The real significance of sending WILLIAM SHATNER into space…

It all started in the summer of 1983 with the flight of the first female astronaut, SALLY RIDE, orbiting the earth on board the space shuttle Challenger. And it ended on January 26, 1986 with the death of civilian teacher CHRISTA McAULIFFE and six other crew members on board that same spacecraft as it exploded and broke apart just 73 seconds after liftoff from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

What ended? The hope of sending a poet into space.

“We need people other than MIT physicists to tell us what it’s like up there,” said novelist JAMES MICHENER in the early 1980s. A space enthusiast, Michener served at the time as a member of a special NASA task force. In 1983, after Sally Ride had reinvigorated Americans’ enthusiasm for the multi-billion dollar-a-year NASA space program, the task force issued a report that called for sending professional communicators, such as writers and educators, on future space missions. “It is desirable for NASA,” the report explained, “to fly observers on the shuttle for the purpose of adding to the public’s understanding of space flight.”

And so began the search for the perfect candidate out of literally millions of Americans. A NASA spokesman said they were looking for “…someone who can make an eloquent contribution to the literature…a broadcast journalist, a newspaper reporter, an artist, a song writer, or even a poet.”

I remember at the time (I was just starting college) learning that singer/songwriter JOHN DENVER was lobbying hard to be considered for this program. I imagined the man who wrote one of my all-time favorite songs, Looking for Space, actually traveling TO space and coming back to share that experience with the world through music and lyric. It could have been glorious because most people (nearly all) who were alive in the 1980s would have no chance to ever go into space.

And as lovely as the words of NEIL ARMSTRONG (“One small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind…”) and BUZZ ALDRIN (“Magnificent desolation…”) were when they stepped onto the moon’s surface in 1969, they really weren’t trained to be communicators. They were military men, pilots, engineers, and scientists of a sort. Their training and skillsets never included inspiring others with words and evoking visceral feelings and emotions. Writers and artists know how to do that, but they weren’t the ones leaving the planet.

Christa McAuliffe

In 1984, the decision was made to send a teacher into space to kick off the program. Thousands of applicants were whittled down to 114 semifinalists from all fifty states, and then to 10 finalists—six women and four men—with Christa McAuliffe of Concord, New Hampshire being the final selection.

Phase two of this civilian-in-space program would have sent a journalist into orbit the year following the teacher. More than 1,700 candidates were under consideration, including former CBS anchor WALTER CRRONKITE (who was 69-years-old at the time), WILLIAM F. BUCKLEY, JR., GERALDO RIVERA, TOM WOLFE (author of the widely-acclaimed book The Right Stuff) and NORMAN MAILER. Phase three would launch some kind of artist.

And then the Challenger disaster happened.

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SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE spoofs Star Trek (again!) AND billionaire astronauts…

Saturday Night Live has never shied away from parodying Star Trek…starting way back in their first season (1976) when JOHN BELUSHI, CHEVY CHASE, DAN AKROYD, and ELLIOTT GOULD brought viewers the unforgettably hilarious “Last Voyage of the Starship Enterprise.” Since then, their parodies have been somewhat hit-and-miss, with mixed reviews on such sketches as “The Restaurant Enterprise,” Love Boat: The Next Generation,” “Emergency Room/Worf, M.D.” and the recent “Lost Episode” featuring CHRIS PINE as Captain Kirk and BOBBY MOYNIHAN as Spock’s vulgar half-brother from Queens, Spocko. Now THAT’S a Star Trek!

The last one was also the latest parody of Star Trek until this past Saturday night when SNL kicked off its 47th season (c’mon, you’ve GOT to have a Star Trek sketch when the season is 47!), with host OWEN WILSON. Take a look:

As Homer Simpson would say, “It’s funny because it’s true.”

Now, if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’d like to make two editorial observations…

First off, billionaires have been getting MUCH more interesting lately! Granted, none of them are dressing up like a bat at night and fighting crime in Gotham City or designing suits of flying armor and leading a team of superheroes. But even still, building rockets to take civilians and other payloads into space is pretty darn cool. I mean, a century ago, a “typical” billionaire looked like this:

John D. Rockerfeller, Henry Ford, and Andrew Mellon

These guys were certainly impressive and all—successful businessmen, entrepreneurs, philanthropists, patrons of art and science, and even one a secretary of the treasury. But were they fun? I mean, no complaints about making automobiles affordable to the masses or starting a top notch university…but fun?

Billionaires became more fun with this fellow:

That’s WILLIAM RANDOPH HEAST…the man built a frickin’ CASTLE on the central California coast, fer gosh sakes!!! And then he would invite famous celebrities, political leaders, and brilliant minds from all over the world to come and stay there, asking only that they attend communal dinners and certain other gatherings to share their thoughts, ideas, and perspectives with each other and with him. Seriously, if you ever have a chance to visit Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California, and learn its history, it’s totally worth the visit. It’s fascinating!

And who could forget this guy…?

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Confirmed: THE EXPANSE will have a FOURTH SEASON!

Okay, you can officially stop trying to save THE EXPANSE because Amazon has just saved it…in rather dramatic fashion!

Barely two weeks after The Expanse was canceled by Syfy, and after concerted efforts by fans, cast, and crew to try to rally support and revive the series, Amazon Studios and Alcon Entertainment announced that yes, there WILL be a fourth season of this critically-acclaimed, fan-favorite space sci-fi series.  It will appear on Amazon Prime.

The news became official during a break for dinner at the International Space Development Conference (ISDC) in Los Angeles this past Friday night.  Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced to people at the gathering:

“I was talking to the cast half an hour ago, before the break for dinner started. I was telling them that we are working hard at Amazon to save The Expanse, but it wasn’t a done deal yet. During dinner, ten minutes ago, I just got word that The Expanse is saved!”

The room—which included many fans of the show since it features a very realistic portrayal of life in our solar system in the next two hundred years or so—burst into enthusiastic applause.  Bezos then added:

“The show is extraordinary, and these guys are unbelievably talented,” as he pointed to The Expanse table.

The grass-roots effort to rescue the show reminded me of other fan attempts to save beloved series like Star Trek: Enterprise, Farscape, Firefly, and others…all with mixed results.  What is amazing to me is that now, with so many subscription services like Amazon Prime, Netflix, Hulu and others—all looking for popular content (and often flush with cash!)—network cancelation isn’t nearly as certain or permanent a fate as it used to be.  Imagine if Fox had canceled Firefly today.  If Netflix had a streaming deal for the series, might they have tried to pick up the show the same way that Amazon just picked up The Expanse?  One wonders.

Anyway, three cheers for Jeff Bezos and Amazon Studios!  It’s nice to see the fans win every so often.  Now, if only there might be some way to resurrect Lucifer from cancellation, as well…