The first episode of Star Trek aired September 8, 1966. We have been boldly going ever since.
When I was a kid in the 80’s and 90’s I regularly went to school wearing a Next Generation Star Trek uniform. I was a science officer. I recall getting some odd looks, but no one ever bullied me for it. I think perhaps they were in awe of my killer sense of style. Who wouldn’t be?
Well, my sister, for one. She was one of the super popular kids and was three years older. She didn’t want to be seen on the same planet as me, let alone sit next to me on the bus. I was fine with this, because she had a habit of using an entire bottle of industrial strength hair spray every morning to make her bangs stand up a good 8 inches from her head. I’m still not sure how her head didn’t explode in a ball of flames when she stood in direct sun light.
You would think that I had a lonely childhood, but that wasn’t the case at all! With fellow Trekkies I found friends that became my family. I was a member of our local Star Trek fan club, where I was a Bjoran Science Officer on the ship U.S.S. Sedgewick. We went to BBQs, we went to the local planetarium and we went to conventions together. One of my favorite parts of our outings was going to lunch at a place like Olive Garden and seeing the looks on the locals faces when we sat down with three klingons from the next town.
When my Girl Scout troop went on a camping trip and none of our parents were available to chaperone, the Captain of the Sedgewick volunteered. I’ll never forget him leading us through the woods, wearing the red jacket and black trouser unifrom from 2278, phaser strapped to his side. When we stopped to eat lunch next to a river, he stood between us and the water to keep an eye out for water snakes. I’m certain the Girl Scouts had never been so cool, before or since.
I know that I’m not alone in this (well, maybe the Girl Scouts part). Star Trek has played a huge part in so many lives for 53 years. On September 8, 1966 the world was forever changed for science fiction fans. At a time when the few television channels available aired mostly westerns and family comedies, out of the deepest depths of space came Star Trek. The show was created by Gene Roddenberry who, after a stint as a Los Angeles Police Officer, became a writer in Hollywood. After success on other projects Roddenberry wanted to bring something unique to TV watchers, a ‘Space Western’.
The first episode of Star Trek aired at the World Science Fiction Convention in 1966 and starred William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly. Star Trek initially struggled in ratings. The show was, in fact, almost cancelled after its second season but for a remarkable grassroots letter writing campaign, spearheaded by the unstoppable Bjo and John Trimble. Star Trek toys, models and other merchandise were licensed and made fortunes in third party marketing . The adoration of the fans was not enough to keep the show in production, though, and alas, the original Star Trek came to an end in 1969.
But the magic number of three seasons had been achieved, allowing Star Trek to live on in syndication. It has been a beacon to young Sci-fi fans ever since. I recall days of being sick and staying home from school which involved laying on the couch and watching old Star Trek re-runs. In 1972 the first Star Trek Lives! convention was held in New York, the first of many Trek conventions. While the art of cosplay had its roots in World Science Fiction Conventions in the 1950’s, it certainly got a boost from fans dressing up for Star Trek conventions.
So popular was Star Trek that Gene Roddenberry created Star Trek: The Next Generation, which began airing in 1987. After Roddenberry’s death in 1991, Star Trek continued on with Rick Berman and Michael Pillers Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and further with Star Trek: Voyager, Star Trek: Enterprise and now Star Trek: Discovery. And that’s just on TV! There have been thirteen Star Trek films (including the Kelvin timeline reboot films).
But the influence of Star Trek goes far beyond television and film. Some of the most common devices that we use today appeared on Star Trek decades before we ever touched them. Take, for example, the communicator used in the Original Series. In 1996 Motorola introduced the StarTAC phone, which bore a striking resemblance, and was the first phone you could flip open to use.
The concept of the smart pad most believe came from Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, published in 1968, but there it was in the original series of Star Trek. Various subordinates would hand them to Kirk all the time on the bridge. The idea was greatly expanded upon in TNG and DS9, and now we have touch screen communication and data pads we carry around in our pockets, with bigger ones we use as books and portable entertainment centers.
The effect Star Trek has had on the course modern technology and society is certainly profound, but it was profound for me personally as well.
I can clearly recall thinking how cool it would be to speak to someone face to face on a screen like Captain Picard talking to a Romulan ship. (This was before I realized that it would mean I would have to brush my hair and put on something other than my comfy pajamas when talking to an important client on Skype.)
I can hardly imagine what my life would be like had I not found Star Trek as a child. From Star Trek I learned to stand up for what I thought was right and to be happy being me. I learned to love science and technology (even if it sometimes doesn’t seem to love me). Star Trek taught me to think outside of the box and to reach for the stars, which for me was moving to another country all by myself. I once told my mother that I got all of my morals from watching Star Trek (to which she sardonically replied ‘Gee, thanks!’), but I really did! I learned to accept everyone for who they are, including myself.
And so, Happy Anniversary Star Trek! I don’t know how Star Trek will shape the events of the next fifty-three years, but I’m looking forward to finding out.
The Final Frontier beckons.