If you’re a fan of Star Trek, you can immediately recognise the starship emblazoned with the registry NCC-1701—it’s the Enterprise, on a five-year mission to boldly go where no man has gone before.
How has Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek shaped our world?
The effects of Roddenberry’s characters and their stories go far beyond entertainment and culture.
Gene Roddenberry (Third from Right) & Original Star Trek Cast in 1976
Live Long and Prosper
If you’ve ever watched an episode of the television show in the late 1960s, or if you’ve ever seen any of the movies that brought the Enterprise blazing to life on the big screen, you know that certain salute. You hold up your hand with your fingers together except for a space between the second and third fingers, creating a V shape between them. The thumb likewise extends upward, separate from the palm of your hand. It’s the Vulcan salute, introduced to us by Dr. Spock, and everyone knows that it goes with the blessing to “Live long and prosper.”
Do you know the proper response to this venerable salute? You should answer, “Peace and long life.” Leonard Nimoy, the one and only Dr. Spock, came up with the words and gesture from an experience in his boyhood. His family took him to an Orthodox Hebrew synagogue, and he witnessed a very similar blessing performed by the rabbi.
The idea of wishing prosperity and longevity upon one’s fellow companions can also be found in an Ancient Egyptian blessing that translates as, “May he live, be prosperous, be healthy.” You can also find a similar line in Shakespeare’s play Romeo and Juliet when Romeo, planning to follow Juliet into death, bestows a similar message upon his trusted servant Balthasar.
No Sign of Intelligent Life
A whole lot of people have used the phrase “Beam Me Up.” You’ll hear characters on television shows muttering it when they’re frustrated. It’s in Nicki Minaj’s 2008 mixtape. You may even have seen it as graffiti on the walls in night clubs. Basically it’s something people declare when they’ve had enough. Captain Kirk was the first to say it when he told Scotty he wanted to be transported from the surface of an alien planet back to the Enterprise: He was referring to the lack of intelligent life there, and he said, “Beam us up, Scotty.”
It was not until the fourth Star Trek movie that Kirk uttered the exact words, “Scotty, beam me up”—no doubt included as an homage to the Star Trek culture.
The First Interracial Kiss
People who remember the television series know that the first interracial kiss ever on television occurred between Communications Officer Lieutenant Uhura and Captain Kirk. It takes place during an episode in which they land on a planet to help aliens, who respond by forcing them to perform things they would not normally do.
In her autobiography, Beyond Uhura: Star Trek and Other Memories, Nichelle Nichols relates that the episode was supposed to be filmed with and without the kiss so that network executives could decide which one to air. However, she and William Shatner, who played Kirk, pushed the envelope by deliberately ruining every take of the scene without the kiss.
That’s quite a trek from today’s Uhura, ably played by Zoë Saldana, who fraternises rather well with Dr. Spock in 2013’s thrilling Star Trek Into Darkness.
Inspiration, Innovation, Invention
Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek has shaped our world in many more important and diverse ways. Which of these devices do you utilize in your everyday life?
• Cell phone: Martin Cooper, Motorola engineer and inventor of the first cell handheld cell phone, admits freely that as his concept came to life he created it to resemble the communicators used by the crew of the Enterprise—and indeed the entire Federation.
• The personal computer: According to Computer Notes in 1976, Ed Roberts of Micro Instrumentation and Telemetry Systems (MITS) developed a rough model called the Altair—a name suggested to him by his daughter because that’s where the Enterprise was visiting on that night’s episode. Not long after, Bill Gates came to MITS and, with future Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, invented BASIC computer language.
• The first ion propulsion engine was designed by NASA scientist Dr. Mark D. Rayman. The Deep Space I engine came right out of Star Trek history, as Dr. Rayman will quickly admit. Oh, and he can also recite huge blocks of Star Trek dialogue.
The stories of the Starship Enterprise have been with us in one form or another for over forty years now.
Roddenberry’s impact on our lives—both scientifically and culturally—is undeniable. Roddenberry was a World War II pilot and then after the war turned to television writing. Long before he gave us an unforgettable cast of characters exploring the universe from the deck of an indestructible starship, he was writing for iconic TV shows such as Dragnet and Naked City.
Photo by Pineapple101 on Flickr
When he died at age 70 in 1991, he boldly went one more place where no man had ever gone—he was the first man, along with a couple fellow travellers aboard the same rocket ship, to have his remains launched into space, that great final frontier.