Geek(s) of the Week: Chris Tobias and Jeff Cunningham Want to ‘Take Back the Sky’ for ‘Firefly’ Fans

by / No Comments / 6 View / April 26, 2017

Listen up, Browncoats! Have you ever looked up at the night’s sky and wondered if a spaceship named Serenity really was flying around out there? Well, if this week’s Geek of the Week honorees have their way, soon you won’t have to wonder. Chris Tobias and Jeff Cunningham are the brains behind ‘Take Back the Sky’, a brand new movement aimed at convincing privately owned SpaceX to name their first manned rocket after the fictional ship.

Jeff Cunningham has the distinction of actually holding a degree in rocket science, a field that has gone a little more by the wayside since NASA shut down the shuttle program a couple years ago. But when they instituted a new pilot program to find privately held companies to fund future missions, he saw a unique opportunity to engage people in the possibilities of space travel. “It just started with one lonely guy — one lonely jobless guy — namely myself,” says Jeff. “I’d just graduated from college with a degree in rocket science, with nothing to show for it, and just wrote a really long rant/post on the Can’t Stop the Serenity boards, thinking ‘If I make a good enough case, someone else will take over, and lead this, because I’m broke and I don’t have the experience leading events.’ And I just thought I’d leave it at that. It got a decent reaction on the CSTS boards, a lot of people said it was a decent idea.”

Nothing really came from the idea though until Chris, a high school German teacher from Western Pennsylvania, saw a similar discussion Jeff posted on the Pennsylvania Browncoats Yahoo boards. “When I saw his post, I thought to myself, “wow, this is … this is almost heaven sent truthfully” because what it was for me .. I had always had the idea that there should be a spacecraft – a US spacecraft named Serenity, because I knew that the first space shuttle was named Enterprise,” Chris explains. “But I really had no idea how to make that happen. That was just a thought that was in the back of my mind, and when I saw Jeff’s post, and I realized here was someone that had the same idea that I had, but actually had the experience and the background, and the connections to make it happen.”

They started Take Back the Sky shortly after, and slowly but surely it began getting some traction.

Geek(s) of the Week: Chris Tobias and Jeff Cunningham Want to ‘Take Back the Sky’ for ‘Firefly’ Fans

SpaceX is no stranger to oddly named spacecraft and audience involvement. CEO Elon Musk named the Falcon 9 rocket booster after Han Solo’s famous ship, and just a couple years ago, when the company was bragging about it’s cleverly named conference rooms (which they’d christened with the names of various science fiction authors, among other things), they experienced an outcry from their Facebook audience when they didn’t include Arthur C. Clarke among the chosen names. They quickly rectified their egregious oversight, and posted an image of a brand new conference room named for the author. They’re also already aware of Take Back the Sky. Jeff’s original post on the Can’t Stop the Serenity boards was autotweeted by the popular website, Whedonesque. “Their very first response was in less than 20 minutes, from SpaceX themselves,” explains Jeff. “And bless their hearts, it must have been – it was clearly after business hours for their Hawthorne, California offices – and it was “Browncoats in space!!!”

Things have snowballed from there, and they just keep growing for the duo. Since the inception of Take Back to Sky, they’ve created the website, started an online petition and letter writing campaign, tabled at a couple Firefly events and conventions, and even had the chance to run a panel at this year’s Philadelphia Comic Con (which is where I met them).

I asked them why they thought Firefly has continued to inspire fans to do incredible, and seemingly impossible, things like this even ten years after its unfortunate cancelation, and to them, it’s simple. Firefly, they say, is about regular people doing amazing things. “One of its central themes is the message of perseverance in the face of adversity, and about picking yourself up after you fall down. From the very first episode, that’s a theme that just pervades every single episode and the film, and from that respect, I think Firefly’s only failing was that it was ahead of its time,” explains Jeff, to which Chris adds, “there is this underlying theme of freedom that is pervasive throughout the entire series and throughout the movie. The idea that, no you cannot hold me down, you cannot hold me back, you cannot tell me how I am going to live my life. I don’t need to beat you, I just need to go my way, and no matter how far you pursue me, I’m just going to get out there a little bit further, and find a little space that I can call mine … we finally have a situation where the government does not have a say in whether or not man breaks the boundaries of Earth, and there is going to be a time very soon, where we can do just what Malcolm Reynolds wants to do. We can find a new life for ourselves out in the black, and if things get bad here, or if there’s simply not enough room for us here, we can simply head out into the black and find a new freedom for ourselves. That is something that has always appealed to me about Firefly.”

SpaceX is planning to launch their very first Dragon rocket in late 2015, which means these guys have a lot on their plate between now and then, but if they succeed, all that work will be worth it. As Chris explains, “This will be the biggest Browncoat event since the premiere of the motion picture, Serenity. When this launch occurs, you’re going to see Browncoats in Florida, there to witness that launch from all over the world. The Browncoats from Poland, the Browncoats from Australia, the Browncoats from the UK, they have done nothing but show their passion over the years for Firefly and for Serenity. I really enjoyed talking to European Browncoats who had come all the way over here just to go to Wizard World Philadelphia because four of the cast members were going to be there. If they have that kind of dedication to these four of the cast members, imagine what would happen when we have a real space ship named Serenity ready to launch into the black. It will be the biggest shindig you could possibly imagine.”

If you’re interested in learning more about Take Back the Sky, please visit their website for all the information about the initiative. To stay up to date with their project, the space program, and SpaceX, you can like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter.

If you are interested in helping out, there are a number of ways for you to contribute. The first, and easiest, is to grab a pen and a piece of paper and write out a quick letter to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, telling him why you’d like him to name the first manned spacecraft launched by his company after Serenity. Grab your friends, and get them to do it too. Then mail those letters to:

Attn: Elon Musk
1 Rockey Road
Hawthorne, CA 90250

Hand written letters are much more effective than e-mail or tweets or Facebook posts, since they are physical things that will eventually take up an awful lot of space on Mr. Musk’s desk.

After your letter is in the mail, SIGN THE ONLINE PETITION, and then send the link to everyone you know you likes Firefly, or space, or naming awesome stuff after awesome stuff, and get them to sign it too.

If you’re really interested in helping out, you can do exactly what Chris and Jeff did, and table for the cause at a convention or Firefly related shindig near you. They have a ton of resources to help you do just that over on the website.


Note: The conversation I had with Chris and Jeff was immensely fascinating, and I hated chopping it up for the article. If you’d like to read the entire interview (which I strongly suggest you do, these guys are wonderfully passionate, and refreshingly articulate), you can do so here.


Geek of the Week is an ongoing, weekly column where we feature a geeky individual or group doing something awesome, interesting, or innovative. If you’d like to nominate someone for Geek of the Week, just send an e-mail to [email protected]. You could see them in a future article!


Dragon images courtesy: SpaceX

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