“Space… the Final Frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.”
Considering the pop culture status that Star Trek has achieved over the decades, it is hard to fathom that the original series that started it all was not an initial success by any stretch of the imagination. And yet, it found its greatest prosperity long after it had been cancelled, as later generations realized just how compelling and unique the show really was. And, over forty years after its debut in 1966, its legacy is nothing short of astounding. Those 80 original episodes spawned five successful spin-off series, an animated Saturday morning series, and 11 feature-length films – not to mention enough books, toys and other merchandising to fill a small galaxy. Throw in the legions of loyal devotees known as “Trekkies,” who congregate at conventions all over the world, and it becomes clear that Star Trek will continue to have an impact for years to come.
Star Trek was the brainchild of writer, Gene Roddenberry, who after serving as a pilot in WWII, spent his time writing aviation-based fiction, as well as poetry (two areas of interest that he would draw upon in the creation of the series.) He eventually wound up in Hollywood, writing for television and contributing to such shows as Dragnet and Have Gun Will Travel, when he decided he wanted to develop an idea he had for a “Wagon Train to the stars.” The initial pilot wasn’t very enthusiastically received, with execs feeling that it lacked enough action and adventure, and suffered from a character named Mr. Spock, who looked decidedly devilish with his green-tinged skin and pointy ears. Still, after a bit of reworking of the original idea, Star Trek got the green light in 1966, and the rest, as they say, is history.
On the series, command of the United Federation of Planets Starship, USS Enterprise, was given to Captain James T. Kirk, who answered directly to Starfleet Command. His second in command was a half-human/half Vulcan named Mr. Spock, who also served as Science Officer aboard the vessel. Other officers stationed at the ship’s bridge included Hikaru Sulu, Pavel Chekov (as of 1967) and Communications Officer, Lieutenant Uhura. In other parts of the ship, Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott kept the engines and weapons systems functioning (most of the time) and Dr. Leonard McCoy handled the medical responsibilities on the ship, assisted by the able Nurse Christine Chapel.
Together, the crew set out to explore the far corners of the universe, encountering plenty of strange life forms and civilizations along the way, some of which were friendly, and some of which wanted to destroy the enterprise. Two notable foes were the Klingons and the Romulans, who bitterly despised Kirk and his crew and would do anything to blow the Enterprise out of the sky. Regardless of who they encountered, however, the crew was under strict orders to interfere as little as possible with these other cultures. Often, they weren’t given that luxury. Whether it be the infamous Harry Mudd, or the adorable cuddly tribbles, or the ruthless refugee Khan, the enterprise always had its hands full as they tried to keep the universe safe for all.
And throughout each story, there was plenty of veiled and poetic commentary on humanity in general, which is one of the most endearing aspects of Star Trek. The characters were filled with complexities and contradiction, and consisted of one of the most ethnically-diverse casts to ever appear on television to date. This was not a show that consisted of mere laser battles and scaly creatures, although it contained plenty of both of those elements. Rather, Star Trek was philosophically deeper and asked its audiences to ponder the bigger questions in life.
It seems unbelievable that Star Trek, the show that endures in the hearts of millions, only lasted a mere three seasons before NBC prematurely ended the crew’s five-year mission. But it has lived long and prospered through enduring reruns and in the many movies and spin off series it spawned. It persists thanks to both the moderate viewers and the more intense fanatics, who meet at convention halls around the world to get autographs, buy rubber Spock ears, and ponder the legacy and profundity of one of the most beloved science fiction franchises ever created to this day.
How undeniable is its impact? The Smithsonian Institute’s Air and Space Museum in Washington DC displays a replica of the Enterprise right next to the first aircraft flown by the Wright Brothers at Kitty Hawk. The first space shuttle ever created by NASA was named Enterprise. Clearly, Star Trek transcends mere television entertainment and has become an idealized vision of the future of space travel, and of humanity in general, to millions of its many fans – who, upon being treated to a glimpse of Gene Roddenberry’s futuristic vision, quite liked where we appeared to be headed.
If you are a fan of any of the many incarnations of Star Trek, or if have a particular episode that you remember fondly, we welcome all of your memories in our comments section, as we tip our hats to the show that dared to boldly go where no man had gone before.