Radioactive Aging, TOS: S2E12 “The Deadly Years”

Aging comes with all kinds of challenges, but our culture has sanitized the process so much that it is rarely in the forefront of a young and healthy person’s mind. Medical science bombards us with trendy new ways to keep healthy and sharp as you move through life, championing the superiority of youth.  In a recent study, scientists have found that perceiving yourself as younger can have profound effects on your body’s physical aging process (Lawton, 2021).  Your thoughts and attitudes about your aging self can affect your body at the cellular level by reducing stress and inflammation. The negative side effects of aging appear to be what you make of them, to an extent. Under bizarre circumstances, the Enterprise crew endured the stress of old age quite rapidly in this episode as they visited Gamma Hydra IV.

A landing party was sent to search for missing colonists, but what they found were elderly people claiming to be in their twenties.  These colonists showed signs of rapid degradation, and one had already died of old age.  The mystery turned into an emergency when Kirk and crew began to turn grey themselves.  Exposure to the radiation from a comet’s tail was responsible for the rapid onset of cellular deterioration. Kirk had to cope with his own exposure and the wellbeing of his crew. The fact that he faced prejudice concerning his ability to command the ship as an old man illustrates our culture’s attitude toward the elderly.  Kirk was having trouble remembering commands and functioning on the bridge, but the inexperienced Commodore Stocker was automatically perceived as more competent simply because he was younger.  As it turned out, Stocker’s rooky mistakes put the ship in grave danger when he accidentally antagonized the Romulans, while Captain Kirk was able to outsmart them using the wisdom acquired from his years of command experience. However, Kirk was only able to save the ship once he was cured of the radiation poisoning, demonstrating that it’s good to be old, but not too old.

Although Kirk proved that not being too green has its benefits, he was grateful to have fully recovered.  A dose of adrenaline successfully reversed all the affects of aging (if only it were that simple!)  Our cells naturally degenerate over time, and radiation can accelerate the process… if it doesn’t give you cancer first.  However, the radiation from a comet’s tail is unlikely to give you a high enough dose of radiation to turn you into a senior citizen once it passes through the atmosphere of a planet.  Aging is a steady and relentless process nonetheless, and we can only hope we retain our ability to command for as long as possible, even if we forget what those commands are in the end.

Lawton, Graham. “Think Yourself Younger: Psychological Tricks That Can Help Slow Ageing.” New Scientist, Mar. 2021.

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