“These are the voyages of the StarshipEnterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilisations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
50 years ago today, those words began the very first broadcast of a new television series called Star Trek, and the world has not been the same. It was a shattering of basic assumptions about what a television series could be, about what science fiction could be, and what future awaited us as a species. It was hope, and wonder, and the thrill of exploration and adventure. It was bright, and hopeful, and promised to show us the way to a better future. And it did.
The racial and cultural diversity depicted was ground breaking for its time. There were people of various colors on the bridge, including a black actress, Nichelle Nichols, who had one of the first roles on television (if not the first) for a black performer that did not involve being a servant, a housekeeper, or a plantation slave. There was a man who was clearly not even human, Mr. Spock, who was so different and yet so trusted. There was an Asian on the bridge as well (George Takei as Mr. Sulu), and a young man from Russia (Walter Koenig as Mr. Chekov), at a time when the Cold War was still very much on people’s minds. All of these people worked together on the bridge as the command crew of the pride of Starfleet, making these people some of the most important people in the human-known galaxy.
But it didn’t stop there. Star Trek was also as firmly grounded in science as the creator Gene Roddenberry could make it, often consulting with scientists from NASA on questions of astronomy and astrophysics, to the point where many of the predictions made on the show turned out to be at least mathematically plausible five decades later. The Alcubierre drive takes the concept of the warp bubble and works out the maths that could make it possible, if we can also solve the problems of imparting sufficient energy to generating the field, and a practical method for generating the field in the first place. There’s a paper called Warp Field Mechanics 101 published by NASA that shows just how seriously this idea is being taken, and it began with its portrayal on Star Trek.
It was all there. Transporters, shuttlecraft, phasers, dilithium crystals, planet-spanning communications devices via an orbiting communications relay, bluetooth earpieces, information pads that double as computers, artificial intelligence : they are all there, right from the beginning. The imagined universe of Star Trek would come to serve as a blueprint for creating the technology of our real one.
Trek has become so beloved, both in terms of it being wonderful entertainment and for the vision of the future it represents, that an entire cottage industry has sprung up around it wherein the fans of the series are busying themselves attempting to build or create as much of Star Trek in their own lives as they possibly can. There is no putting this genie back in the bottle. The world has adopted Star Trek, and beyond the trademark and copyright issues being fought in the courts over some of these creations, Gene Roddenberry’s visionary idea continues to be given life, day by day.
How has Star Trek influenced your life? Tell us in the comments below.
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