It was announced today that Carolyn Porco, the leader of the Imaging Science team on NASA’S Cassini mission at Saturn, has accepted an invitation from Star Trek director/producer, J.J. Abrams, to join the Star Trek production crew as a consultant on planetary science and imagery. Porco spoke exclusively with TrekMovie.com about her role bringing science to the Star Trek film (and the fans).
Porco’s role in the new Star Trek film will be to help the team artistically show the reality and beauty of space, but this isn’t her first go around. She is a frequent commentator on science, astronomy, and space exploration for television, radio, and print media. She served as a consultant on the Jodi Foster movie Contact and the A&E television special on the 25th anniversary of the Voyager mission, “Cosmic Journey.” Porco was especially well suited for the Voyager show because she played a prominent role in the Voyager mission.
Porco is highly recognized in her field. She has an asteroid named in her honor, was named ‘one of 18 scientific leaders of the 21st century’ by the London Times and was the recipient of the 2008 Isaac Asimov Science Award. Much of Porco’s current focus is as the director of the Cassini Imaging Central Laboratory for Operations (CICLOPS) at the Space Science Institute in Boulder, Colorado. CICLOPS is the center of uplink and downlink flight operations for the Cassini imaging experiment, and the place where Cassini images are processed for release to the public. Bringing space imagery to the public has been a passion of Porco’s and that is how she garnered the attention of Star Trek’s director.
Abrams, Guyett and Bormanis on Porco
Carolyn Porco came to the attention of Star Trek director JJ Abrams at the TED conference in 2007 where they both spoke. Abrams was impressed with Porco and in the release Abrams states why he felt she was the right person to help guide the team, saying:
Carolyn and her team have produced images that are simply stunning. I’m thrilled that she will help guide our production in creating an authentic vision of space, one that immerses our audience in a visual experience as awe-inspiring as what Carolyn’s cameras have captured.
Porco will be working directly with Roger Guyett, the film’s supervisor for visual effects (who recently popped in to the online chat with fans here at TrekMovie.com). In the release Guyett, an ILM vet of films such as “Star Wars: Episode III”, “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”, “Mission: Impossible III”, “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End”, had this to say about Porco
Everybody is very excited about Carolyn’s involvement in the film. Her incredible knowledge and expertise is obviously something we’re going to tap into. And the breathtaking imagery that she brings to the collaboration will inspire us all to create some awesome images for our movie!
Dr. Porco joins a long line of science advisors who have helped guide the Trek franchise since the beginning. The most recent advisor Andre Bormanis thinks that Abrams couldn’t have made a better choice, telling TrekMovie.com:
I have known Carolyn from many years, beginning when we were both at the University of Arizona. I think she’s a great choice for the movie. Not only is she one of the world’s top planetary scientists, but she has a wonderful artistic sensibility, which is rare among scientists but indispensable for the visually- powerful storytelling that’s always been a hallmark of Star Trek.
Porco at TED
Porco talks to TrekMovie.com
Porco knows Trek, but isn’t necessarily ‘a Trekkie,’ saying:
I couldn’t tell you the year Kirk was born, but I am part of the original crowd. I was young when it was first on and I watched the original Star Trek when it was on in the 60s. And I’ve checked in every once in a while with the The Next Generation series and I liked that very much. I’ve also seen the best of the previous ten movies.
Porco hasn’t started working on the Trek project yet, but she expects it to be different
I have a feeling from everything I have seen and heard, that this Star Trek production is going to be very different.
So how realistic will the film be? Trek films have always taken liberties with the look of space, especially in the case of having space a lot brighter than it really is. Porco feels that the team will make things as accurate as possible, but points out that, in the case of lighting, there is no choice, saying….
We even have to do this with our pictures on the [Cassini] website. You have no trouble seeing any of those objects, we have to put it on a website so you can see it with your eyes. But if we were really to show it, literally the way it would look if you were there in space, it would be a hundred times less bright. Because the sunlight at Saturn is a hundred times less bright. So there are circumstances just to do with practicalities that right out of the gate demand you violate some rule. So of course to bring reality onto a two dimensional screen you have to violate it to some degree. That is just the way it goes. There have been in Hollywood movies, there have been violations far more extreme than that. From what I have seen so far I think that this production crew is going to reach farther in trying to make it as accurate as possible.
So is there going to be sound in space?
Ahh [laughs] I can’t say anything more more because I don’t know, but those are the kind of issues that are probably going to be debated…You know 2001 is, in my opinion, the best science-fiction film ever made and it didn’t have any sound in space. As I understand it, [director Stanley] Kubrick went into debt making that film and making it as scientifically accurate as possible. I must have seen that film like fifteen or twenty-five times…But that film didn’t do all that great and was more of a cult film….So you might use the argument that not having sound in space was not a very financially good decision.
Porco will not be at work on the Trek project for a while (likely when the go into post-production). So for now she is focusing on her day job and like a real life Starship captain, Porco and her team are out there (via Cassini) seeking out strange new worlds (and maybe even new life forms). Right now she is very excited by Enceladus, one of Saturn’s moons. Her team recently discovered geysers which may mean that there could be more to be found. Porco effuses about the discovery:
It has water, heat and simple organic materials! It has all the basic ingredients for being another habitable zone. The Holy Grail of planetary science is to find other environments in our solar system that might be conducive to the origins of life.
In a month Cassini will be doing a flyby of Enceladus and so expect more from Porco and her team then. TrekMovie.com will be sure to keep you all up to date on Porco and Cassini in our regular ‘Science Friday‘ column.
Bringing science to the fans
As mentioned before, Carolyn Porco has made it her mission to bring imagery from space science to the public. She hopes to help raise awareness of science and spark discussions of science with the public. She has recently created a forum to do that at her company website (Diamond Sky Productions), you can visit the forum HERE. Carolyn has started a new post about an interesting debate she recently participated in titled “Science and the Public Sphere: Getting out the Truth – A Media Roundtable” (with Michael Lemonick, Robert Krulwich, Shirley Jackson, Lawrence Krauss, Jim Lehrer, Mike Turner, and Walter Isaacson). The topic and link to video are available HERE
Eclipse at Saturn…one of the amazing images available at CICLOPS