Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015

Leonard Nimoy, most known for his portrayal of the half-Vulcan, half-human science officer Spock, passed earlier today at the age of 83.  The death was a result of his chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which he acknowledged having last year.

So, why include an actor when my obituary posts have typically been men and women of science policy?  This Tweet helps explain:

Hadfield is the Canadian astronaut who arguably has done the most to drag the rest of us into space with his time on the International Space Station.  And while the passing of other Star Trek actors will certainly prompt similar expressions from Hadfield and other astronauts (particularly Nichelle Nichols, who helped recruit astronauts); Nimoy, and Spock, linked space exploration and the scientific perspective in a way the other characters do not.  Spock’s (usually) rational approach also appeals, as does the multicultural background he contributed to on the Enterprise.  He also was part of the two recent films (any more details are spoilers, sorry)

Hadfield was not alone amongst the space community in mourning Nimoy’s passing.

Nimoy’s connection to science was not limited to his role as Spock.  In the 1970s and 1980s he hosted a documentary program called In Search Of… that explored various myths, legends and other topics.  While the subjects can lend themselves to pseudoscientific ramblings, In Search Of… was an earnest effort to cover what was known and what evidence existed on these subjects.

If you visit the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, you can sit in the Leonard Nimoy Event Horizon Theater.  It’s a small token of appreciation for Nimoy’s support of the Observatory’s renovation.

And then there’s his influence on me.  I doubt I’d be involved in science policy, or even in this Washington, were it not for Star Trek, and Nimoy and Spock were critical in getting me into that program.  I read his first autobiography when I was 9 or 10, and cajoled my father into driving me over 100 miles (each way) to see him when I was 12.  In the intervening time, I was trying to mold myself into Spock, at least in terms of rigor of thought and approach to the world.  I’m still trying.

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