Today in History – April 21, 1997 – Timothy Leary and Gene Roddenberry launched into orbit. LSD guru Timothy Leary and “Star Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry (left image) hitched a ride into space, along with 22 other people as part of a new commercial “memorial space flight” venture of Texas-based Celestis Inc. The Spanish Pegasus rocket took off from the Canary Islands and propelled ashes of the “founders flight” into orbit, contained within small lipstick-size vials (center image) that would orbit the Earth for six years and then completely burn up when they re-entered the atmosphere. Roddenberry and Leary were ideal candidates for the first memorial space flight, with careers that focused on “outer” and “inner” space, respectively.
Although this experiment in spreading the ashes of cremated dignitaries into space got all of the publicity, the main mission of the launch was a joint project between the University of California-Berkeley and a Spanish aerospace institute with the goal of launching Spain’s first research satellite.
Although I never met Roddenberry, his body of work had a big influence on me and inspired me to pursue a career in technology. He was a colleague of childhood friend of my family science fiction writer Jack Williamson. They were both inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Timothy Leary called our house once to talk to my husband. It was kind of interesting to overhear the conversation. I think of them being together as explorers of inner and outer spaces.
Also on this date in 1994, the first extra-solar planets were discovered. These planets were orbiting a neutron star, PSR B1257+12, during a large search for pulsars conducted in 1990 with the giant, 305-m Arecibo radiotelescope.
For more information, see the Engineering Pathway’s resources on extra-solar planets, pulsars and aerospace engineering. For curricular resources, visit the Aerospace Engineering Education community site.