To Boldly Go…And I Did


I’ve had few constants in my life, so to have something be part of it for fifty years is certainly a milestone.

September 8, 1966, a Thursday, was within the first week of school, and negotiating with my parents to stay up to watch a new television program was a contentious issue. I persisted, using, I might say, logical arguments: my homework was done and checked; I could use the small TV in my room and not disturb anyone else (though my father preferred all television be supervised); and I may have stretched the truth a little when I said this new show was like a Saturday morning cartoon.

I won, and the rest is personal history.

Issues with Sci-Fi

My mother didn’t like the show because it was that “science fiction” stuff. I’d been a sci-fi fan since my grandmother (her mother) introduced me to Superman comics when I was a pre-schooler and taught me to read using them. I discovered Marvel comics in elementary school, and my local library had a small collection of sci-fi books and magazines.

Back in those ancient times, sci-fi novels and mags had fairly lurid covers: scantily clad women pursued by leering aliens or images of grotesque space monsters. I’d been having nightmares that summer, and my mother attributed it to my reading “all that weird stuff” rather than typical adolescent angst exacerbated by her alcoholism.

My father thought sci-fi wasn’t educational, that it was escaping reality at the least, psyche-damaging at worst. I would read Asimov, Bradbury, Heinlein at the library, returning there to finish books or short stories rather than checking them out and bringing them home.

That summer, my mother had sent me to a Baptist camp in southwest Virginia where a woman confiscated a Heinlein paperback which had cost me my allowance for a month and told me it was a sin to read such “trash.” (A youth minister assured me I’d get my book back when I left, and he was true to his word, perhaps the last minister in my life to be so.)

All of these parental concerns were pretty generally held by people who didn’t understand science fiction. I read on, and I watched Star Trek.

A TV Show Can Be Life-Changing

I’ve never done cosplay of any kind. I find nothing wrong with it. I simply don’t have the personality for it. Rather, the philosophy of Star Trek appealed to me more than imitating it. Oh, be assured, I indulged in typical fan behavior. I went to conventions. I tried to buy the shooting script of my favorite episode (“City on the Edge of Forever”) written by my favorite author (Harlan Ellison) and was, thankfully, outbid, because I couldn’t have afforded it anyway. I collected Star Trek novels.

Star Trek got me on the road to writing. My first “coherent” stories I wrote were Star Trek and Man from U.N.C.L.E. fan fiction. It wasn’t called fan fiction then; it was only writing to me. To this day, I wish I could write “good” science fiction, but whenever I try, it comes out dystopian.

Star Trek got me interested in astronomy and physics, but no matter how hard I tried, no matter what logical arguments I used, I couldn’t convince my high school counsellor to let me take physics. Too bad back then I didn’t have this argument: There are doctors today because of Leonard McCoy and Beverly Crusher; engineers because of Montgomery Scott and Geordi LaForge; scientists because of Spock and Data; and astronauts because of the vision of Star Trek’s creator, Gene Roddenberry. We have cell phones and talking computers and medical scanners and ion engines and many, many more things because of Star Trek. We send probes to the planets in our solar system for the sole reason of “Let’s see what’s out there.” I became a pilot because that was the closest I could get to space, and, yes, that Cessna 150 I learned to fly in was my Enterprise.

Mostly, Star Trek showed a young woman who’d grown up in the shadow of the Cold War, who’d participated in nuclear attack drills, that there was a future, a good one, one to strive for.

There was an episode called “Operation: Annihilate,” the final show of the first season, where Mr. Spock is infested with a parasite that causes excruciating pain. He manages to get the pain under control without medication, to Dr. McCoy’s amazement. “Pain is a thing of the mind,” Spock said. “The mind can be controlled.” Later, he struggles to maintain his control, saying, “I am a Vulcan. I am a Vulcan. There is no pain.”

Sometimes the pain of my youth was physical, from a mother who couldn’t manage her own demons; sometimes it was mental, from that same individual. At night, in bed, I would murmur, “Pain is a thing of the mind. The mind can be controlled. There is no pain.” It became my mantra.

Star Trek saved me.

A Personal Connection

When Star Trek was twenty years old, I was an associate editor of an aviation magazine. We regularly did features called “Famous Flights” and “Famous Flyers,” historical articles and the more obscure the aviation history the better.

In the summer of 1986, the magazine’s editor was on vacation, and I was acting editor. I decided one issue’s “Famous Flight” would be one that, on the space-time continuum, hadn’t happened yet. I wrote a feature about the twentieth anniversary of Star Trek.

Gene Roddenberry was unavailable for interviews, because he was busy trying to convince some studio to produce “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” but at a con in Baltimore, I managed to ambush Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, his wife, to confirm a missing piece of biographical information about “The Great Bird of the Galaxy.” You see, Roddenberry had been a pilot, too. That was my hook for justifying the article in a conventional aviation magazine. We pilots like to talk about the aircraft we’ve flown, and I wanted the readers to know exactly which aircraft Roddenberry had flown for Pan-Am after World War II. (A Connie, by the way.)

All our articles got run through my agency’s public affairs department to make certain we didn’t say anything embarrassing about the agency. That gave me some worry; if the public affairs officer who read our articles decided my Star Trek piece was inappropriate, it wouldn’t get published.

No email then; we passed documents around by hand, and I came back from lunch one day to find the public affairs officer’s comments in my in-box. He hadn’t changed a word, and he’d written a note that said, “This is great! Boldly go!” We published the article in the


My 20th Anniversary Star Trek article, framed and hanging on the wall of my writer cave.

September-October 1986 issue of FAA General Aviation News.

The editor groused a bit on his return, said it wasn’t aviation related, and didn’t take my word for it that public affairs approved it. We got no negative reaction from our readers. End of story, I thought.

A few weeks later, an envelope arrived from the mail room, addressed to the “Editor, FAA General Aviation News.” The magazine’s assistant editor showed me the envelope. In the upper left corner where the return address usually goes was a small U.S.S. Enterprise and the words, “Paramount Studios.”

Oh, sh*t, I thought, Paramount is suing the magazine for that article (an issue the disgruntled editor had raised). The assistant editor opened it, and this is what was inside:


A letter from Gene Roddenberry to the “unnamed writer” (me) of the “very well written article” about Star Trek, also framed and hanging in my writer cave.

Needless to say, I was speechless. How on earth, no pun intended, had Gene Roddenberry seen an article in an under-read, low-circulation government aviation magazine? The assistant editor asked the Government Printing Office for a list of subscribers, and there was Roddenberry’s name. He was a pilot, and he subscribed to our magazine, and he’d read my article, and I was beside myself with many emotions.

You see, because Star Trek saved me, something Roddenberry had probably heard from thousands of fans, but this simple note meant everything to me; it validated twenty years of being a fan.

I see that article and Roddenberry’s letter every day when I sit down to write or edit, and, unbidden, the words come into my mind:

“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise,
its five-year mission, to explore strange, new worlds, to seek out new life
and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before!”

And I write. Because Star Trek saved me.

A Sticky Friday Fictioneers

This week’s Friday Fictioneers’ photo prompt might give you a little shiver. I know I did, but I have this thing against spiders. (For those of you who may share my arachnophobia, the picture is of an intricate spider web, not the creepy creature itself.) Thanks to Rochelle Wishoff-Fields for such a fear-inducing and inspiring photo.

Of course, I went right to my fear of spiders, which likely found its origin in some 1950’s B-movie about nuclear fallout creating giant insects. I know I never looked at an ant the same way again after seeing Them.

It’s no surprise either that for the second time in a few weeks, I included a Star Trek reference. Star Trek was the first television series where I paid attention to the writers, not just because they were some of the sci-fi genre’s finest, but because the stories were so good. I wanted to grow up and write like that someday.

This week’s story, “Tangled Webs,” is more horror than sci-fi, but at least I don’t have to look at that picture anymore. [Shudders]

If you don’t see the link on the story title above, go to the top of this page and click on the Friday Fictioneers tab, then select “Tangled Webs” from the drop down list. To read other Friday Fictioneers’ offerings on the photo prompt, click on the icon after the story.

Enjoy, and I hope you don’t dream about giant spiders tonight.

In the Clouds with Friday Fictioneers

For the past several weeks, photo prompts for the Friday Fictioneers have come from among the Fictioneers themselves. As beautiful and challenging as Madison Woods’ photos have always been, I must say the other Fictioneers have challenged us as well.

Last week was my photo, and I thank everyone who wrote fascinating, lovely, thrilling, and engaging stories and poems inspired by it. There were lots of wonderful collaborations.

And we have an equally intriguing photo for today–an unusual cloud formation. I’m moved by clouds myself and have taken hundreds of pictures of them over the Blue Ridge Mountains, but today’s photo has a Jupiter-esque quality about it. I even spotted the equivalent of the great red spot in the lower right of the formation.

So, Jupiter. Space. Space travel. Science Fiction. The result is my story, “For the World is Hollow.” The title alone should tell you which old sci-fi show inspired it as well. (Or you can just look at the tags.)

To read other Friday Fictioneers’ stories, click on the frog-like icon after the story, and, as always, if you don’t see the link above, click on the Friday Fictioneers tab at the top of the page and select the story from the drop-down list.

To Boldly Go

To Boldly Go

I’ve always been a bit anal about split infinitives–just ask the writers who worked for me on the magazine I edited–but I’ve also always been forgiving of the particular split infinitive in the title of this post. Recognize it?

“Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange, new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man [or one] has gone before.”

I’m a child of the space age. Where Sputnik created fear among members of our government, I was utterly fascinated. My lifelong love of space and flying came from Superman comics. I knew there were other planets with people on them. After all, hadn’t Jor-el and Lara put little Kal-el into a rocket and sent him to earth where he became Superboy then Superman? When Yuri Gargarin, Alan Shepherd, and John Glenn made their flights, I was completely hooked on the space program. In third grade I announced, with enthusiasm, I was going to be an astronaut. My classmates and the teacher laughed and taunted me for the rest of the year about my ridiculous statement. After all, girls couldn’t be astronauts.

I’m certainly glad that’s not true any more, but it took years for me to discover that along with those hot-shot, male pilots who became the Mercury Seven, there were women pilots who underwent the same training and in some cases exceeded the performance of the men–the Mercury 13. I’ve had the privilege of meeting several of them, and they were and are amazing women. They were ready, willing, and able to go, until a single congressman’s sexism dashed their dreams.

When I learned to fly, it wasn’t farm fields and towns I flew over. I was hurtling through the universe to other worlds. Flying got me as close as I could to space, and it wasn’t very close, but I reveled in it. Flying led to my job on an aviation magazine, and that job got me a press pass from NASA. I was there on April 12, 1981, when Columbia, STS-1, made the first trip to orbit. I trooped around with the reporters to all the photo ops, including taking pictures of the STS on its launch pad at night. Though I got eaten alive by mosquitos, it was a sight I’ll never forget.

I felt much better about being in awe of everything when I saw veteran space reporters as excited as children when that ship left earth, carrying with it my dreams of mining asteroids, building bigger, faster ships in orbit, establishing a permanent space station, everything that had made my imagination reel. I can still hear the roar of those rockets, feel the vibration of the ground, and see how the bright sky was made brighter.

I was home “sick” from work on January 28, 1986, with my eyes glued to the television to watch Challenger, STS-35, carry the first “everyday” citizen into space, a history teacher named Christa MacAuliffe. In that moment the humiliation of a third grader faded. A teacher, a history teacher, which I had once been, was going into space, but my dream didn’t die with her.

On my day off on February 1, 2003, I was rushing back from the grocery store to get home in time to see Columbia, STS-107, land–I tried to watch as many of the launches and landings as I could–when the report came over the radio of Columbia’s break-up in flight as it passed over Texas on its way to Cape Canaveral. I had to pull my car to the side of the road and wait until I was no longer overcome.

On July 8, 2011, in Florida on vacation and amid all the talk of the last Shuttle flight, I was in a car on the way to the Auto Train station in Sanford. Had it not been a cloudy day, we might have seen the plume of spent fuel marking that last flight into space. The space age has given us many advancements, and so in a car with a Smart Phone that looked so much like the communicators on Star Trek, I watched the countdown and the launch live. It wasn’t the same, but I could say I was there, that my fascination with STS had come full circle to a reluctant closure.

But I couldn’t watch today when Atlantis, STS-135, landed for the last time. I know we as humans will go on to explore space both in government ventures and private ones, but the thought of that incredibly beautiful glider never breaching the atmosphere again then returning to make a pinpoint landing was too much. The Shuttles were first and foremost aircraft, and, unlike the awkward but perfectly engineered Mercury and Apollo capsules, the Shuttle was something I could relate to as an aviator. It, too, was complex, one of the most complicated pieces of machinery in the world, but when I studied its controls and systems, I could see myself in the cockpit.

The 135 flights of STS resulted in innumerable accomplishments. Satellites placed in orbit have opened our eyes on the universe and shown us the toll we humans have taken on our planet. The Shuttle systems themselves, notably fly by wire and satellite navigation, are now standard on modern transport aircraft. Space medicine has led to improved patient care and treatment of diseases.

For those who think space flight is a waste of resources, I ask you, how can you limit our desire to explore? People have tried, like those who warned Columbus he’d fall off the end of the earth, but we persist as a people, as humans “to boldly go.” Every exploration on this world has resulted in casualties, and to stop exploring dishonors those who sacrificed. We have to look forward and outward.

I won’t see it, but some of the children who watched STS’ last flight will walk and live on Mars. Not long after that, cosmologically speaking, their children’s children will see a planet outside our solar system with their own eyes. And that’s something to look forward to.

Godspeed to Enterprise (the test vehicle that never made it to space) Columbia, Challenger, Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavor. You will always fly in my dreams.