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Mat KaplanFebruary 28, 2015

Leonard Nimoy: A Science Fan’s Appreciation

In the Star Trek universe, the Milky Way galaxy has been seeded with hominid genes by an ancient race that wished to spread its descendants throughout the stars. This was both a gift to themselves and to the producers of myriad Trek series and movies, justifying the use of cheap makeup and appliances for the largely humanoid aliens met by the crews of the Enterprise. Evolution being what it is, these strangely familiar aliens were also shaped by the worlds they populated, and some of them would eventually reshape themselves. In nearly 49 years of boldly going, one alien character would turn the tables like no other, helping to shape the audiences who watched him. Leonard Nimoy provided his DNA and soul.

I was in junior high when Gene Roddenberry changed my life and the lives of countless millions since. I was already a science fiction fan, but Star Trek hit me like an impacting asteroid. It had almost everything. Strange new worlds. An impulsive, clever captain. A captivating crew. Warp drive. But its aliens were generally just plain humans with greasy makeup. They didn’t just look human. They acted all too human. And then there was First Officer Spock of Vulcan. He was also Kirk’s Science Officer, which was an equally important job on a Federation Starship. (Thanks for that, Gene.)

Too many people believe that Spock prized emotionless logic above all else. This was wrong from the start, and became more wrong as his character evolved. For Spock, nothing was more important or “fascinating” than the gathering of knowledge about life, the universe and everything. Leonard Nimoy imbued him with the curiosity and the naked need to know that is felt by the hundreds of scientists I’ve met, and by so many of the rest of us who simply love science. 

Nimoy obviously felt that need, and he wanted to share it. When you visit the iconic Griffith Observatory in the hills above Los Angeles, you may find yourself downstairs in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater. His philanthropic work leaves an impressive legacy, yet it is Spock’s endless enthusiasm for learning and scientific investigation that is his most influential gift to us. This, and the absolute morality, decency and courage Nimoy gave his pointy-eared alter ego. It’s no wonder Captain Kirk so admires and treasures his alien friend. We all do. Mr. Spock will live long and prosper, thanks to a human named Leonard Nimoy.

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Mat Kaplan

Planetary Radio Host and Producer
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