Jack Ohman

Editorial cartoonist, writer and Joe King’s alter ego

Somebody please explain Star Trek to me...

05/16/2013 5:59 PM

05/17/2013 9:48 AM

Being the youthful Baby Boomer that I am, I am young enough not to remember key Boomer Moments (Mercury program), but old to enough to sense that something was going on in space flight at the time (Gemini program).

Oh, and Star Trek.

I never watched Star Trek when it was actually on. I was more into more accessible shows like Mr. Ed ("That darned horse talked, John!") and Flipper ("That dolphin can almost talk, John!"). Star Trek was something my friend's dorky older brothers watched. You know, the guys who had the really elaborate Erector Sets with the motors and chemistry sets. I didn't have an older brother. I had a younger one.

Once Star Trek went into reruns, I still never really got the appeal, even though I did watch it. I was into the ACTUAL SPACE PROGRAM, where REAL PEOPLE went up in HIGHLY EXPLOSIVE ICBMs in PRESSURIZED GARBAGE CANS. That I could understand, and it was more, well, interesting. Star Trek featured television actors in funny outfits and strange hairstyles. I do remember being very creeped out by Leonard Nimoy (who played Mr. Spock, duh) once in 1967 while watching The Mike Douglas Show with my mother, although I am sure he is a wonderful man. He would say things like, "That's highly illogical, Captain." "Highly illogical" became a national buzzphrase.

To me, Nimoy kind of looked like he should have been the fifth Beatle. He even put out an album. And it sold, too. 

I mean, I tried to be at least conversant about Star Trek, in case I had to talk to my friend's older nerd bros. I took my little brother to a Star Trek convention in 1975 or so, and saw Gene Roddenberry speak. I believe his wife, who played Nurse Christine Chapel (get it?), also made an appearance. My brother was enthralled. I was merely an observer. I didn't care about Tribbles,  tricorders, dilithium crystals, or any of that other stuff. At that time, the United States was putting up an actual space station called Skylab, and I can still remember that vividly. Later, the Russians came up and docked with our Apollo capsule around that time as well, and that was especially fascinating, Captain. 

So here we are, what, almost 50 years (yes, sorry, it's true) since the airing of the first Star Trek pilot, where Captain Christopher Pike, who sat in a weird box with lights and couldn't speak, was commanding the Enterprise. I have no recollection of it, but I've certainly seen it. Anyway, we're 50 years out from Star Trek, and here we are, talking about the new Star Trek film.

Tell me why.

Tell me why this is so enduring? I remember when the first Star Trek movie came out. It was fine. I think they found the Voyager spacecraft, if I'm not mistaken. By the time that movie came out, the United States was flying the space shuttle regularly, and no one really was able to name the astronauts like they could in the 1960s (Apollo 9: Scott, McDivitt, Schweikart). But everyone could name every single crew member of the U.S.S. Enterprise. In fact, they named one of the space shuttles after the U.S.S. Enterprise, which tells you something about the media culture. They never named a space shuttle after, say Werner von Braun, who was the engineer who pulled it together along with about 100,000 people, or even a man named Stan Lebar, who was the Program Manager for the Apollo Lunar Camera program.

Now Stan Lebar is the late father of our managing editor, Scott Lebar. Scott showed me a bunch of photographs of his father doing various things, including chatting with a bunch of his astronauts at the National Air and Space Museum. One of them was Alan Bean, who pointed Stan Lebar's camera at the sun nearly the second he turned it on when they got on the lunar surface. I remember the moment vividly as a 9 year old, bitterly disappointed that there were no pictures from the moon.

Imagine how Stan Lebar felt. And Alan Bean probably never lived it down at NASA barbecues.

So, I'm more impressed with Stan Lebar.

More Stan Lebar Trek, and less Star Trek.

It's more logical.



About This Blog

Jack Ohman joined The Sacramento Bee in 2013. He previously worked at the Oregonian, the Detroit Free Press and the Columbus Dispatch. His work is syndicated to more than 200 newspapers by Tribune Media Services. Jack has won the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the Scripps Foundation Award and the national SPJ Award, and he was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2012 and the Herblock Prize in 2013. Contact Jack at johman@sacbee.com. Twitter: @JACKOHMAN.


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