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Star Trek 50th Anniversary Event at the Smithsonian

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Event at the Smithsonian

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This event was nearly two weeks ago, and I haven’t posted about it yet because I don’t know where to start. It’s hard to encompass what Star Trek has meant to me. It’s meant bonding with my family. It’s meant finding common ground with strangers. It’s meant revealing to my husband the very geekiest side of myself, and having him embrace it so much that he now has an actual opinion on whether Kirk or Picard is the best captain. It’s meant believing that there’s hope for humanity; that maybe one day, we can learn to be nice to each other and treat the planet well and work together for the greater good. That maybe we’ve got a shot. So, when Star Trek has meant so much to me, how do I start a blog post about an event celebrating the show’s 50th anniversary—an event that just so happened to be at the Smithsonian, and just so happened to be on my 35th birthday?

I guess I just did.

One of the perks to having a husband that works for the Smithsonian is that I get insider info about these things well in advance. I’d been looking forward to it ever since the day, months ago, when Joe came home and said, “We’re having a Star Trek event and I need your help coming up with ideas.”

My immediate thought was to serve Earl Grey tea in some fashion, in honor of Captain Picard’s favorite replicator order: “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” Indeed, arriving at the museum months later for the event, I was pleased to see the Earl on the beverage table. That was the only suggestion of mine that survived to fruition on event night, although I can’t say I’m surprised—not many organizations would be able to afford or coordinate getting 50 years’ worth of Star Trek captains into the same room at the same time. Maybe someday…

Any time you’re at a museum after hours—especially a world-class museum like the Smithsonian’s storied collection—you feel special. But when you’re there as a fan of a franchise that has meant so much to so many, and you’re milling about with like-minded fans, “special” takes on a whole new meaning.

The scene was set—it was a veritable Conservation Convention at the Air and Space Museum. The event was co-hosted by Smithsonian Gardens, which tied in its orchid collection (orchids are kinda spacey-looking, right?) In addition to the galaxy-glazed sweet treats, infinity-shaped soft pretzels, and Star Trek airbrushed temporary tattoos, there was an orchid display, a miniature orchid/thumb drive giveaway, and a panel discussion on the importance of orchids—how they signal a healthy ecosystem because they thrive in only the most pristine ecological conditions. Event attendees also had the opportunity to take photos in front of a plant display based on Star Trek botany—the designer watched original series episodes to get ideas on how to modify real plants to look more Trekkie. Joe, on his own volition, produced the Vulcan salute, and I knew then that my work initiating him into the Trek world was complete.

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There were people in costume. There were bonafide rocket scientists. There were even a few celebrities. In attendance was Rod Roddenberry, Gene Roddenberry’s son and founder of The Roddenberry Foundation, which funds projects and research that “build on his father's legacy and philosophy of inclusion, diversity, and respect for life to drive social change and meaningfully improve the lives of people around the world.” (It’s also the source of the Boldly Better hashtag seen in the photo ops.) The foundation has funded scientific research, environmental preservation efforts, and initiatives that promote education and battle adversity. Roddenberry gave two toasts—hundreds of guests raising glasses filled with Enterprise-themed cocktails and “Vulcan” green fruit punch—one toast commemorated the previous 50 years, and the other looked forward to the next 50.

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Actor Sam Witwer has appeared on Battlestar Galactica, Being Human, Smallville, and several Star Wars off-shoots. When Joe’s boss (and Witwer’s lifelong friend) introduced me to him at the beginning of the evening, I knew who he was, but couldn’t place him right away. Joe’s boss jogged my memory by listing some of Witwer’s work, and a few awkward minutes later, I realized I was talking to Mr. Hyde from my favorite guilty-pleasure show, Once Upon a Time—minus the stage makeup, long sideburns, British accent, and evil disposition which make him look very different from the handsome guy I was standing next to.

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Witwer took the stage after Roddenberry, and spoke of his lifelong passion for science fiction. He talked about how socially groundbreaking Star Trek was—at the height of both the Cold War and the Civil Rights Movement, the show featured a Russian helmsman and broadcast TV’s first interracial kiss. Perhaps that’s part of the reason that a show that only lasted three seasons, which—as Witwer pointed out—usually means a slow fade-out into television oblivion, has instead garnered a steady fan base and launched multiple franchise spin-offs over the last five decades.

And of course, there was the Enterprise herself—the show’s original filming prop. Eleven feet of wood, plastic, paint, and what looked like Christmas lights illuminating the path through fictional final frontiers. As a special treat, the ship was lit up in all her glory—normally, the lights are turned off, since leaving them on all the time would build up too much heat in the display case.

All of this and more made my 35th birthday better than I could have hoped. Boldly better, in fact.

Live long and prosper. And drink some Earl Grey.

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