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George Takei speaks on leadership and diversity at JSC

Takei channels his Star Trek character, Captain Sulu, in historic Mission Control during a tour of JSC.
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Takei channels his Star Trek character, Captain Sulu, in historic Mission Control during a tour of JSC.
Johnson Space Center (JSC) welcomed actor and community activist George Takei to speak about leadership and inclusiveness in an inspiring and thought-provoking dialogue on May 29 in the Teague Auditorium. Takei gains his fame from his role as Captain Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek. The event was co-sponsored by two of JSC’s five Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), ASIA and Out & Allied, which represent JSC’s Asian-Pacific American and LGBT employees respectively. The ERGs were formed last Fall under the sponsorship of the Inclusion and Innovation (I&I) Council.

Greeted with a Vulcan salute and a standing ovation by a packed auditorium, Takei was an inspiration to many through his struggles as a member of both the Asian-Pacific American and LGBT community. He reflected on his childhood hardships of living in Japanese internment camps in the U.S. during WWII, his experiences later in life surrounding the politics of Proposition 8 in California and marrying his partner, Brad Altman, on Sept. 14, 2008.

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JSC officials and ASIA and Out & Allied members pose with Takei.
Through his role in Star Trek, Takei learned that when it comes to innovation there is a fine line between art imitating life and life imitating art as he was greatly inspired by all the astronauts and NASA employees, but he met astronauts who were equally as inspired by his show. He humbly told the audience that “you’re the ones doing the real work. You’re the heroes of our time. You are the ones that are the reality to our fiction.”

The fictitious world of Star Trek, envisioned by creator Gene Roddenberry, featured many diverse actors in important roles in a time when equality for all was not a reality in America. Takei’s Asian-American character, Sulu, aired in a time when the U.S. was entangled in the Vietnam War. Nichelle Nichols, an African American woman, played the role of Uhura, a chief communications officer aboard the Starship Enterprise, during the time of the civil rights movement, and Walter Koenig played Chekov, a Russian Starfleet officer, when Cold War tensions between the U.S. and Russia were near their highest.

Robonaut challenges Takei to a weight lifting contest.
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Robonaut challenges Takei to a weight lifting contest.
Takei said this world of so many diverse people successfully working together as a team was so fanciful for its time that Roddenberry had to set it three centuries in the future, but it’s amazing that not even three decades later astronauts from around the world began working together on the International Space Station. From space exploration to diversity to marriage equality, Takei thanked the revolutionaries he referred to as “change agents” for all of their hard work.

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Robonaut and Takei give a friendly Vulcan salute.
At the conclusion of the event, which contributed to observing the Asian-Pacific American and LGBT communities’ months at JSC of May and June, respectively, Takei was presented with a flag flown aboard Space Shuttle Atlantis’s last flight, STS-135, by JSC Director Mike Coats. For his initiative in forming JSC’s Inclusion and Innovation Council, Coats was also presented with the CEO Leadership in Action 2012 award from the Profiles in Diversity Journal by JSC’s Director of Equal Opportunity and Diversity, Deborah H. Urbanski. Then Takei gave a final Vulcan salute and assured the audience “We will all live long and prosper.”


Hayley Mae Fick
Johnson Space Center, Houston
281-792-7464

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