NEW YORK - George Takei already had a place among the stars in the minds of millions of "Star Trek" fans.
Now he's taking up permanent residence as the namesake of the asteroid formerly known as the 1994 GT9. The asteroid, located between Mars and Jupiter, has been renamed 7307 Takei in honor of the actor, who is best known for his role as Hikaru Sulu in the original "Star Trek" series.
"I am now a heavenly body," Takei said Tuesday, laughing. "I found out about it yesterday. ... I was blown away. It came out of the clear, blue sky - just like an asteroid."
The celestial rock, discovered by two Japanese astronomers in 1994, joins the 4659 Roddenberry (named for the show's creator, Gene Roddenberry) and the 68410 Nichols (for co-star Nichelle Nichols, who played Lt. Uhura). Other main-belt asteroids are already named for science fiction luminaries Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov.
"It's in general considered quite an honor," Lars Lindberg Christensen, spokesman for the International Astronomical Union, said of the latest renaming, which was approved by the union's Committee on Small Body Nomenclature.
About 14,000 asteroid names have been approved by the panel, while about 165,000 asteroids have been identified and numbered, he said.
Unlike the myriad Web sites that offer to sell naming rights to stars, the IAU committee-approved names are actually used by astronomers, said Tom Burbine, the Mount Holyoke College astronomy professor who proposed the name swap.
"This is the name that will be used for all eternity," he said.
Under the committee's policies, whoever discovers an asteroid has 10 years in which to propose a name. After that, the panel considers other suggestions, although it warns would-be namers to avoid anything "in questionable taste" and any names honoring political or military figures sooner than 100 years after their deaths.
Takei, 70, said he and his "Star Trek" co-stars had always stuck to discussing more earthly honors.
We were "privileged to work on a show that had this kind of a vision for our future, but we're actors," he said by telephone from his Los Angeles home. "Yes, we all lobbied ... for a star on Hollywood Boulevard, but never a star up in the heavens."
Burbine, who also has put a number of his astronomy colleagues up for consideration, said he suggested Takei's name in part out of appreciation for his work with the Japanese American Citizens League and with leading gay rights group Human Rights Campaign. Takei, a spokesman for HRC's Coming Out Project, was cultural affairs chairman of the JACL, and he was appointed to the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission by former President Clinton.
Most recently, Takei has appeared on NBC's "Heroes," playing Hiro Nakamura's father. He also appears regularly on Howard Stern's satellite radio show.
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