On September 8, 1966, Star Trek (often referred to as The Original Series) aired on NBC for the first time. The episode was called “The Man Trap,” and it featured a woman who could morph into a rather gruesome salt vampire, both shocking in appearance and behavior. It also grabbed the attention of the American public, which was starting to take science fiction seriously. Though the series was canceled in its third season, it had an incredible following in reruns and inspired a large, globally well-known franchise.
As of 2021, there have been 13 Star Trek movies and 11 television series (three of them animated), with several other TV projects in the works and another movie due in 2023. Star Trek is everywhere, and its influence has pervaded our media, language, technology, and even the future of our nation’s military and exploratory missions. The presence of Star Trek in our culture is a phenomenon unto itself…
10 Let’s Start with the Enterprise
The History of the Enterprise (Non Star Trek)
In 1775, a British sloop-of-war named George was captured by American forces led by none other than Col. Benedict Arnold, who rechristened the ship USS Enterprise. It served in the Revolutionary War but was burned in 1777 to avoid recapture. For two centuries, a long line of Enterprises, one after another, would serve the U.S. Navy, the last two gaining a lot of public glory. The USS Enterprise commissioned in 1938 was an aircraft carrier and the most decorated ship in WW2, and the one commissioned in 1961 was the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the world!
So when Star Trek was in the planning stages during the mid-1960s, the name Enterprise was in common usage and held in high esteem in the U.S. It was the inspiration for naming the ship that Captain Kirk would command. But with the popularity the show would gather, the naming game took a significant turn…
In 1974 NASA started building the first space shuttle, choosing the name Constitution for their revolutionary new spacecraft (though in truth, it was destined to be experimental and never left the Earth’s atmosphere). However, a large letter-writing campaign targeted NASA over that decision, and in 1976 when the shuttle made its first public appearance in Palmdale, CA, the word Enterprise was painted on its side. Several Star Trek actors were in attendance for the ceremony, along with Gene Roddenberry, the show’s creator.
Virgin Galactic’s first SpaceShipTwo spaceplane, the VSS Enterprise, took its premier flight in October 2010. Of course, it had also been named in honor of Star Trek, but it lacked the fictional ship’s longevity, crashing four years later due to premature deployment of its descent system.
The U.S. Navy is currently building a new nuclear-powered aircraft carrier called, once again, the USS Enterprise, due to launch in 2025 to replace the older warship, which was decommissioned in 2017. And it’s a sure bet that there’ll be more toasts to Captain Kirk at the ceremony than to a historically scandalized Colonel Arnold.
9 The NASA/Star Trek Connection
NASA’s IXS Enterprise – Behold The Future
Since NASA’s compliance with that mid-1970s letter-writing campaign to rename their first shuttle Enterprise, a partnership of sorts has seemed to develop between the government agency and the influence of Star Trek. It’s almost as if the show’s huge popularity in its many manifestations has helped to mold and shape NASA as it reaches out into space, and the agency isn’t fighting the collaboration one bit…
After writing a series of columns in magazines encouraging minority and women participation in the space program, Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura) was invited by NASA to work with recruitment. This stint lasted from 1977 to well into the 1980s. Nichols was a huge success in her alliance with NASA, and one of her ’78 recruits was Dr. Sally Ride, who would become the first female American to reach outer space. She would also have a Federation starship named after her—the USS (Sally) Ride—at least in the realm of Star Trek: Discovery. This is only one of the many examples of Starfleet crossover themes that influence NASA and the agency’s decisions.
The thing is, people who work at NASA grew up watching Star Trek, and the show helped influence the job paths they would later choose, which is why you can see pop-cultural references scattered throughout the agency. For example, in 1993, the entire crew of the shuttle Endeavor posed for a picture dressed in Starfleet uniforms, one of them offering the Vulcan greeting. And in 2012, when the shuttle Enterprise arrived at JFK Airport en route to its final destination—the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum—Leonard Nimoy (Spock) was there to return the gesture. Actually, it’s not unusual for American astronauts to publicly pose in Star Trek uniforms. However, in 2014, when William Shatner received NASA’s Distinguished Public Service Medal, he chose to wear a cowboy hat and jeans.
And back in 2010, when the Space Shuttle Discovery brought the newfangled Window Observational Research Facility up to the International Space Station, the crew wore mission patches that contained letters from the fictitious Klingon language. It seems the moment someone at NASA realized that the acronym for the project—WORF—was also the name of a Klingon character played by Michael Dorn, they just couldn’t help adding the name in his native language to their patches.
But the most shocking display of Star Trek’s influence on NASA would have to be the IXS Enterprise, a conceptual starship capable of warp drive. Through CGI, the ship is made to look somewhat like the TV Enterprise mixed with design elements of the space shuttle, though it is surrounded by two warp rings. It is incredibly profound that engineers who grew up watching Star Trek are currently designing starships that will one day perform like the ones in Starfleet and resemble them. Freaky!
8 Mobile Devices
Bluetooth Star Trek Communicator Review: A Trekkie’s Dream Come True
While the development of individual cellphones sprang from preexisting cellular technology such as car phones and pagers, and while these gadgets predated the Star Trek franchise by a good 20 years, still the handheld communicators used by the crew of the Enterprise cannot be discounted from the evolution of our present-day mobile phones. Martin Cooper of Motorola, who led the team that developed the first portable cellphone in 1973, has admitted part of his inspiration came from watching Captain Kirk speak into his gadget. In truth, he’s also stated that Dick Tracy’s wrist radio was his inspiration, but in the ’90s, manufacturers began designing phones that looked an awful lot more like the one Kirk held…
The very first flip phone released in 1996 was called the Motorola StarTAC! Coincidence? Ask Cingular, who released in 2006 the HTC Startrek, not even trying to mask the spelling. Of course, the following year, Apple released the iPhone, completely changing the direction cell phone design would take. However, flip phones are still marketed and have loyal followers who enjoy emulating Kirk each time they make a call.
Smartphones with large touchscreens—predominantly iPhones and Androids—became incredibly popular shortly after their inception, and the technology they used was extended early on to tablets. Perhaps iPad owners should feel as if they’re emulating Captain Jean-Luc Picard each time they use their device. On Star Trek: The Next Generation and other shows set in that timeline, the crew members utilize rectangular, computerized personal devices of various sizes with touch screen technology. These were introduced on TV a good twenty years before Apple rolled out the innovative iPad to the public.
And back in the day, you might have enjoyed playing MP3s on your tablet—digital files developed by Karlheinz Brandenburg after watching an episode of The Next Generation in which Data (Brent Spiner) used the computer to listen to music selections.
This type of inspiration hasn’t just happened with mobile devices. The first home computer—the MITS Altair 8800, which came out in 1975—has been rumored to have been named after the star mentioned in the episode “Amok Time” on The Original Series. It was also a good place to play a text-based video game called Star…
Read More:10 Examples of Ingenuity Inspired by Star Trek