’re CEO of The Planetary Society, which was co-founded by Carl Sagan, Louis Friedman and Bruce Murray over 30 years ago. What are some of the cool things that The Planetary Society is involved in now?
Nye: Well, let’s take for example, Asteroid 2012 DA14. That passed between the Earth and the geosynchronous satellite, and it was discovered by a camera that was funded by The Planetary Society. We have 35,000 people who think space exploration is cool and support us financially. They send us money, and we have very experienced people who understand the current challenges of space exploration, and one of the things we do is provide grants to people who look for what are called “Near Earth Objects,” or NEOS, and asteroids are Near Earth Objects. There are certain comets that are Near Earth Objects.
Picardo: For the part of our reading audience that doesn’t know, I have also been involved with The Planetary Society for many years, first as an Advisory Board member. Actually, even before that, I think, I did a couple of fundraising functions.
Nye: Yes, Robert has been a huge supporter for years and years.
StarTrek.com: Let us jump in here for a second, guys. Did you meet through The Planetary Society?
Picardo: Yes, we did. I’ll take the lead on that. Because of The Planetary Society, I was asked to be a guest at NASA’s 40th anniversary celebration of the American University in Washington, D.C. That was in 1997. That’s when Bill and I met. We were both staying at the Cosmos Club, which was a pretty extraordinary opportunity.
Nye: It still is.
Picardo: We met at breakfast and struck up a conversation. Then we were on a panel together. I think the topic was about how the entertainment industry influences and inspires people to be interested in space exploration. Bill, do you remember who the third person on the panel was?
Nye: It was Don Herbert, right?
Picardo: It certainly was. For a lot of people out there, Don Herbert was better known as Mr. Wizard. He was your precursor, basically, Bill.
Nye: Don Herbert sent this country to the moon. He was on radio and then television in the 1950s, and he really inspired a whole generation of engineers.
Picardo: And, Bill, you’re in the inspiration business, too. I can’t tell you how many times we’ve been out to lunch or dinner, Bill and I, and people have come up to the table and said, “Bill Nye, I can’t believe it. I’ve loved you since I was seven years old. Can I please take a picture with you?” It makes me feel a little bit like old news. There was a time when Star Trek fans approached me and wanted a picture. That’s all behind me now, but if I dine with Bill Nye we can’t make it through a meal without, usually, young and attractive women who have been fans of yours forever, insisting that you pose for pictures with them.
Nye: And the Star Trek fans will get this: the women are not made of salt!
StarTrek.com: Now, there’s a natural overlap between being a Star Trek fan and a Planetary Society member…
Picardo: Let’s face it, there’s that passion among Star Trek fans for space and exploration and for the future that would lead you to join The Planetary Society, and vice versa. In fact…
Nye: … There’s a letter that Gene Roddenberry wrote.
Picardo: Gene wrote a letter that was published in the first or one of the very first Planetary Society magazines, which we call The Planetary Report. Gene expressed his support of this new organization.
Nye: These guys were all in this together. Carl Sagan, Gene Roddenberry, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov. Some guys in there were hard science and others were doing science fiction, but they all shared this optimistic vision of the future through space exploration.
Picardo: A little plug here. Bill, I noticed a little change in The Planetary Report, the glossy magazine with the beautiful pictures that comes out four times a year. You now have a special feature for young readers, which – here’s the plug – is another reason to give a young person a Planetary Society membership. (Click HERE to join)
Nye: Oh, Bob, you’re a mensch.
Picardo: But, really, you’re setting young people on a course for life. You’re helping them develop an interest at a young age that they’re going to carry for the rest of their lives.
Nye: A young person today, people who are 10 years old or younger, is seeing just about everybody in the world connecting electronically. Earlier today, Bob and I went looking for that letter from Gene Roddenberry, this famous later, and it took less than a quarter of a second to find it. On Google, I just plugged in “Gene Roddenberry. The Planetary Society letter” and it came right up.
Picardo: People can find it, but if my friends at StarTrek.com could print even a portion of it, I think it would be very exciting for people to see.
StarTrek.com: Consider it done. This has been great, but let’s stop here. Would you guys be open to doing this again in a couple of months?
Picardo: Sure, especially because I have a bunch of questions left to ask Bill. I wanted to talk about the reality of global climate change and all of that. That was going to be my interesting question!
StarTrek.com: Since there will be a next time, we’ll do that next time. And maybe next time we’ll videotape the two of you talking so that everyone catch watch and listen.
Nye: I’m in.
Picardo: Me, too. Actually, my last question was going to be “You are good friends with Robert Picardo. I understand what an honor that is, but is it any fun?”
Nye: I’d say… Robert who?
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