The famous Roddenberry family is headed to the final frontier.
The DNA of "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry and his wife, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, as well as that of their son, Rod, is set to launch Jan. 8, on the debut liftoff of United Launch Alliance's Vulcan Centaur rocket.
The main goals of the flight are to send the private Peregrine moon lander toward Earth's nearest neighbor, and to show that Vulcan Centaur is ready for prime time. But Houston space-memorial company Celestis booked a spot on the rocket as well, for a mission it calls the Enterprise Flight.
Besides preserved DNA samples from Rod and his late parents, the memorial flight includes the cremated remains, memory files and DNA capsules of "Star Trek" icons Nichelle "Uhura" Nichols, James "Scotty" Doohan, and DeForest "Bones" Kelley.
Also going up on Jan. 8 is the DNA of George Washington, Dwight D. Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy, Academy Award-winning special effects legend Douglas Trumbull ("2001: A Space Odyssey," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind"), and others. Genetic material of ULA CEO Tory Bruno and his wife Rebecca will also be aboard. These samples will be carried into deep space, beyond the Earth-moon system.
Space.com spoke with Rod Roddenberry — who oversees Roddenberry Entertainment and serves as an executive producer on "Star Trek: Discovery," "Star Trek: Picard," "Star Trek: Lower Decks," "Star Trek: Prodigy" and "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" — during the height of the holiday rush. He talked about how his ticket to the stars was punched, what his famous "Star Trek" parents would have thought about this exotic adventure, and what Christmastime was like in the Roddenberry household when Rod was growing up in sunny Los Angeles.
Space.com: "Star Wars" is often associated with summer fun and "Star Trek" with Christmastime, not just because many "Star Trek" films were released during the holidays, but due to the franchise's forward-looking focus and reflective themes. Have you ever considered that link to Christmas, and how do you view the two sci-fi titans?
Rod Roddenberry: I love when I hear something new about "Star Trek," and I can make up my own reasons right now based on that. There's giving and family and closeness and, hopefully, a little bit more intellect around Christmas. Summer is more action and play, which is "Star Wars." It's a great thought. I haven't spent much time with it, but I like it.
Space.com: How did you make the decision to add your DNA to the Celestis Enterprise Flight with your parents?
Roddenberry: This all started back in the '90s, with my mother and Charles Chafer from Celestis. He made a promise to her that he would fly my father's ashes up, and it took some time, but he did it. Then he made a promise that he would fly both of them together, and that has taken many, many years.
As we know, it's not easy to get space on these rockets going out, especially past our orbit. So it's incredible, and it's very symbolic. Who else should be shot out into space but the people who created and contributed to "Star Trek?" The tagline is: "Where no one has gone before." Well, Gene Roddenberry, his essence, Majel Roddenberry, and my DNA will truly be going, along with others, where no one has gone before.
Space.com: What was the process like of providing your DNA to Celestis?
Roddenberry: It was simple. It's basically a Q-tip, a test tube, and some chemical that helps preserve your DNA. You just go around the inner part of your mouth, stick it in the tube, cap it up, put it in the self-addressed envelope and it's done. They do the science, and it becomes DNA.
Space.com: Will you attend the live Jan. 8 launch at Kennedy Space Center?
Roddenberry: It's 100% my intention to do so. That’s everything short of me guaranteeing I'll be there.
Space.com: What would mom and dad think of a memorial Enterprise Flight?
Roddenberry: It's hard to speak on behalf of them, but I can make some assumptions that I think are fairly accurate. My father was ahead of his time, and while I don't know if he specifically thought that this exactly would happen, I don't at all think he would be surprised by cremations or remains being sent out into space in a symbolic gesture. I feel like being placed in the ground is symbolic. Being cremated is symbolic.
Whatever you do with your physical remains when you're gone is, in my opinion, symbolic, and has meaning to the person and their family. So I think they would both find this very appropriate for their remains. Who else should live amongst the cosmos? Even if it is symbolically. It is Majel and Gene Roddenberry.
Space.com. There's a synchronicity with this upcoming Celestis mission, occurring not only when "Star Trek" is surging in popularity, but also as the new space economy is blooming alongside NASA's Artemis dream to head back to the moon in 2024/25. Why is this the ideal time for the Enterprise Flight?
Roddenberry: It's a very opportune moment for this to be happening. "Star Trek" is having a rebirth and a renaissance. I’m not sure how long it will last. I hope indefinitely, of course. They've done a great job in terms of realizing that there are multiple audiences out there and there are ways to reach out to larger audiences and younger demographics. Everything that doesn’t work they learn something from. This is the perfect time for the creator of "Star Trek" to be launched into deep space, as well as my mother and all the other people who are going to be on board that contributed to "Star Trek" or are significant in our human evolution.
Space.com: What's been the most rewarding aspect of seeing "Star Trek" flourish in the last five years?
Roddenberry: It's a new generation of people who are working on "Star Trek." Many of them grew up with "Star Trek" and are fans in their own way. Therefore, what's different than the generation from the '80s and '90s is that a lot of those people were studio personnel that worked in the entertainment industry. Sure, some of them might have enjoyed "The Original Series" and had an appreciation for it, but many of them were working in those positions because they were just doing their job.
This new era of people contributing to the show are passionate about it. They try to pick apart what makes "Star Trek" more than just a science fiction TV show. I think the caliber of people working on "Star Trek" today is more beneficial than in previous years because they care. And I'm not saying no one cared before. It's just that a lot of them get it and truly want it to be great — not to get a paycheck, but because "Star Trek" needs to be great.
Space.com: Moving into 2024, what "Star Trek" projects are you excited about?
Roddenberry: I'm really excited to see more "Prodigy," which is now going to be on Netflix. I thought that was an incredibly well done show, not just for kids but also for adults. It was some of the truest "Star Trek" in terms of what makes "Star Trek" different from other sci-fi. It had a lot to do with ethics and morality and what it means to be a part of something better, like Starfleet.
I'm very myopic with "Star Trek." If it's not getting you to consider a different point of view, or providing a unique perspective that you hadn't considered, or making you question your own views on things, then I don’t think it's doing its job. By all means, it needs to be entertaining. But if it's just entertainment, then that's not true "Star Trek." "Star Trek" has to challenge you on some level. If you're not thinking after watching an episode of "Star Trek," it's not my "Star Trek."
Space.com: What are some childhood Christmas memories of favorite space toys you received growing up in Los Angeles?
Roddenberry: My memories are incredibly fond around Christmas, because my mother was a Christmas fanatic. We had a huge 17-foot [5.2 meters] Christmas tree in our living room. She did the whole house in lights. When Christmas came around, it felt like Christmas.
I grew up, believe it or not, on "Star Wars," and "G.I. Joe" and "Transformers." I didn't collect a lot of "Star Wars" stuff, but I remember I did get the Millennium Falcon one year, which I wish I still had today, because that thing is quite a treasured piece.
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Jeff Spry is an award-winning screenwriter and veteran freelance journalist covering TV, movies, video games, books, and comics. His work has appeared at SYFY Wire, Inverse, Collider, Bleeding Cool and elsewhere. Jeff lives in beautiful Bend, Oregon amid the ponderosa pines, classic muscle cars, a crypt of collector horror comics, and two loyal English Setters.