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Trekking to the National Ignition Facility
Gene Roddenberry once said of Star Trek: "Almost all of this comes out of my feeling that the human future is bright. We're just beginning. We have wonders ahead of us. I don't see how it can be any other way." That spirit, which continues to draw millions to the space travel story he created more than 50 years ago, was inspired most of all by the ceaseless human drive for scientific discovery. Not surprisingly, over the years, the Star Trek philosophy has in turn inspired legions of young scientists, explorers and writers.

In a lovely ode to that cycle of inspiration, J. J. Abrams took "Star Trek Into Darkness" to an especially meaningful location: the National Ignition Facility (NIF) at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, site of unprecedented research into the future of energy itself. Here, 192 of the world's most intense laser beams are being used to crack the secrets of matter and anti-matter and to explore thermonuclear fusion. The work at NIS could one day result in a world-altering energy revolution, unchaining humanity from polluting, problematic, finite fuels, and even make space travel more viable.

As a classified government facility, NIF generally does not allow film crews . . . but Star Trek was something completely different. The links between Star Trek and the NIF go literally to their cores-- after all, the Enterprise is fueled with deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen also known as "heavy hydrogen, as is the NIF. And many of the scientists who work at NIF admit to having cut their teeth watching Kirk and Spock try to push beyond the current boundaries of human knowledge.

Dr. Edward Moses, Principal Associate Director for NIF and the Photon Science Directorate, says: "For many years we've been waiting for Star Trek to realize they should be here! This is a very futuristic facility . . . and I think we've all been influenced by Star Trek's vision of the future."

For the filmmakers, NIF provided a location that could never be emulated in any other way -- one that gave them an opportunity to delve into the ships unseen nuclear innards that create Star Fleet's most advanced warp drive, allowing for faster-than-light travel. For NIF, it was a chance to see their laboratory interpreted through the eyes of a cinematic storyteller. "It was super exciting to see J.J. Abrams' vision of what we do," notes Moses.

Abrams couldn't help but be moved not only by the technological beauty but by the feeling of being smack in the middle of a place where 21st Century science is leading to the 23rd Century of the film. "We were there just trying to shoot a movie, but all around us, these innovative scientists are working on technologies that will likely help the whole world," he says. "The idea that one day the research at NIF could create clean, limitless energy is so exciting. On the one hand, it was simply a great location for the story. But more importantly, we were really honored to be welcomed there. These people are doing research that could alter the destiny of the planet the way the wheel or the light bulb did. We couldn't even believe they let us in to shoot -- and then, they were so excited about having us. So many people told us Star Trek inspired them to get involved in science."

Throughout the production, a wide array of other scientists, artists and public figures flocked to the "Into Darkness" set to get their own personal glimpse at Star Trek in action. Their presence was a constant reminder of how universally alluring, and inspiring, the concept remains.

Summarizes Bryan Burk. "I think what pulls all these different people to Star Trek is the same thing that brings J.J. and our cast and crew: that sense of wonder at what our future might hold when we boldly leave earth to learn from different species and worlds. We're all drawn to that promise of a future where there's no more war on earth and whatever problems we have, we work them out together. That's the Star Trek vision -- and that is what is at stake in this story."


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