Two American fiction writers and movie producers who had a positive influence on my formative years were Stanly Kubrick and Gene Roddenberry.  They both contributed expansively to the science fiction film genre that delighted and expanded my interests as a youth in outer space and its exploration. Incidentally, both were born in the 1920s and died in the 1990s while both inspired 20th century efforts at expanding human knowledge beyond the Earth-bound as well as inventions that have improved our human lives here.

Star Trek watchers will remember the mind-bending idea of a transporter beaming people from ground to spaceship Enterprise danger levels surpassed the ability of the crew to cope with them. “Beam us up, Scotty!” is not yet a reality although we humans have added to our repertoire of abilities to go from ground to airborne. Roddenberry’s greatest contribution to modern times, however, may be argued the reforms in social progress he displayed in Star Trek episodes. For just two examples, he had women serving in command roles on the Enterprise and he blended several races on the bridge to steer the spaceship through adventures in other worlds and galaxies during the 1960s.

It has been exactly 50 years since 2001: A Space Odyssey was released to the world. Director Stanley Kubrick provided in visual form a vast array of technologies we enjoy today.  These would include the iPad-like video screens, Skype-like phone service, Artificial Intelligence (AI) similar to HAL, the lunar lander, the space shuttle, and the space station. 2001 was breath-taking in sci-fi symphony format, pushing the limits of narrative and special effects toward what some considered a meditation on technology and humanity.  It was the “ultimate trip” for members of America’s counter culture youth as well as those like me who enjoyed it as the best science fiction experience to that time.

The April issue of Smithsonian magazine displays a photo of the room that’s a precise replica of the one in 2001 where the film’s hero, Dave Bowman, enters as an astronaut and departs, reborn as a star child.  It’s just one of the scenes from the movie that left the viewer awe-struck; that one as an attempt to explain the question so often asked by humankind: “Where did we come from and how did we get here?”

Human ingenuity had been shaping a new technological future before the Kubrick and Roddenberry productions; yet, the work of these two men most certainly served to speed thing up: their efforts have inspired and accelerated man’s advances.  Other transformative events such as immunotherapy on the verge of killing cancer by unleashing the human body’s natural defenses and AI, moving to a place where machines may outpace thinking humans, are well underway. Then, too, renewable energy stands on the precipice of saving us from exhausting the resources through conservation and re-application so the planet can be saved for the human race and all creatures great and small.

A personal interest in outer space was inspired by an event in the 1950s.  A grassy knoll near my home as a child was a place where cardboard sleds could be used to enjoy a downhill ride.  On one occasion, while sitting atop the knoll with half a dozen fellow sledding enthusiasts, our attention was suddenly focused on a round, saucer-shaped, shiny object with a small dome hovering motionless some 100 yards away.  It hovered in place for a minute or two and then sped off at a speed so rapid, it was there one moment and gone the next.  Didn’t see any little green men but later learned from testimonials and news accounts that other people had also seen what we saw and called them “flying saucers.”

(Gene H. McIntyre lives in Keizer.)