by Susan Mcdonald with David Raiklen
Star Trek Day 2021, a free live-streamed celebration of Star Trek, begins Wednesday, September 8 at 5:30 p.m. Pacific/ 8:30 p.m. Eastern.
Live from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, California, Star Trek Day will feature back-to-back in-person conversations with cast members and creative minds from the Star Trek Universe, “legacy moments” with iconic cast, and other announcements and reveals.
The event will be hosted by Wil Wheaton and Mica Burton. Wil Wheaton played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Mica Burton is LeVar Burton’s daughter, an actor and cosplayer who is well known to fans of D&D webseries Critical Role and the Overwatch League.
It’s been fifty-five glorious years since Star Trek first premiered on NBC. In that half-century, life has changed more than Gene Roddenberry could have envisioned in 1966. Star Trek has been our template for the future, and was directly or indirectly responsible for many of those changes.
Star Trek wasn’t just about travelling in space, fighting aliens, etc. Star Trek was born in the height of the civil rights movement. It was set in a universe that took it for granted that humans of all ethnic groups would treat each other as equals. Would we have had a Black president if Star Trek hadn’t shown us Black officers and scientists setting an example for greater roles than Jack Benny’s Rochester? Thank you, Percy Rodriguez (Commodore Stone) and William Marshall (Dr. Daystrom), and especially thank you, Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura). Whoopi Goldberg (who would later grow up to play Guinan on Next Gen) has told the story of when she first saw Star Trek, she ran to her mother yelling, “Come see! There’s a Colored woman on TV and she isn’t playing a maid.”
Ms. Nichols herself has often related the story of how when Star Trek was not challenging her as an actress and she thought of quitting the show to concentrate on musical theater, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. persuaded her to remain on the show. Dr. King convinced her she was doing a lot more than just sitting on the bridge in a scandalously short skirt, opening hailing frequencies.
Here is Nichelle Nichols telling the story in her own words.
Diversity in Space
“In addition to singing, acting, and dancing, Ms. Nichols worked with NASA to recruit more females and more ethnic minorities in the Seventies. She herself flew aboard the SOFIA (Stratospheric Observatory For Infrared Astronomy) aircraft in 2015; SOFIA is a specially modified 747 hauling a large telescope. She is also the author of a fascinating autobiography, Beyond Uhura: “Star Trek” and Other Memories.“
In 1966, many Americans still remembered WWII. Yet Roddenberry cast a Gay Japanese-American actor who had spent part of his youth in an internment camp as a senior bridge officer. George Takei would later take his Trek fame to become “Uncle George,” the king of the Internet. As a social critic and a civil rights activist, Takei uses his position to advocate for human rights.
Feminism By 21st century standards, Star Trek was not horribly pro-feminist. But in 1966, only three years after Valentina Tershkova went into space, the fact that there were females on the Enterprise at all, even if they were forced to wear mini-skirts, was impressive.
Technology In Margot Lee Shetterley’s book Hidden Figures, which inspired the Oscar-winning movie, she mentioned that when Star Trek came on TV, all NASA employees, from engineers to computers to janitors stopped what they were doing – working late at NASA was very common – to watch Star Trek. Star Trek inspired many 20th century children to become scientists or engineers.
Did Star Trek communicators inspire cell phones? Yes – and everything from iPads to smart speakers.
Here are eight real-world categories of how the Trek saga helped change the future of science and tech:
- Major advances in quantum physics and astronomy
One of Star Trek’s most lasting legacies is how the show pays homage to humankind’s actual understanding of the universe as we know it. Creator Gene Roddenberry was famous for employing both a Rand Corporation physicist and a team at Kellum deForest Research as the show started out to fact-check its writers as they imagined the future. Matter-antimatter generation, Warp Drive, sensors and tricorders, and cloaking devices have all been inspirations for real world discoveries and inventions.
- The rise of computers, androids, and artificial intelligence
Modern Star Trek fans may take the Enterprise’s voice-activated computer systems and touchscreen monitors for granted, but remember: the series was conceived at a time when computers still took up an entire room. Floppy disks, flash storage, and USB drives, or voice-activated systems like Siri, Echo, and Alexa, which still sound eerily similar to the computers we hear in Captain Kirk’s universe. The Alexa smart speaker even has an option where you can trigger it with the word ‘computer’, just like in the show.
Ed Roberts, who invented the first home computer, the Altair 8800, named it after the Altair Solar System in a Star Trek episode.
Recently, when the president of the American Association for Artificial Intelligence was asked what the ultimate goal was for his field, he simply responded — “Lieutenant Commander Data.”
- Advances in medical technology
Legend has it that when Star Trek’s tri-corder and bio-bed first appeared on the series in the late 1960s, Gene Roddenberry was contacted by tech developers at Siemens and General Electric. They were asking where he found out about what they were working on — machines that would later become early versions of MRI machines and ultrasounds. The show explored the revolutionary idea that modern medicine may one day be able to diagnose and treat conditions without the need for invasive surgeries.
Today, there’s the $10M Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE, which explicitly challenged research teams to design a handheld device that can diagnose over a dozen medical conditions. The top award was given to Final Frontier Medical Devices, a small team led by engineer-turned ER doctor Basil Harris and his brother George (also an engineer). They won the top prize of $2.6 million.
In the late 1990s, NASA scientists developed a low-vision headset they named JORDY, a homage to Geordi La Forge’s VISOR on Next Generation.
- Technology for future space exploration
Though warp drive might at first seem impossible, it was actually proved to be a theoretical possibility in 1994, when Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre proposed that shortening space in front of a spacecraft and lengthening it by the same amount behind could potentially create a sort of safety bubble for a ship to travel. NASA is still testing this possibility today.
- Modern communications technology
Motorola’s Marty Cooper, who’s considered to be the father of modern cell phones, freely acknowledges that the sci-fi series inspired his design for the first commercial handheld phone, the DynaTAC 8000x in 1983. Bluetooth (think Uhura), GPS, and touchpads (the crew used them) were all found in fantasy form on TOS.
One of the first flip-phones was even called the StarTAC, (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) released by Motorola in 1996.
- The rise of virtual reality
The crews on the USS Enterprise couldn’t experience virtual reality in the form of holodeck technology until the 24th century. We already have AR rooms in the 21st, and VR headsets have become so common that there is talk of tying them together into a vast shared virtual world called the Metaverse.
- The future of 3D Printing
In the Trek universe, replicators can make almost anything based on the principle that all forms of matter are built of the same building blocks. 3D printing is an early example in our universe, allowing us to transmit objects via the internet and print them out to create everything from chess pieces to engine parts. Even SCIFI.radio is in on the act, occasionally offering 3D printed toys and props through our Patreon campaign.
- Helped us envision a science driven future
In every series, from TOS to Enterprise, science helps make the world a better place for everyone. This is something I hear from doctors, scientists, astronauts, and more. They want to use science to help people like in Star Trek.
In every series, from the Original Series to the present day, science helps make the world a better place for everyone. Real life engineeers, doctors, scientists, astronauts and more all make public statements about wanting to use science to help people like in Star Trek.
Women in SF Fandom
Science fiction has long had a reputation as an “old boys’ network.” Dr. Isaac Asimov credited Star Trek in general and Leonard Nimoy’s character Spock in particular for bringing more females into science fiction.
Unsurprisingly, fanfiction predates the Internet. During and after Star Trek, many female fans wrote amateur fan fiction in gleeful violation of copyright regulations. Writing is addictive, of course, once fanfic writers started writing stories based on Star Trek, they continued writing stories based on other TV shows.
Some of those stories were edited into original fiction and professionally published. If you look carefully at Lois McMaster Bujold‘s Hugo-winning science fiction series about Miles Vorkosigan, you can see Cornelia Naismith’s origins as a Starfleet officer and Aral Vorkosigan as a disillusioned Klingon admiral.
Rosemary Edghill’s Hellflower trilogy began life as Star Wars fanfic. Professor Jean Lorrah wrote many Star Trek fanfiction stories, principally about Sarek and Amanda, and eventually published two Star Trek books with Pocket Books, using original characters from her fanfic.
How many modern science fiction and fantasy authors got their start with fanfic? Archive of our Own. org won the 2019 Hugo for Best Related Work. How many writers did Gene Roddenberry indirectly set on their literary career? We may never know.
John and Bjo Trimble
No discussion of Star Trek fandom would be complete without mention of the couple that literally saved Star Trek from oblivion back in 1967. The second season was coming to a close, and John and Bjo Trimble had had the good fortune to be present for some of the filming. They saw that the actors were doing their scenes beautifully, but when the cameras stopped, their shoulders became heavy and they slumped off to their chairs to wait for the next setup. They knew the writing was on the wall. The Trimbles decided they had to do something about it. Approaching Gene Roddenberry with an idea to create a write-in campaign, they were given his blessing to try.
The rest, as they say, is history. Star Trek got its critical third season, which qualified it for syndication after the show wrapped. If not for that third season, we might never have seen Star Trek again. Instead, today we have more than 800 episodes of Star Trek, with more on the way.
Here is the 100th episode of The Event Horizon, our flagship radio show here on SCIFI.radio, then called Krypton Radio. The show was recorded in 2015, and recorded in the Trimble’s home at their dining room table.
The son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry is Rod Roddenberry, heir to the Roddenberry estate. His life’s mission now is to ensure that his father’s legacy continues to thrive and positively impact our society.
Eugene Wesley “Rod” Roddenberry Jr. (born February 5, 1974) is an American television producer and the chief executive officer of Roddenberry Entertainment. He is the son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and Majel Barrett, and is an executive producer on Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Picard and Star Trek: Lower Decks, and on the upcoming Star Trek: Prodigy (in production) and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. Event Horizon.
Here is episode 224 of The Event Horizon with special guest Rod Roddenberry.
To Boldly Go
Star Trek is so popular now that there is no moment, no single second, that an episode from one of the 12 Star Trek series is not being aired, with two new series on their way: Star Trek: Prodigy, and Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
Gene Roddenberry’s creation lives on, guiding our development as a society with an inexorable hand.
Live long, and prosper. The future’s going to be great.
Susan Macdonald is the author of the children’s book “R is for Renaissance Faire”, as well as short stories in “Alternative Truths”, “Swords and Sorceress #30”, “Supernatural Colorado”, “Barbarian Crowns”, “Cat Tails””Under Western Stars”, and “Knee-High Drummond and the Durango Kid”. Her articles have appeared on SCIFI.radio’s web site, in The Inquisitr, and in The Millington Star. She enjoys Renaissance Faires (see book above), science fiction conventions, Highland Games, and Native American pow-wows.