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Star Trek: Rod Roddenberry on Joining Parents for Memorial Spaceflight

Rod Roddenberry spoke with us about the Star Trek legacy & how he was able to join his late parents for the Celestis Enterprise space flight.

Rod Roddenberry is uniquely positioned to build upon his father, Gene Roddenberry's Star Trek empire. While he wasn't around during The Original Series run on NBC, he did see the franchise come back to relevance with 1979's The Motion Picture, introducing cinemas to his father's grand vision of the future. Through 11 films, two syndicated shows, one network series, and a renaissance of new content on streaming, the younger Roddenberry, who serves as executive producer on several Star Trek shows, saw what the franchise had to endure and its resilience in pop culture. With Gene's passing in 1991 and mother Majel Barrett-Roddenberry's passing in 2008, Rob contributed his DNA and several of the late TOS cast and crew on the Celestis Memorial Enterprise Space Flight that happened on December 24 and included remains from his parents, Nichelle Nichols (Uhura), James Doohan (Scotty), DeForest Kelley (McCoy), and more. Rob spoke to Bleeding Cool about his family's relationship with Celestis, if any other surviving cast TOS members will contribute their DNA, how Star Trek inspired generations of space travel, the franchise's longevity, and if humanity will unite behind space travel like Zefram Cochrane did?

Rod Roddenberry at the premiere for "Star Trek Picard" at the TCL Chinese Theatre, Hollywood. Picture: Paul Smith-Featureflash/
Rod Roddenberry at the premiere for "Star Trek Picard" at the TCL Chinese Theatre, Hollywood. Picture: Paul Smith-Featureflash/

Star Trek: How Rod Is Reuniting With His Late Parents for a Space Road Trip

Bleeding Cool: How did you get involved with Celestis Memorial Spaceflights?

Roddenberry: I heard about it a long time ago, in the nineties, when my father first met Charles Chafer and learned about the organization. It sounded incredibly cool. Referring to this specific launch sounds amazing because this time, instead of sending something up into orbit, and eventually burns up. The theory is to launch it out into space so we will have my mother and father together, as well as many of the other Star Trek cast and many other people in symbolism, being launched out where no one has gone before.

Are you aware of anyone else from The Original Series surviving cast, William Shatner, Walter Koenig, George Takei, or anyone else who might put a part of themselves on this flight?

I don't, unfortunately. I run into them now and again and have conversations, not regular ones, and we have not discussed this.

Rod Roddenberry, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, George Takei at the Walter Koenig Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood, CA 09-10-12, photo by s_bukley/
Rod Roddenberry, Nichelle Nichols, Walter Koenig, George Takei at the Walter Koenig Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Hollywood, CA 09-10-12, photo by s_bukley/

There's so much to be said about what the space industry owes to your father, Gene, and Star Trek for their inspiration. Can you speak of how anyone has approached you to share their journey?

This is exactly what turned me on to…as crazy as this is to Star Trek at a much younger age. It wasn't from watching the shows. It was sadly after my father had passed away and people coming up to me at conventions or all over the world and saying how "Star Trek inspired me to" …whether it was to see beyond a severe handicap of their own, perhaps an abusive relationship or whatever the case may be, it allowed them to see beyond their own perceived limitations. It gave them hope for the future and the rest of humanity. I may not be answering your question, but I have had numerous stories throughout my life of similar things and that's why I love Star Trek, because it's not just entertainment.

Did you ever imagine the path the franchise has taken from its network beginnings on NBC, its longevity in syndication, a return to network television, uncertainty following 'Enterprise,' and now back as a powerhouse as a flagship franchise for Paramount Plus?

By no means did anyone predict this. I knew after 'Enterprise' went off the air in 2005 that Star Trek was not gone. I hate to call it a "phenomenon," but it has too much more to say for our species. Star Trek is about us, and it is about our evolution, our intellectual evolution. It was never just about the technology, and it was never just about seeing strange-looking aliens; it was about how we can evolve intellectually as a species and become better, getting out there into the universe, meeting other life forms that can give us a unique perspective on the universe. I never predicted it would go the way it has, but I knew Star Trek would return. Everything's cyclical, I believe, and I don't know how much longer the current incarnation will be on the air. Could be a year or two, could be 20. Then it'll go away for a while, and then it will come back. Star Trek's got too much more to say, and it's too much of a great messaging platform. It'll always come back.

What have your mother and father imparted to you growing up, acting now as a steward to their legacy and seeing the franchise evolve into what it has become?

I'll sum it up in one word in terms of empathy, the core philosophy in Star Trek is "IDIC," which is Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations. The idea is basically to appreciate everything differently. You don't have to accept, for example, anyone who has a different idea. You don't have to accept their idea as right, but listening to it, even if you don't believe it, or even if it directly opposes your idea, there are elements to take from it that can help you evolve and grow your philosophy and ideology, That's how we grow as a species intellectually. I love the concept of IDIC, and it blends perfectly into empathy because you're looking at the world with curiosity and seeing nothing as offensive, grotesque, or attacking you. You look at it with curiosity and can decide what to absorb and how to grow from that experience. It is the only way we will make it as a species.

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Image: Amazon

We live in the age of the space entrepreneur where you have billionaires like Amazon's Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin Spaceflight with Shatner suiting up and Elon Musk's Space X. Celestis is also a business for these memorial spaceflights. Did you ever envision private enterprise going together with what NASA is doing in forwarding space travel technology? Does the future still hold for a galvanizing type of moment where we can all unite for space travel like Zefram Cochrane's warp flight?

No, I certainly didn't anticipate having privatized space [travel]. That was the vision of Peter Diamandis from XPRIZE, and that's an incredible vision. The second part of your question: Is there something that's going to galvanize us? That's a great question. I don't want to be dark and say what I've heard many other people say, which is "Aliens coming from outer space and hopefully not attacking us. But if they do, that will certainly bring us together." I don't wish [the latter] on us. I'm hoping it's the other way around. I'm hoping it's the first contact concept where I don't know what it is that will bring them here, but perhaps they'll come here and the realization that there is life on other planets. Will hopefully at least bring a good chunk of us together, if not all of us.

Did you maintain any contact with Celestis through the years since your father's passing?

We don't interact much except for every few years because the space industry and what they're trying to do takes an incredible amount of time. I can't even imagine the documentation, paperwork, and logistics that need to happen for this. I met Charles early in the nineties. My mother was the one who interacted with him during that era and he's got a great story. Throughout the years, I would hear about him and occasionally meet him at events. Once again, this idea of shooting my mother and father up into space together has been out there for a long time. It's just them getting it all together, and they've done it. It's no small feat, and it's incredible.

For more on the Enterprise Flight, you can check it out here.

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Tom ChangAbout Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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