“It uses ion propulsion, which I first heard of in a ‘Star Trek’ episode,” Rayman told City News Service.
In fact, Rayman, who first heard the term uttered by Nimoy on the “Spock’s Brain” episode of the 1960s television series, led the world’s first mission to use the fuel-saving technology — the Deep Space 1 mission that launched in 1998 and took the first close-up photos of the nucleus of a comet.
“It never occurred to me when I saw that (episode) as a little kid that I might grow up” to work with the technology on two missions, Rayman said. “… All of this from the ‘Spock’s Brain’ episode.”
He noted that when mission controllers would “throttle down” the ion propulsion system on Deep Space 1, “we used to call it ‘impulse power,’ which is the term I gave it, and we took it straight from ‘Star Trek.”‘
“Multiple generations have been inspired, and of course entertained, by this man of many talents,” Rayman said of Nimoy. “Certainly many of my friends and colleagues were inspired by him. … It may even be his legacy will extend to space exploration of the 22nd Century.”
Rayman said he had been a “space enthusiast” since age 4, but when he discovered “Star Trek” in reruns, he was captivated.
“It depicted a future that in many ways I wanted to live in,” he told CNS. “People were getting to do things I had already been dreaming of.”
He said he appreciated the show’s “combination of the space exploration and the humanity,” which was particularly unique to the half-human, half- Vulcan portrayed by Nimoy.
“Of course he was supposed to be without emotion or devoid of emotion, but we always knew that he wasn’t,” Rayman said.
One of Rayman’s favorite lines from the “Star Trek” universe was said about Spock during his funeral in the film “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” by then-Admiral James T. Kirk, who said, “Of all the souls I’ve encountered in my travels, his was the most human.”
“That says something very powerful about Leonard Nimoy’s portrayal of Mr. Spock,” Rayman said.
Nimoy narrated the first video JPL produced about the Dawn mission, which Rayman is now overseeing as the spacecraft approaches a dwarf planet known as Ceres. When it achieves orbit — scheduled for next Friday — it will achieve what no spacecraft has achieved before, orbiting two extraterrestrial destinations in a single mission, Rayman said.
Rayman said he learned of Nimoy’s death this morning in the JPL mission control room after talking with a colleague about the status of the Dawn spacecraft.
“As I turned to walk away from him he gave me this sad news that he had just seen on his computer,” Rayman said. “Here we were talking about how well our interplanetary spaceship is going — about to go into orbit around an uncharted world. The contrast between that excitement and the news about Leonard Nimoy’s death was very powerful.”
Despite the sadness, however, “I also have to say I’m happy that he lived long and prospered.”
— City News Service
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