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Scotty returns to final frontier

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They finally did it.

They beamed Scotty up.

If, like me, you spend the greater portion of your waking hours in front of a TV set consuming snack-related items, you will know the cremated remains of Canadian-born actor James Doohan, who played engineer Montgomery "Scotty" Scott on the groundbreaking 1960s sci-fi series Star Trek, were launched into space Tuesday morning from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

On Star Trek, Scotty and the rest of the pyjama-clad crew of over-actors blasted into orbit in relative luxury on the starship Enterprise.

On Tuesday morning, Scotty's ashes were fired into space in a shiny little canister the size of a tube of lipstick.

The tiny canister was one of 308 filled with the remains of deceased persons, including Mercury astronaut Gordon Cooper, whose families had forked out about $2,995 to a company called Celestis to have a gram of ashes fired into Earth's orbit on a privately owned rocket.

The unmanned SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket's main mission -- the first by a private firm -- is to ferry supplies to the International Space Station, but the ashes of "Scotty" and his cohorts were part of a secondary payload that separated from the main capsule nine minutes and 49 seconds into the flight. What that means is Scotty's lipstick tube will now orbit the Earth for roughly a year before it falls back toward the ground and is burned up during re-entry.

I think I speak for just about every baby boomer who used to fight with his parents for the right to stay up late enough to watch James Doohan and the rest of the original Star Trek cast when I issue the following heart-felt scientific statement: "Way to go, Scotty!"

According to every news story I have read, before he died in 2005 at the age of 85, Doohan had requested his ashes be taken into space.

Two previous efforts failed, but on Tuesday morning he got his wish to rest among the stars, thanks to Celestis, a company that books memorial spaceflights to "launch a symbolic portion of your loved one's ashes into space."

For me personally, James Doohan was a pretty symbolic guy to begin with.

I felt a special bond with him, partly because, like me, he was born in Vancouver, and partly because his character, a no-nonsense Scot, like many of my cranky relatives, was passionate about the consumption of Scotch whisky, although never when operating a transporter beam.

More than that, however, I have always been grateful to Scotty for teaching me one of life's most valuable lessons -- no matter how easy your job is, make sure everyone else thinks it's (very bad word) next to impossible.

I am not kidding about this. If you have ever seen Star Trek, you will know that, as chief engineer, Scotty had some serious duties, such as balancing the antimatter intake into the warp core, which, of course, is fairly important.

But the main thing Scotty did -- and he did this in every episode -- was grotesquely overestimate how long it would take him to handle some simple repairs on the Enterprise, because in the end, when the job didn't wind up taking nearly that long, Capt. Kirk was always impressed with how fast Scotty worked under pressure.

Kirk: "Scotty, I need warp speed NOW!"

Scotty: "It'll take THREE days, captain!"

Kirk: "But. Scotty. Blah. Blah. Blah."

Scotty: "Finished."

Kirk: "Scotty, you're a miracle worker."

Call me an emotional fool, but I'd like to see a few of Scotty's Star Trek cast-mates join him soon. We should start with William Shatner.

I realize Shatner isn't currently deceased, but it's going to take a long time to stuff his ego into one of those lipstick tubes.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 23, 2012 A2

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