In Star Trek: The Official Guide to Our Universe, astronomy guru and educator Andrew “The Night Sky Guy” Fazekas takes Trekkers and astronomers alike on an incredible journey into space, starting with specific Star Trek voyages, explaining the science behind them, and guiding them in observing and learning more about the real-universe corollaries of planets and places in the Star Trek universe.
This big, beautiful beginner’s guide to the cosmos – planets, starts, galaxies and beyond — reveals the real science behind its fantastic and beloved fictions, inviting readers to step outside, gaze up at the night sky, and observe some of the destinations the Starfleet has visited.
With a foreword by Captain Kirk, himself, William Shatner, Star Trek: The Official Guide to Our Universe, will take readers boldly where no man (or woman) had gone before.
Andrew Fazekas took some time to discuss the book with FOG!
FOG!: You write for nationalgeographic.com and are the national science editor for Yahoo! News. When did you first discover Star Trek and what about it resonated with you?
Andrew Fazekas: My love of Star Trek goes way back to my early childhood, when I was in my primary school age during the mid-70s when the Original Series was probably in one of its first reruns in Canada. My dad and I would watch every Sunday morning – practical ritual in our household. And I would barrage my dad with questions about the aliens, destinations and amazing technology peppering every episode.
And Star Trek science, technology and the hopeful vision of humanity all fascinated me right from the get go and still does today.
What was the genesis of the book?
For about 20 years I have been actively involved in amateur astronomy clubs doing public outreach, showing folks some of the wonders of the universe through a telescope. And early on I recognized that if I used Star Trek analogies and referenced episodes that had real life astronomical objects that played a role in the plots, it would engage people of all ages a lot more.
I then began building ups list of some of the greatest hits in terms of real life astronomical objects that appear in the fictional universe of Star Trek.
That became the skeleton framework on which my book was built around. Any I have to say that I had to cherry pick only a few out of hundreds of amazing references found throughout the 6 TV series and 13 movies. It was not an easy task but I wanted to at least make sure I hit on some of the major, most well known episodes and movie scenes that both fans and space geeks could relate to.
Star Trek premiered during the Space Age and now as it celebrates it’s 50th anniversary, space exploration no longer seems to have the national or global interest that it once had. Why do you think that happened?
I would differ with that as I think the appeal of the Star Trek universe has grown over the years and has withstood the test of time. Throughout the many series the franchise has evolved and has always explored the many relevant issues of the times and continues to portray humankind at its best – exploring the final frontier and being continually curious and bold about the unknown. That is why it continues to appeal to generation after generation of scientists, engineers, educators and science geeks worldwide. The reason it continues to work is because it is built on a solid foundation of science, which it has never been afraid to fully embrace.
Why do you think as a civilization that space exploration is important?
It represents the future success of our species. Great minds of our times like astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and space entrepreneur Elon Musk have been warning that we currently have all our eggs in one basket when it comes to humans being relegated to one planet – Earth. A pandemic disease or even an asteroid impact could wipe us out. And many experts say that its not a question of if but when these kind of apocalyptic events may unfold.
Exploring new potential celestial homes for the expansion of humankind, like Mars for the more immediate future and even possibly moons of Jupiter and Saturn in the far future, makes sense to ensure our survival.
Star Trek was very forward thinking, with many of the series technological gadgets becoming a reality. Do you think this the result of fans becoming engineers and scientists and using Trek as a springboard to bring this tech into reality?
There is no doubt that futuristic technologies featured in the Star Trek Universe became seeds planted in the imaginations of many of todays inventors and engineers. It’s not a coincidence that our old!! flip phones and computer tablets look so similar to what was seen used by Captain Kirk and his crew.
While there were many technologies, like transporter system and warp drive that are light years away from being reality – if ever – some scientists say that at least theoretically -on paper – they are possible. Will we ever be able to build them – only time will tell.
But other technologies, like clocking devices and laser based weapons are activity being pursued by the military today. Handheld medical devices allowing non-intrusive diagnosis of health is already a reality in at least its simpler forms.
Is there a particular episode or character that you consider to be your favorite?
My absolute favorite episode from the TOS is City on the Edge of Forever. It offers a great combination of science fiction staples like time and space travel and has heart-wrenching romantic story line to boot. In terms of movies- it has to be Wrath of Khan. The battle scene in the Mutara Nebula have hands down amazing astronomical backdrops that as a backyard astronomer I can relate to my favorite real-life celestial object – the Great Orion Nebula.
What are you currently geeking out over?
The Syfy TV series Expanse is one I am getting into now and having fun with. I find its a great detective store that brings in some imaginative hard sci-fi elements of humanity’ future – an alternate vision from Star Trek – set a couple of hundred years in the future. I particularly find it heartening that the foundation is based on the premise that humanity has gone from low Earth orbit, beyond the moon and has colonized the solar system.