The inevitable will happen this season on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" - Wesley Crusher is going to Star Fleet Academy.

"Next Generation" writers had to have the Borg destroy the entire Federation fleet - save for the USS Enterprise, of course - to give Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) an excuse to turn down a captaincy for the third time. Wesley didn't get into the academy last season, but he's too intelligent for a second miss to be believed, so he's history as far as the future is concerned.("Star Trek: The Next Generation" airs Sundays at 5 p.m. on KSTU, Ch. 13. Each new episode is repeated the following Saturday at 6 p.m. Also, reruns of the series from previous seasons is telecast Tuesday through Friday at 9 p.m.)

The news comes straight from the mouth of Wil Wheaton, who plays the bright young ensign on "Next Generation."

"That is the big development for this year," confirms Wheaton, speaking by phone from the Hollywood set where the syndicated series is filmed. "Wesley will be taking sabbatical from the Enterprise to go to Star Fleet Academy. That's the big event."

Wesley will leave around the middle of the fourth season, Wheaton says, but he isn't sure how long it will take him to complete his courses at the academy.

"I have no idea," says Wheaton. "Ask a Trekkie - they'll know before I will."

With Wesley out of the action, Wheaton will be off "Star Trek," which breaks the barrier encountered by the original "Star Trek" (79 episodes, 1966-69) by airing its 80th episode the week of Oct. 29.

The young actor doesn't mind beaming off the series.

"It was my idea," says Wheaton. The move will give him time "to do features, go to college, go do some serious acting."

"Star Trek' is a wonderful time and the cast is great and it's wonderful to be part of such a big American icon, but the reality is I don't get to act very much, and I'd like to go do some acting. I asked 'em if I could and they said yes."

Wheaton, who graduated from high school this summer, turned 18 in July. "So I registered for the draft, bought a lottery ticket - it was really neat," he says with lighthearted sarcasm. He says he's starting to feel his maturity.

"Right now I'm involved in, like, my first really, like, adult relationship, you know, so I'm feeling very grown-up," Wheaton says. "I feel like an adult now."

The actor has been earning his keep for more than a decade. The native Southern Californian started doing commercials when he was 7. He has acted in a number of television movies and specials as well as guest-starring on such series as "Family Ties" and "St. Elsewhere."

Wheaton made his feature-film debut in 1984's "The Buddy System" with Richard Dreyfuss and Susan Sarandon. He appeared with Dreyfuss again in the 1986 hit "Stand by Me."

Wheaton says it's "a pretty safe bet" that Wesley will return to the Enterprise at some point, even if it isn't on a permanent basis. It's also fairly certain that he'll stay in acting.

"I'm a very impulsive person, so my mind can change overnight, but it's very unlikely that I'll stop doing this," he says. "It's the only thing I'm any good at."

He does, however, have another ambition, one that ties in with his "Star Trek" role and his childhood dream of being an astronaut.

"I still want to be an astronaut," he says. "Before I die I want to go up into space and float around in zero G and go, `Hey, look at me, aren't I neat!"'

- Betsy Pickle is a reporter for The News-Sentinel in Knoxville, Tenn.