Legendary 'Star Trek' Writer Morgan Gendel Talks About His Plans to Create a New Extraterrestrial Habitat

Wednesday, 23 August 2017 - 2:12PM
Star Trek
Wednesday, 23 August 2017 - 2:12PM
Legendary 'Star Trek' Writer Morgan Gendel Talks About His Plans to Create a New Extraterrestrial Habitat
< >
Image credit: Viacom, CBS
Peter Graham once said that the golden age of sci-fi is twelve. After childhood, some science fiction fans go on to make sci-fi technology a reality, while others write their own stories set among the stars. Morgan Gendel decided to do both. The famed Star Trek writer will be speaking at this year's Escape Velocity event about his career as well as a real-life project he's working on with Cornell University, which has the potential to change how humans colonize other planets. We got on a call with Morgan to get the whole story.


Like many others, Morgan's career path was a long and winding one: he started as a journalist for the L.A. Times, became a programming executive for NBC, went to work for a major TV producer, and ended up as a writer and sometimes showrunner and executive producer on shows like Law & Order, Star Trek: The Next Generation and Deep Space 9, William Shatner's TekWar, and the SyFy adaptation of The Dresden Files. More recently, he's worked as the co-executive producer for the sci-fi series The 100, which depicts a grim, post-apocalyptic version of Earth. When asked how sci-fi has changed on television since he started, Gendel says "TV has gotten to the point today that [sci-fi and fantasy] are overlapping, [they're] driven by CG...supernatural and sci-fi are rolled into one thing, the fantastical."
One of the highlights of Gendel's career came in 1992, when the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Inner Light" premiered. It's a story that revolves around Captain Picard, who wakes up in another body and another time after encountering an ancient satellite floating through space, and chronicles the lifetime he spends among the inhabitants of a doomed planet. Decades later, the episode still resonates (and chokes up) fans and critics alike—you can read an in-depth analysis on the episode here. "The Inner Light" is one of only four Star Trek episodes whose writing earned the Hugo Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, and ended up changing the course of Gendel's career. "I went back to sci-fi because of the affection that grew for "The Inner Light," [as well as] sci-fi growing in popularity," he says.


Gendel's love of science and science fiction started early. "As a very young person, I loved Isaac Asimov, I love space movies," he says. "I still get excited about shows involving spaceships." Despite being destined to write one of the most beloved Star Trek episodes of all time, though, his heart still belong to Star Wars: "There was something so special about seeing Star Wars when it first came out in theaters," he says. "I was a big fan of the original Star Trek...everyone acknowledges that the third season was kind of wacky."
We're guessing Gendel is referring to the parts of Season Three where Kirk and Spock are forced to re-enact the O.K. Corral, or maybe the one where Kirk is brainwashed by an alien race that looks and acts like American Indians. Weird stuff happens in Star Trek.

When it comes to sci-fi, it's the tech in particular that fascinates Gendel—"The Inner Light," a profoundly character-driven story, came from him imagining "something that can beam permanent memories into people's minds," while another of the episodes he wrote, "Starship Mine," revolved around the concept of a "baryon sweep." On the other hand, time travel is a "personal bone of contention" for him. "[It's] not going to work," he says. "There's no time travel back to the past. I want to see a moratorium on time travel."
At the same time, he does admit that he enjoys the Netflix original series Travelers, which follows special operatives who have their consciousness transported back in time to possess the bodies of random 21st-century citizens. The show was recently renewed for a second season, so if you're looking for good time travel sci-fi (as opposed to more of that Doctor Who B.S.), you're in luck.


Apart from his writing projects, which keep him incredibly busy, Gendel spends much of his time reading about new advancements in tech, especially ones with the potential to change our daily lives. "I get pretty turned on by public transportation," he jokes. Among his interests are supersonic planes, mag-lev trains, planning for cities on (or under) the ocean, and renewable energy. "I think solar farms are going to be way more efficient than photovoltaic panels. Parabolic mirrors heating water to drive a turbine are way more efficient. We could do a lot more with the energy we have."
Now, Gendel is unveiling something extraordinary at this year's Escape Velocity, the annual event hosted by the Museum of Science Fiction: according to the official description, he'll reveal "a new extraterrestrial habitat" that he describes as "cost-effective" and "easy to deploy." Fans and armchair scientists will have to wait until September 3rd for the full details, but Gendel gave some insight into how he came up with the project, and what to expect from his presentation at EV.
"I came up with an idea for use in a sci-fi project, and then I saw a different way to build a new Mars habitat on a TV science show...and it turns out the creator is here at the University of Southern California. I ran the idea by some science people I knew [and they said] it was a good idea, it hadn't been done before." He ended up partnering with Cornell University's Space Systems Design Studio to apply for a NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts grant. "I didn't have to be a scientist to come up with the idea," Gendel says. "So I'm going to talk about the power of imagination."

Morgan Gendel's work is a prime example of the value of sci-fi—from creating one of the most enduring, touching stories in TV to pioneering new solutions for human exploration of the solar system, sci-fi has stopped being a genre and started being a blueprint for a new age. It's also exciting to think that new ideas don't have to be born in a lab, or in a writer's room—these days, anyone can learn to be an innovator, just like anyone can learn to play the flute. And that's a heartening thought.

You can learn more about Morgan Gendel's presentation at Escape Velocity here, and get tickets here. You can also follow Morgan on Twitter @morgangendel.
Science Fiction
Sci-Fi TV Shows
Star Trek