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Comic-Con 2019: Space Celebration Sunday with Picard, The Orville, Peanuts and More

On the 50th anniversary of the lunar landing, what better time to think about space, our final frontier! NASA had a booth on the San Diego Comic-Con event floor and was willing to talk about Apollo 11 as well as the next giant leap to Mars. You could go off site and “walk” on the moon as part of a sextet of astronauts. You could look to the future by exploring something that may inspired young scientists today to create a better tomorrow—a popup exhibition provides a glimpse at a Star Trek captain’s life and hints about the new CBS series. 

At the Michael J. Wolf Gallery (363 Fifth Avenue, San Diego) had a special exhibit “Jean-Luc Picard: The First Duty” which shows artifacts that you might recognize from the show, “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (1987-1994), and the feature movies with this cast (e.g. Picard’s Ressikan flute) as well as costumes and other items for the new CBS All Access series, “Star Trek: Picard.” The “Star Trek: Picard” merchandise included a t-shirt with a cat as Picard?

The Saturday "Star Trek: Picard" Comic-Con panel revealed the trailer and a few familiar faces. Brent Spiner (Data), Jonathan Frakes (Commander William Riker) and Marina Sirtis (Lieutenant Commander Deanna Troi) will reprise their roles from “Next Generation.” Jeri Ryan will reprise her role as Seven of Nine from “Star Trek: Voyager.” “Star Trek: Picard” begins two decades after Data sacrificed himself to save Picard. Picard's been trying to fit in on his family’s vineyard but it doesn’t feel like “home.” When a young woman comes to him, Picard agrees to help this mysterious stranger because, "if she is who I think she is, she’s in serious danger." Of course, he needs a crew and he’s told “be the captain they remember.” 

"The Orville" / Photo: CBS

A Star Trek-influenced TV series, “The Orville,” also had museum experience at SDCC, taking over the larger space of the Carnation building (1051 J Ave.) Like the Picard exhibit, uniforms were displayed, but I don’t remember a single imaginary award. Instead you saw weapons (natch!), consoles and the prosthetics for creating aliens. The big news was that “The Orville” was moving from Fox to Hulu for season three, with new episodes expected to begin streaming at the end of 2020. That’s a long wait, but in a statement Seth MacFarlane explained that “The Orville” has been “a labor of love” and that while 20th Century Fox Television and Fox Broadcasting Company and now Fox Entertainment “understood what I was trying to do with the series” and he acknowledges their “spectacular job of marketing, launching and programming,” for the past two seasons, “the show has evolved and become more ambitious production-wise.” Because of this he knew he would not be able to deliver episodes until 2020 and that was “challenging for the network.” 

MacFarlane stars as the captain of the USS Orville, an exploratory spaceship 400 years in the future. MacFarlane and cast members dropped in to “The Orville Experience” after their panel, posing for pictures and some of the aliens mingled (Moclan and Krill) with the crowd to provide ample opportunity for fan selfies. 

Alice Space is a Noitom (motion spelled backwards) mixed reality experience that was being demonstrated free at the FutureTechLive! & Esports Lounge (Omni Hotel). At the fourth year of this tech playground you could dance with a red panda or battle a dragon, but in Alice Space, you traveled in a space ship with your fellow astronauts and got to leave your footprints on the moon. While the Apollo 11 landing module was comparatively cramped and had room for only a few rocks, Alice Space’s module has a work space that includes a laptop computer station, a few coffee cups, rocks and trays of hydroponic plants growing. 

The computer program isn’t sophisticated enough to give you fingers (so you couldn't send emails back to earth). Your hands are like mittened paws. You’ll understand why your dog or cat can’t pick up a cup. You can have a rock fight, but your mittened hands and differing gravity will hinder your aim. You might hit someone else. Isn’t that how wars are started?

Compared to JPL’s OnSight software that allows scientists to work together observing information gathered by the Mars Rovers, Alice Space is more interactive and there’s a special thrill being able to leave footprints on the moon and see the earth rise. OnSight’s human participants are visible, but they leave no trace behind, like ghosts haunting the desolate red planet. 

"Peanuts in Space: Secrets of Apollo 10"

NASA people know that it is a dog, and not a cat, that has the heart of the US space program. Snoopy and Peanuts were at SDCC to help celebrate the Snoopy-NASA connection. If you’ve been watching the Apollo documentaries, you’ll know that astronaut Gordon Cooper’s secretary, Jamye Flowers, held a large stuffed Snoopy and Apollo 10 Commander Tom Stafford was photographed patting its nose for good luck. Charles M. Schulz created comic strips showing Snoopy on the moon and in May 1969, the crew named the lunar module for the Apollo 10 “Snoopy” because it was going to “snoop around” within 50,000 feet of the moon’s surface to find a good place for Apollo 11 to land. 

NASA’s Silver Snoopy award is given by NASA astronauts to employees and contractors for outstanding achievements in human flight safety or mission success. This year, Peanuts cooperated with NASA and Apple TV to make a 15-minute short, “Peanuts in Space: Secrets of Apollo 10," that included archival interviews of two of the three Apollo 10 astronauts: Tom Stafford and Eugene Cernan. The current NASA flight director, Ginger Kerrick, was also interviewed. The feature also included Jeff Goldblum and Ron Howard playing themselves.

Alice Space can’t give you the experience of weightlessness, although I'm almost certain I could feel the cushy moon surface as I left footprints. Saturday, it took a nearly four-hour wait to get near weightlessness. The Comic-Con Museum had a special activation in partnership with the indoor skydiving company iFly that allowed you to don a special Batman jumpsuit and after a quick practice flight, swoop through the skies of Gotham to save it from a famous Batman foe (Scarecrow). High winds drive you up while two experienced flight instructors make sure you don’t hit the ground or bump into the sides of the tunnel during this virtual reality experience. Using a special helmet with pointy bat ears and a place to latch a virtual reality face mask on your face, you got a bat's eye view of Gotham as you soar, swoop and plunge through the skies of Gotham. 

You learn a few things very quickly—the wind is so loud you can’t understand what people are saying. Your mouth will stay cleaner and be less parched if you keep it closed. Hand signals work best. And all that yelling and screaming in movies while skydiving are surreal fiction.

NASA provides a lot of the science for science fiction, but sometimes science fiction inspires science as well. SDCC is a happy place where they meet and are both celebrated.

Jana Monji

Jana Monji, made in San Diego, California, lost in Japan several times, has written about theater and movies for the LA Weekly, LA Times, and currently, and the Pasadena Weekly. Her short fiction has been published in the Asian American Literary Review.

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