Television: UFOs and Star Trek

Image (Credit): Promotion for UFOs: Investigating the Unknown. (National Geographic)

With all the ongoing media chatter about unidentified flying objects (UFO), National Geographic has perfect timing with its new series UFOs: Investigating the Unknown. The new series started on February 13th. You can watch it on Hulu, Disney+, and ESPN+.

National Geographic promises that this new five-part series will explore the government’s decades long investigations into UFOs. It seems those investigations just expanded into new areas with the U.S. Air Force recently firing missiles at objects in Canada and the United States. Maybe the new series can help to explain some of these sightings.

If the whole UFO issue has bored you, then tag along with Captain Picard for the third and last season of Star Trek: Picard. The series returned on February 16th. You get to see some of your old favorites joining the cast this season, including Geordi La Forge, Worf, William Riker, Dr. Beverly Crusher, and Deanna Troi.

Here is the basic plot from Paramount+:

In the epic, thrilling conclusion of Star Trek: Picard, a desperate message from a long-lost friend draws Starfleet legend Admiral Jean-Luc Picard into the most daring mission of his life, forcing him to recruit allies spanning generations old and new. This final adventure sets him on a collision course with the legacy of his past and explosive, new revelations that will alter the fate of the Federation forever.

I know, the plot reads like a cover letter on a resume promising everything. That said, I think I will start with Star Trek: Picard and continue to follow UFOs in the daily news. That will be enough drama for me these days.

Image (Credit): Promotional poster for Star Trek: Picard’s third season. (Paramount+)

Gift Ideas: Lego Lunar Research Base

Image (Credit): Lego Lunar Research Base playset. (Lego)

While we await the Artemis III crew landing on the Moon and related lunar base, you might want to create your own mission with the Lego Lunar Research Base (shown above), which has “NASA-inspired” details. The playset has almost 800 Lego pieces, so you can build it yourself (to NASA specs, of course).

The playset comes with a “… lunar lander, VIPER rover and a domed accommodation module with laboratories, garage and air lock, plus 6 astronaut minifigures. I’m assuming the rocket that gets the astronaut minifigures to the Moon is sold separately.

And below is the Lego International Space Station is you are looking for something more traditional (and less expensive).

It’s great to see that Lego is allowing kids to build their own space missions at home.

Image (Credit): Lego International Space Station playset. (Lego)

Some of you may have played with Star Wars and Star Trek sets as kids, but at least these latest Lego set have a ring of credibility. Star Wars helped you destroy the galaxy, whereas Star Trek seemed more interest in exploration and at least had the veneer of Artemis CXXV.

I checked on whether Chinese and Russian kids with have their own space playsets and found the Russian Roscosmos Soyuz MS spacecraft (still a concept) and China’s Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center (made by a Lego copycat), both shown below.

Image (Credit): Lego version of the Russian Roscosmos Soyuz MS spacecraft. (Lego Ideas)
Image (Credit): Sembo Blocks version of the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. (

The Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center playset comes with a Long March 2F rocket and an authentic warning sign stating, “Those stealing secrets will be caught, once they’re caught they will be killed [decapitated].”

Maybe even reality is not always the best model for play.

Extra: You can find more Lego space models at the NASA gift shop.

The National Air and Space Museum is Open for Business

Image (Credit): The “Destination Moon” exibition at the refurbished National Air and Space Museum. (Smithsonian Museum)

If you have been awaiting the refurbishing of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, then you will be happy to know that the museum reopened on October 14th. Only now you cannot simply stroll into the museum. Instead, you need to obtain a free timed-entry pass. Unfortunately, this seems to be the current system used by numerous museums to control traffic as well as capture all of your personal information so they can swamp you with junk mail and offers. Anyway…

Here are the a few of the new exhibits the museum is highlighting (go here for the full list):

  1. “Walking On Other Worlds”: Experience what it’s like in distant parts of our solar system in the “Walking on Other Worlds” interactive experience in the Kenneth C. Griffin Exploring the Planets Gallery. This immersive media exhibit presents visitors with a seven-minute “tour” of seven different worlds: Venus, Earth’s Moon, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn’s moon Titan, asteroid Ryugu, and comet 67P.
  2. Science Fiction Artifacts: New to display is a full-sized T-70 X-wing Starfighter “flown” by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019). The screen-used vehicle is on long-term loan from Lucasfilm and is displayed hanging outside the planetarium. Star Trek is also represented in the new exhibitions. 
  3. ISS Cupola: In the One World Connected gallery, put yourself in the shoes of astronauts on the International Space Station (ISS) with the ISS Cupola interactive. Every 90 minutes, astronauts on board the ISS can see the Sun rise from the station’s Cupola, a European Space Agency-built observatory module. 

Given that NASA’s Artemis 1 mission is shooting for the Moon again, the timing is perfect. Of course, in December 2022 it will have been 50 years since the last human walk on the Moon’s surface, so we have a lot to celebrate as well as a lot of time to make up. Let’s hope a future update to the National Air and Space Museum includes models of spacecraft used to get humans to Mars.

And remember, you can also visit the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center outside the Washington Beltway that contains large planes, jets, and spacecraft that cannot fit in the DC museum, including the Space Shuttle Discovery. Last time I went there I could walk right in without using a timed-entry pass.

Image (Credit): Space Shuttle Discovery at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. (Smithsonian Museum)

Space Quote: Captain Kirk, The Singer

Image (Credit): The Knight performs on season eight of The Masked Singer. (Fox)

The Masked Singer is the most extraordinary experience I’ve ever had. Well, I mean, the wardrobe was impossible. You can’t see, you can’t breathe, you can’t hear, you can’t think. There was no oxygen in there. I had a panic thinking, “Wait a minute, I can’t breathe. And I’m supposed to sing.” You know how you sing? You take a breath and air comes out. That’s how you sing, and I couldn’t get a breath. It was incredible.”

-William Shatner’s response to a question from Entertainment Weekly Entertainment, “Speaking of your busy schedule, in the last year, you went to space and appeared on The Masked Singer. Be honest, which experience was wilder for you?” Jeff Bezos may not be too happy to hear this after he flew Mr. Shatner to the edge of space last year on one of his Blue Origin rockets. Maybe he should have added a Karaoke machine to the flight.

A Day in Astronomy: The Beginning of the Final Frontier

Image (Credit): Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock from Star Trek. (Paramount Pictures)

On this day in 1966, NBC television broadcast the first episode of Star Trek. The new series lasted for three seasons. It was the beginning of a “cultural phenomena,” to quote Leonard Nimoy from the 1991 television special, Star Trek 25th Anniversary Special.

While it may not technically meet the definition of astronomy, it definitely impacted many astronomers and other scientists. In 2016, NASA wrote about the technology and ideas in the Star Trek series that later matched up with reality or might exist someday. Here are two examples:

Communicators: Like Star Trek communicators, cell phones are ubiquitous now, to an annoying extent, and images and videos made with them are now collected and exchanged obsessively. Landing parties in past Star Trek shows only gave verbal reports, and did not send back images and videos, as today’s people would.

Impulse Engines: These are rocket engines based on the fusion reaction. We don’t have the technology for them yet – they are far ahead of our present chemical-fueled rockets – but they are within the bounds of real, possible future engineering.

Some Star Trek episodes also mentioned ion drive. In recent decades, Russian, U.S., European, and Japanese spacecraft have used ion drive engines, known as Hall thrusters. They are much more efficient than the usual chemical rockets and have been capable of propelling probes to asteroids and comets in our solar system.

Theoretical physicist and cosmologist Lawrence Krauss, writer of The Physics of Star Trek, also shared his insights on the influence of Star Trek in this video, Trek Talks: Lawrence Krauss on Star Trek and Science. He is among many who have seen the beneficial role of science fiction.

Fortunately, the Star Trek television and movie universe is going strong and can continue influencing young minds ready to explore this universe of ours.

Image (Credit): In 1976, NASA’s space shuttle Enterprise rolled out of the Palmdale manufacturing facilities and was greeted by NASA officials and cast members from the Star Trek television series. From left to right they are: NASA Administrator Dr. James D. Fletcher; DeForest Kelley, who portrayed Dr. “Bones” McCoy on the series; George Takei (Mr. Sulu); James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott); Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura); Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock); series creator Gene Roddenberry; U.S. Rep. Don Fuqua (D.-Fla.); and, Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov). (NASA)

Extra: The pilot episode of Star Trek was named “The Man Trap.” It was not really the pilot but instead an episode in the wrong order, and the original pilot was dropped, but that is beside the point. The point is that it was bad. Really bad. You can read all about it in this article from Entertainment Weekly, “Star Trek Turns 50: A Look Back at the Desperately Sad First Episode.”

Image (Credit): Spock and Nancy in Star Trek’s “The Man Cage.” (Paramount Pictures)