Tom DeSanto (l) and Dr. Franck Marchis

“You are all Warriors against the Dark Ages!” So declared Tom DeSanto at SXSW in Austin on March 11.

Tom DeSanto, writer and producer of such film franchises as X-Men and Transformers, was in conversation with Franck Marchis, asteroid scientist currently involved in searching for extraterrestrial intelligence.

“We need to shrink fear and grow hope,” DeSanto said, specifically identifying Star Trek as a paradigm for the future. As a young person, “In Star Trek I saw the future that was not filled with nuclear fallout but rather hope and community and a sense of purpose. When you look at the influence Star Trek has had, it’s still the number one inspiration for people entering into aerospace. It had the world’s first inter-racial kiss on television (which was banned in certain states, ad we know which states it would probably be banned in today). We’re all warriors in this. I was very proud in the 70s when all of the scientists and people who were in NASA – including astronauts – petitioned the government to change the name of the first space shuttle from Constitution to Enterprise.”

Artists, Marchis said, “use only their imagination to create the world they want; as scientists we need to constrain ourselves within a framework. But we have the same goal. Our dream is to make the world better. In Star Trek, we encountered many other planets with sentient life. Marchis he wakes up every morning wondering “how are we going to find planets orbiting other stars that may have life. Artists share that – they have the same type of motivation.” DeSanto agreed, saying that “scientists and artists used to be merged together,” Michelangelo and daVinci were prime examples of that.

But the forces of darkness were there to snuff it out. DeSanto, who said he is “a recovering Catholic after 12 years of Catholic school,” explained that in “the Dark Ages, the first thing the Church went after were the artists and the scientists. So you have amazing minds, like Galileo being thrown in jail, because he said Earth rotates around the Sun. That’s heresy, because our ego could not deal with the fact that as we get smarter and smarter we become smaller and smaller in this massive universe.”

While speaking, there was an image on the screen showing innovations from Star Trek that are now part of our everyday lives. These included photos of Capt. Kirk using a communicator (now a flip-phone); Uhura wearing an ear bud (now most teenagers wear one at school), and Capt. Picard holding a computer tablet (many now have tablets or iPads). That future, envisioned 50 years ago, is now reality. But instead of waiting for the 23rd century for that technology as in the TV show, we have it in the early 21st century.

“I’m here to create a Star Trek future not a Mad Max future!” said DeSanto. “We’re either going to saved by technology or we’re going to be doomed by it. When you start to value wisdom as much as intelligence we’re on a much better path. That future is now! There’s hope in technology.”

Photo by C Cunningham

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Tom DeSanto (l) and Dr. Franck Marchis






By Dr. Cliff Cunningham

Dr. Cliff Cunningham is a planetary scientist, the acknowledged expert on the 19th century study of asteroids. He is a Research Fellow at the University of Southern Queensland in Australia. He serves as Editor of the History & Cultural Astronomy book series published by Springer; and Associate Editor of the Journal of Astronomical History & Heritage. Asteroid 4276 in space was named in his honour by the International Astronomical Union based in the recommendation of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Dr. Cunningham has written or edited 15 books. His PhD is in the History of Astronomy, and he also holds a BA in Classical Studies.