“The Enterprise is home.”—Captain Kirk, Star Trek: The Original Series, “Tomorrow is Yesterday.”

Gene Rodenberry’s television series Star Trek (1966-1969) was humanity’s warp drive into the future as science fiction became science fact. The television series inspired technological innovations and pushed socially constructed boundaries, exploring new sociocultural and political worlds, and yes—”bolding going where no [hu]man has gone before.” Writers of the series brought important issues into American television sets during the 1960’s, crossing many boundary-lines which included, but not limited to, the Sexual Revolution, the Women’s Rights Movement (“second wave” of feminism), Civil Rights, the Black Power Movements, anti-war movements, the Cold War, nuclear weapons, decolonization, communism, terrorism, the Space Race, technological advances, computers and robots, individual and collective identities, and of course, the human condition.  I argue that new viewers must sling shot themselves back into the 1960’s to imagine how The Original Series impacted our past and present, and how the new Star Trek series and films continues to evolve, pushing today’s sociocultural and political boundaries.

In the essay, “To Boldly Return Where Others Have Gone Before: Cultural Change and The Old and New Star Treks,” Clyde Wilcox writes, “…cultural change has altered the mission of the Enterprise and the interactions of its characters. The original Star Trek extrapolated a future where women played traditional roles [sling shot yourself back], where violence of the culture was evident in the universe at large, where the enemies of the Federation resembled the current enemies of the United States…the New series projects its cultural assumptions as well…” (99).  Star Trek’s writers inject the scripts—past and present—with a vision for the future.

Original cast member Nichelle Nichols, who played Lieutenant Uhura represented African Americans collectively and “…said Martin Luther King Jr., persuaded her not to leave the show…saying Star Trek was the only show he allowed his children to watch and that, according to her autobiography, she was the only African American on TV in a role worth having…” (Wachter 11).  Lieutenant Uhura and Captain Kirk had the first interracial taboo kiss on American television in the episode, “Plato’s Stepchildren.” Today, an interracial kiss is far from taboo, and certainly not controversial. Rodenberry crossed the color-line.

Additionally, the original series inspired LeVar Burton, who later played Geordi La Forge in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987-1994). Burton states, “’Star Trek’ was one of the few representations of the future that included me…represented that hopeful aspect…I wanted to live in” (Kramer 1).  In the YouTube interview “Whoopi Goldberg Talks About Star Trek,” Goldberg states that she called Gene Rodenberry and pursued a cast role. Rodenberry initially did not think she was serious about joining the Star Trek crew.  Goldberg says it was a huge deal for her to see Lieutenant Uhura in The Original Series and that “If you watch Sci-Fi from the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s you don’t see anybody [black]” and that “there had never been any black people in the future, and I would like to do that for some other kids.” Rodenberry then wrote the Guinan character, based on Texas Guinan, into the series. Other cast members represented an even more culturally and racially diverse crew. Today, new viewers may find The Original Series “lacking or limited in scope and view” however traveling back in time is necessary for context. Indisputably, Rodenberry and his writers created change.

Writers are co-creators for our future and through science fiction a new future can be written. In Star Trek: The Original Series, “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” due to an anomaly, the starship Enterprise traveled back in time to the 1960’s and is mistaken as a UFO. A United Air Force pilot pursues the “UFO” and is accidently destroyed by the Enterprise’s tractor beam. The pilot is beamed up to safety via the transporter. Care is taken to return him back in time prior to contact to erase his memory of future technologies which may fall into the hands of “someone” that could alter history. Technology in the hands of the wrong individual may pose a threat. Spock, a “half breed” who is half human and half Vulcan, makes time warp calculations in his computer-like mind to solve their problem. To look ahead we must look behind. This episode crosses the science fiction technology-line.

In Building Star Trek, science fiction has become science fact, and the original series inspired and still inspires innovation for new technology: In Star Trek: The Original Series, the Romulans had a secret cloaking device, making them invisible; at the University of Rochester, a similar cloaking device can hide an object: NASA is working on a transporter device, making communication into deep space possible: Google is advancing a universal language translator: Tractor beam—no problem—was figured out by New York University’s Physics Professor David Grier, on a small scale.

Sling shot from Rodenberry’s Star Trek: The Original Series (1966-1969), and through history with The Next Generation (1987-1994), Deep Space Nine (1993-1999), Voyager (1995-2001), Enterprise (2001-2005), Discovery (2017-Present) and Picard (2020-Present) which were all imagined for a better future, pushing many visible and invisible boundaries. Seeing outside our own timeline and human condition is needed if more boundaries are to be crossed and problems to be solved, now and in the future.

Interesting facts:
The U.S.S. Enterprise, original television series model starship, was respectfully retired in the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on July 1, 2016.

“Live long and prosper”—Spock. Leonard Nimoy explains the Vulcan hand gesture is from the Hebrew alphabet and represents a Jewish blessing (https://youtu.be/DyiWkWcR86I).

 

Works Cited

Building Star Trek. By Mick Grogan. Dir. Mick Grogan. Smithsonian Channel, 2016. Documentary. 27 March 2021. <www.imdb.com/title/tt6071476/>.

Kramer, Miriam. How ‘Star Trek’ Vision of Future Inspired Next Generation Actor LeVar Burton. Space.com, a TechMediaNetwork company, 28 September 2013. 27 March 2021.

MyHarto. Whoopi Goldberg Talks About Star Trek. Comp. Hannah #DARETODREAM. 5 May 2015. YouTube Interview. 27 March 2021. <www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUmMBF7uYLQ>.

Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. n.d. Website. March 2021.

Star Trek: The Original Series, “Plato’s Stepchildren”. By Meyer Dolinsky. Dir. David Alexander. Prod. Gene Rodenberry. 1968. Television Series.

Star Trek: The Original Series, “Tomorrow is Yesterday”. By D.C. Fontana. Dir. Michael O’Herlihy. Prod. Gene Rodenberry. 1967. Television Series.

Wachter, Paul. Famous for its history of diversity, ‘Star Trek’ gets its first black female director. 22 January 2020. Articl. 27 March 2021. <www.undefeated.com/features/famous-for-its-history-of-diversity-star-trek-gets-its-first-black-femail-director/>.

Wilcox, Clyde. “to Boldly return Where Others Have Gone Before: Cultural Change and The Old and New Star Treks.” Extrapolation 33.1 (1992): 88-100. 2021.