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Firefly Fans Take Back the Sky

on Mon, 09/23/2013 - 00:00

Throughout the history of science fiction, there have been many memorable spacecrafts. The United Planets Cruiser C57-D that led Commander John J. Adams to the planet Altair IV in the 1950s film Forbidden Planet, for instance, is a sleek saucer that embodied the decade’s growing fascination with UFO sightings. The USS Enterprise of Star Trek, meanwhile, was the flagship of the United Federation of Planets and the symbol of space exploration as man reached for the Moon in the 1960s. Then there was the Millennium Falcon, the fastest hunk-of-junk in a galaxy far, far away that symbolized the adventurous spirit of George Lucas’ Star Wars.

And last but not least, there’s Serenity, the home of Captain Malcolm Reynolds and his band of space scavengers on the short-lived Joss Whedon television series Firefly and its big screen continuation Serenity. Just like the other aforementioned crafts, Serenity also represents a certain set of ideals—freedom from governmental control and the opportunity to determine one’s own fate during uncertain times.

The USS Enterprise was honored in 1976 when the first Space Shuttle was named after it, primarily due to a successful letter-writing campaign by Star Trek enthusiasts, and a small group of Pittsburgh Firefly fans are hoping to duplicate the feat by convincing SpaceX to name their inaugural commercial spacecraft Serenity. And just as Enterprise was a fitting choice for NASA’s next chapter of space exploration in the 1970s, Serenity likewise signifies the emergence of private initiatives into the Final Frontier during the Twenty First Century.

“Space exploration is becoming more and more a venture that is being undertaken by private industry and civilians, rather than solely by government agencies and current or ex-military personnel,” Chris Tobias, one of the two main proponents behind the Take Back the Sky effort, explains. “That’s partly out of necessity, since governments don’t have the funding to devote to large-scale space projects, and partly because the technology has reached the point where a private company like SpaceX or Virgin Galactic can find the resources to do it with little or no government assistance. That’s why Serenity is the perfect name for the first manned SpaceX Dragon—they’re both privately owned, and they’re both transport ships.”

Tobias always had a sense of admiration for the ability of Star Trek fans to convince NASA to name the first Space Shuttle after the USS Enterprise. His fondness for both Firefly and its big-screen follow-up film Serenity likewise instilled the belief that the next manned spacecraft should be named after the ship used on the series—he just wasn’t sure how to make it happen.

“Take Back the Sky’s co-founder Jeff Cunningham posted on the PA Browncoats’ Yahoo Message Boards and expressed the very same idea I had been thinking for years,” Tobias says. “Unlike me, though, he knew the specifics of what NASA’s plan was going forward, and was aware of the Commercial Crew Project and the SpaceX contract for re-supply missions to the International Space Station. When I read his post, I realized that this was someone who shared my vision and had the contacts to make it happen. I contacted him immediately, and not long after that, after some e-mailing and Skype conversations, Take Back the Sky was born.”

Take Back the Sky is a multi-pronged effort to convince Elon Musk, owner of SpaceX, to name the first Dragon spacecraft after Serenity. While Take Back the Sky has an online petition for Firefly fans to sign, Chris Tobias and his colleague Jeff Cunningham have also taken their message on the road, attending various conventions in the Pennsylvania region—including the Wizard World Philadelphia, the West Virginia Pop Culture Convention and the Pittsburgh Comicon—talking to fellow Firefly fans in person, explaining their mission and hosting panel discussions about the effort.

In September 2013, Take Back the Sky even launched a “Leaf on the Wind” campaign to further enlarge the scope of the project. “It was inspired by the successful campaign of the fans of the Jericho TV show, when they sent nuts to the CBS headquarters to convince them not to cancel the show,” Tobias explains. “The nuts were a reference to a line in the final episode of the season, and after CBS received almost ten tons of them, they decided to keep Jericho around a while longer. We figure we can do the same thing with leaves, in reference to Wash’s line, ‘I am a leaf on the wind, watch how I soar,’ in the movie Serenity. We want people to pick a leaf from the branch of a tree, or a freshly-fallen one, and mail it to Elon Musk at SpaceX with a short note telling him to name his manned Dragon Serenity.”

The effort is also meant to be more than symbolic. “Our online petition has over 1,400 signatures so far, and we certainly encourage everyone who hasn’t done so already to sign it and tell someone about it,” Tobias continues. “But even more than that, we want people to take a few minutes of their time to jot down a note to Elon Musk telling him they think Serenity is the best name for his manned capsule and send it off to SpaceX, perhaps along with a leaf. Liking, tweeting and re-tweeting are good for helping to spread the word, but they won’t make a difference where it counts. In order to do that, people have to be willing to contact Elon Musk directly. It’s his ship, it’s his money and it will be his decision.”

Although Chris Tobias is a supporter of Elon Musk and his efforts to bring space travel into the Twenty First Century, he also has his own thoughts on the future of space exploration as well.

“For me it’s about finding a frontier to keep us from going soft as a nation, and even as a race,” Tobias explains. “Without a new frontier to explore and overcome, we tend to become complacent as a people, and without that great unknown to keep us aggressively pushing forward, we tend to stagnate in our creativity, our ingenuity and our appetite for discovery. Our can-do mentality becomes dulled a bit when there’s nothing really at stake, but when there’s a frontier to discover, to explore and to support, it lights a fire deep within us. Space, as James T. Kirk said, really is the Final Frontier, and I think we need to get out there before we become too apathetic to the challenge and Earth-That-Is becomes Earth-That-Was.”

While Chris Tobias is a true believer in both the future of space explorations and his mission of convincing SpaceX to name its first spacecraft after Serenity, it is the journey that he has embarked upon that has brought the greatest joy.

“If someone told me a year ago that I would meet Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau, Gina Torres and Jewel Staite and that Jeff and I would have the chance to host panels at three cons and meet so many shiny folk, I wouldn’t have believed it,” he says. “But in Take Back the Sky’s first year, all of that and more has taken place. I’ve also formed some strong friendships with people all over the world, and I’ve learned more about space exploration and the space industry than I ever could have dared to imagine. Even if this campaign wouldn’t succeed—and we don’t plan on giving up until it does—there’s no way anyone could ever tell me it wasn’t worth it.”

Captain Malcolm Reynolds himself couldn’t have said it better.

Anthony Letizia

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