This is one of my earliest childhood memories.
It is long before I had any siblings.
I’m probably three years-old. It is the autumn of 1975.
I live in the northwestern San Fernando Valley, on Topanga Canyon Boulevard, just a couple of miles south of Spahn Ranch. The Valley is largely undeveloped where we live, and what is developed is mostly farmland. In the 90s, I will be that guy who says “When I lived here, this was all farmland…” while he sweeps his hand across the view of endless development. I will be that guy every time I drive down Topanga. I will spend the rest of my life missing the quiet simplicity and wide open space that I took for granted as a child, while also accepting that taking things for granted is what children do best.
So it is in the early evening. The air is warm, but a hint of a chill occasionally swirls around us on a light breeze that barely moves the dry air. I’m standing between my parents, my mother holds my left hand, my father holds my right hand. We are in the yard that separates our little house — a chicken coop that had been converted into a home — from the big farm house that my great grandparents live in. It is their backyard, our frontyard, and my entire world. I will spend hundreds hours on that lawn, listening to Star Trek Power records on my portable plastic record player, in a tee pee that my dad makes for me out of blankets and broomsticks. It will be every planet in our solar system, and every planet I create in my imagination.
We are next to the walnut tree that will be struck by lightning in a few months. That tree will split in two, catch fire, and the part that falls to the ground will narrowly miss destroying our home. The fire will be extinguished by the rain before the fire department arrives. We stand there, the three of us, beneath the bare branches of that tree, its crisp leaves crunching beneath our feet. We look to the eastern horizon, and we look at the moon.
The moon is as big as the entire sky. It covers the entire horizon, impossibly big. It is yellow and the seas and craters are so big, they look like continents. The moon is so big and so bright, it frightens me, but my father soothes me, tells me that it’s far away, in space, and that we are safe. We stand there, my parents both younger than my children are now, and we marvel at an optical illusion that I will never forget, and never experience again in my life.
That was the moment that I fell in love with space. That was the moment that the moon stopped being a thing in the sky and became a place I could maybe touch one day. From that moment, I wanted to learn everything I could about space. I would read Let’s Go To The Moon with my grandmother as often as she would allow it. I would make rockets out of everything I could get my hands on, and imagine riding them into space. When Star Wars came out a few years later, I wanted to see it because it was about people who lived in space. When I finally got to work on Star Trek, even the longest day with the worst dialog in the first season was amazing to me, whenever I stood on a set and looked out through a window into a fake starfield, because I got to pretend that I, too, lived in space.
I grew up. A lot of things changed in my life, but I never stopped loving space. I never stopped looking up into the dark sky and imagining that, someday, maybe I’d go there and come back.
Today, I found out that I kind of get to be in space and live right here on Earth … because an asteroid has been named after me. It’s asteroid 391257, and it’s currently in Canis Minor. As soon as it gets dark here, I’m going to walk out into my backyard, look up into the sky, just a little above Sirius, and know that, even though I can’t see it with my naked eye, it’s out there, and it’s named after me.