I am a lifelong Trekkie. I watched the original Star Trek show on TV with my dad and brother and we were big fans before it was popular with the rest of the country. I sent away for the Star Fleet Command emblem and wore it on my jacket in high school.
While in college in the 1970s, I was thrilled when Gene Roddenberry came to our campus and explained the two guiding principles of the series. The first is that the science of the show was a plausible extrapolation of the current technology. Therefore, although fiction, it was not just made up from scratch.
The second principle was that the space theme was really just an interesting stage for Mr. Roddenberry’s social agenda. This agenda was one of ethnic diversity. The example was of unification of all people working together in a common cause. Of course, the famed “Federation” extended beyond humanity and included life from other planets.
It was no accident that the bridge of the Enterprise was comprised of a Japanese and Russian officer. The sworn enemy of the original series, the Klingon empire became the ally of the next generation, with a Klingon officer on the bridge. The dreaded Borg, enemy of the second generation, showed up yet again with a trusted officer on Star Trek: Voyager, the third generation, and this time with a woman as the captain. The social message was simple: Today’s enemy is tomorrow ally.
The themes of this brilliant artwork did not go unnoticed by American society both on the science front as well as the social. Whether subconsciously or intentionally, life has imitated this particular art. The communicator used by Captain Kirk evolved into the flip phone that kicked off cellular communication. The phaser, a weapon with a beam of light that could cut through steel evolved into the laser that can not only cut through steel, but on a lower setting, one we Trekkies would call “stun.” can be used to cut though human tissue without collateral damage. Fax machines are really just scaled down transporters.
In the 1990s, I had the pleasure of taking my son’s scout troop to the NASA space center in Green Belt, Md. As boy scouts, we got the special tour that went behind the scenes into the offices of many of the scientists that run our space program. As we walked through the offices, I saw models of the Space Ship Enterprise and posters from various Star Trek movies. As we met many of the staff, I learned that a very significant portion of the NASA team was inspired to pursue their careers in space science by the Star Trek franchise.