The Relationship Between Star Trek and NASA

(Image credit: NASA)

The blog Star Trek Fact Check is a fascinating read. It’s dedicated to setting the record straight on the rumors and legends about the production of Star Trek, most of them from the original series. A post called The Reluctant Astronaut(s) shows how friendly the Star Trek production team was with NASA, as they both benefitted from the excitement surrounding space exploration in the 1960s. The Star Trek production team tried several times to get NASA astronauts to appear on the show, although it didn’t happen until Mae Jemison appeared on Star Trek: The Next Generation in 1993. Jemison might never have joined NASA if it hadn’t been for the space agency reaching out to Nichelle Nichols to recruit women and minority astronauts for them.

Jemison, however, was not the first NASA astronaut to be approached about appearing on the show. Letters in the Gene Roddenberry collection at UCLA reveal that Mercury Astronauts Alan Shepard and Scott Carpenter were both pursued about appearing on Star Trek.

You can read how those attempts went in the post. But there’s more, tracing the many intersections of NASA and Star Trek. For example, there’s this photo.

(Image credit: NASA)

This is NASA engineer and test pilot Bruce Peterson speaking to James Doohan, who played the engineer on the Enterprise. The same year this photo was taken, Peterson survived a crash of a Northrop M2-F2, although he was severely injured. The film of that crash was immortalized in the opening credits of the TV series The Six Million Dollar Man, and was shown in all 100 episodes of the series. -via Metafilter


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Well, yes and no. For proof-of-concept aircraft, often only one is built. The M2-F2 had undergone several test flights before Peterson's crash. The precursor model, the M2-F1, was made of wood and first flew by being towed from a car...

While this is supposedly unrelated to the crash (I'm skeptical myself,) Peterson underwent a wicked period of roll oscillation almost immediately before the accident, which is seen in the rocking motion in the video. The crash (Peterson claims it was due to avoiding the rescue helicopter,) resulted in the M2-F2 being rebuilt from the same airframe into the M2-F3, the most noticeable difference being the addition of a vertical stabilizer to prevent that oscillation. So yes, they did take his flight seriously, but not so seriously that they retired the aircraft ;-)
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Peterson survived the crash not of a M2-F2, but the M2-F2 - only one was built, and it is the very craft seen behind the pair. The headrest is visible above Doohan's head (the bubble canopy is removed) - quite a small aircraft.
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