Trek Talks: Science, Smithsonian and Star Trek

Trek Talks: Science, Smithsonian and Star Trek

Building Star Trek, a two-hour documentary, will premiere September 4 on the Smithsonian Channel, and attendees at Friday's San Diego Comic-Con panel called Trek Talks: Science, Smithsonian and Star Trek, were treated to a special preview of the film.

Dr. Margaret Weitekamp, Curator at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum the Smithsonian, served as moderator. She was joined by Brooks Peck, Curator of the EMP Museum in Seattle; David Grier, Professor of Physics and Director of the Center for Soft Matter Research at New York University, who is developing a real-life Tractor Beam; Elizabeth Trojian, Executive Producer of Smithsonian Channel’s Building Star Trek; and Dr. Sonny Kohli, Team Leader of Cloud DX, a finalist for the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE. 

Dr. Weitekamp first welcomed everyone in the audience to the event and then debuted the trailer, which featured several people on the panel, as well as Nichelle Nichols, Karl Urban, Simon Pegg and David Gerrold. Further, the trailer teased the ways in which the documentary will examine how, from the cutting-edge labs of the Smithsonian Institution to the front lines of the digital economy, the promises -- scientifically and socially -- made in Star Trek are coming true. So that means everything from the phaser, tractor beam and invisibility cloak to the tricorder, communicator and warp drive, not to mention race relations. Also, the documentary will chronicle the exhaustive and brilliant restoration of the 11-foot-long, 200-pound studio model of the U.S.S. Enterprise model from The Original Series. Next, Dr. Weitekamp invited the panelist to talk a bit about themselves and their love of Star Trek. Below are snippets of their comments:

Trojian "was a Next Generation freak as a kid. So it was an honor to work on such a project." The props on the various Trek shows, she noted, were "objects that hold dreams." In other words, part of the documentary's goal was to illustrate how "Star Trek is the stuff of dreams, and helps make dreams real."

Dr. Kohli and his team's tricorder, whether it wins the XPRIZE contest or not, "can detect an outbreak (of an infectious disease) at its source. I'm talking about changing mankind."

Peck saw the Trek exhibit at the EMP Museum as an opportunity to answer the question, "Why does a show, 50 years on, continue to influence so many people in so many ways?"

Grier and his team, thanks to a failed scientific endeavor, discovered the basics of a tractor beam. Of course, it's just a start, as Trek-like functionality "is a couple of hundred years away from reality."

The conversation then turned the documentary's examination of the Enterprise model restoration effort. It's been a five-year process, Dr. Weitekamp noted, her personal five-year mission to remove the model from its gift shop home, restore her to her former glory and give her a new home in the just-opened Boeing Milestones of Flight Hall at the Smithsonian.

She pointed out that the model "is a miniature in that it's smaller than the real original ship would have been," and noted that the last time it had been touched for production was during the making of "The Trouble with Tribbles." It had not been worked on at the Smithsonian since 1991, so "the project became how to get it in better shape and in a better place."

The floor was then opened to fans, who posed questions to the panelists until time ran out. One question stood out, as a fan inquired about if or when the Smithsonian's restoration team will release the color codes used when refurbishing the Enterprise model. Dr. Weitekamp said, "Yes, the codes will be released," eliciting genuine excitement among more than a few people, clearly modelers, in the audience. The codes may be revealed "later this month," but more likely in August.

Building Star Trek will premiere September 4 on the Smithsonian Channel.

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