Today, April 5, marks a unique day in history for Star Trek fans, as it commemorates a historical event not set to occur until 2063: mankind’s first use of warp drive and first contact with the Vulcan race. First Contact Day highlights Star Trek’s impact on pop culture, world history, scientific innovation, social reform, and creative endeavor.
Taken from the 1996 Next Generation based Star Trek film First Contact, the fictional holiday was created by the movie’s screenwriter, Ronald D. Moore, who took the date from his eldest son’s birthday. Alongside Star Trek Day, which commemorates the 1966 premiere of the original Star Trek series on September 8th, it is one of two informal holidays observed by the fandom worldwide. While First Contact Day is primarily devoted to celebration of the film, the Next Generation series, and the entire franchise as a whole, it differs from Star Trek Day in that it prompts greater introspection. Often joining the array of cosplays, fan art, and memes on social media, and news of upcoming Trek-related media often announced on occasions like First Contact Day, people also comment on the speculative nature of the holiday.
The 57-year-old Star Trek franchise has significantly influenced technological advancements, scientific pursuits, and space exploration. Not only were imaginary devices like the tricorder and the PADD blueprints for the tablets and smartphones we use today, members of the original series cast such as James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, and DeForest Kelley served as inspirations and ambassadors for the pursuit of the sciences. Nichols herself served as an ambassador for NASA for many years, carrying the space program forward by aiding in recruitment efforts of women, BIPOC communities, and other minority groups to serve in the civil space agency.
In addition to advancing the sciences, the franchise has also advanced progressive social reform. Along with being an ambassador for NASA, Nichols took part, alongside castmate William Shatner, in American television’s first on screen interracial kiss. The historic scene was one that both Shatner and Nichols were aware was a huge milestone, so much so that when inclusion of the scene came into question, the pair made sure that the only usable take in the landmark episode was the one that included that kiss. Nichols’ very presence on the show also played a critical role in the civil rights movement—so much so that, as the well known story goes, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. pleaded with her to hold onto the role when she was considering leaving the show.
As for creative innovation, the boundless creativity of Star Trek fans can’t be denied. Fan communities, both on First Contact Day and year round, show their love of the film and the franchise with innumerable creative works, be it the aforementioned cosplay, memes, fan art, or the cultural microcosm of fan fiction as previously explored on this site. Even on the scientific frontier, however, seeing something new in a known quantity can produce results as unexpected as those that take place with a clever use of wording or a unique application of color. New things, such as the first step towards warp technology.
Yes, foundational concepts within the show such as the idea of warp travel are even now creating a reality in which concept may become reality. Just as the establishment of First Contact Day within the fictional Star Trek universe allowed many branches of the franchise to expand upon its impact on the Federation, the establishment of the very existence of Star Trek—and First Contact Day proper—have brought us to a similar landmark point. With the DARPA-funded research project into Casimir cavities that produced the creation of a nano-scale warp bubble just last year, we have set feet on the path towards a real life First Contact Day. Forty years away from that future date, the journey towards development of warp speed travel has officially begun. The question that remains at this point is, will we make it to that particular day? Will we make First Contact Day a reality?
The pressing question remains: are we, as a society, prepared for first contact with an alien race? With current political, religious, and social reform challenges, how would a race like the Vulcan perceive us? Would that first meeting between a man like Zefram Cochrane and the Vulcan delegation be the foundation of an interplanetary government and a new era of peace on planet Earth?
As we celebrate First Contact Day today, with forty years to go, let’s ask the real question that First Contact Day is, ultimately, all about.
What do you think?
Liz Carlie (she/her/he/him) is a regular book, TV, and film reviewer for SCIFI.radio and has previously been a guest on ‘The Event Horizon’. In addition to being an active member of the traditional fandom community, she’s also an active participant in online fan culture, pro wrestling journalism, and spreading the gospel of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. She resides in Southern California with her aspiring superhero dog, Junior, enjoying life one hyperfixation at a time.