Radio, the Final Frontier, or To Go With Some Reasonable Measure of Boldness Where I Myself Have Not Personally Managed, Entirely, to Go Before

My first radio story will be broadcast today. You can listen to it here right now. The process of assembling and editing it was not all that much different from making these. Although in this case I had expert help — WAMU managing producer Tara Boyle — to make the piece sound better. The story is about the starship Enterprise. That is, the impressively large, now-49-year-old model that appeared in every episode of Star Trek, 30 years before computer graphics became Hollywood’s defacto visual effects methodology.

I haven’t spent enough time with the various spinoff series to get much of a read on them, but original-flavor Kirk-Spock-McCoy Star Trek is a thing I love.I initially imagined this segment as a Daily Show-style news package wherein I would feign indignation that an artifact as significant as the civilization-seeking, boldly-going Enterprise ​rates a spot only in the basement of the National Air & Space Museum. (Apparently they also have some spacecraft there that have actually flown in space.) That approach proved to a be little ambitious for my first time out of the gate. There were a couple of jokes and a couple of clips it pained me to lose, but I’m happy with how it turned out.

My favorite formal thing about the story is that I managed to use, chronologically, music from three eras of Trek: Alexander Courage‘s 1966 theme for TV series, two snippets of James Horner‘s score for The Wrath of Khan from 1982, and finally, Michael Giacchino‘s theme from the 2009 Trek reboot directed by J.J. Abrams.

Margaret Weitekamp

Margaret Weitekamp

It didn’t occur to me until late in the editing to use Horner’s cue “Spock Dies” underneath the part of the story where NASM curator Margaret Weitekamp discusses how Paramount Pictures didn’t believe Star Trek would be heard from again after the show was cancelled. As with the unsinkable Mr. Spock, death proved to be merely a temporary condition for the Trek franchise. Horner’s music is so full of wonder and possibility that I almost can’t believe bringing Spock back wasn’t part of the plan all along, even though I know for a fact that it was not. Anyway, that cue turned out to work perfectly for that part of the piece.

My thanks both to Dr. Weitekamp of the National Air & Space Museum and Jim Garvin of NASA. Both were generous with their time and insight, and I wish we could’ve heard more of their voices in the story There’s only so much you can cram into seven minutes of radio.

It was pure coincidence that I happened to visit Goddard Space Flight Center to interview Dr. Garvin on Sept. 12 — the very day NASA announced that Voyager I, the unmanned probe launched in 1977, had become the first man-made object ever to travel beyond our solar system into interstellar space. A milestone in human history, and here I was, showing up to talk to him about Star Trek. 


Jim Garvin, Chief Scientist, in his office at Goddard Space Flight Center.

If he thought that was silly, he didn’t let on. But I don’t think he found the topic silly. He actually gave me a flyer they’d printed up with Voyager I’s stats. Only 257 years until I meet Kirk and Spock, it concludes.

To clarify, this is about the time it will take for Voyager I to reach to first star visited by the Enterprise. It is not a reference to the plot of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, wherein one of Voyager I’s fictional siblings, Voyager VI, becomes sentient. The movie was released in 1979, just two years after Voyager I’s launch, so this plot point was a cool way of tying the movie’s story in with current events. (Unfortunately, the rest of the film is pretty lame.)

Dr. Garvin has a reproduction of Georgia O’Keefe‘s Ladder to the Moon in his office. He pointed out to me that O’Keefe painted it in 1958, the year NASA was founded. He’s also got a model of the Mars rover that used to sit on President George W. Bush‘s desk. Bush broke his old model, so Garvin gave the President his and took the one the then-Commander-in-Chief busted. I have never met anyone who has more enthusiasm for his work than he does.​ Here, watch his TED Talk.

Enterprise and I.

Enterprise and I.

This feels silly, but I have some other yous to thank: Thanks to  my friend, Metro Connection host Rebecca Sheir, for giving me the final push to try a radio piece, something I’ve been wanting to do for years, and to the aforementioned Ms. Boyle for producing it. Thanks to my space-geek pal Heather Goss for guidance and introductions. It was my I’d-take-a-bullet-for-her-without-hesitation pal Rachel Manteuffel who suggested the story to me in the first place, so thank you, Rachel.

Actually, Rachel was the person who told me the Enterprise is at the Air & Space Museum, a fact that eluded my awareness, somehow, up until she mentioned it –even though I visited the museum as a kid and have lived here in DC for eight years. I’m not embarrassed to be a geek; I’m embarrassed to be a lousy geek. Anyway, I hope you dig the story.


This clip was in the story right up ’til the final edit.

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