Star Trek debuted in 1966, setting the bar impossibly high for space adventure programming but also displaying the best potential of man and mankind.
Starting from the very first pilot, Star Trek showed the potential of humanity while previewing the amazing technology that was coming, some of which has yet to be developed by mankind.
We almost never got to see Star Trek. The first pilot. “The Cage,” was finished in 1965 and was rejected by NBC for being “too cerebral,” without enough action. The network sent writer Gene Roddenberry and director Robert Butler back to the drawing board. The second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” was accepted and America was on the couch, boldly going where no man has gone before.
What followed was an original space series whose themes continue to resonate today. But more on that later. First, let’s look at the technology. The show gave us an advanced preview of some iconic, life-changing inventions, some of which have yet to be developed.
Perhaps the most cathartic invention that Star Trek previewed is the cell phone. “Communicators” allowed the captain and crew to talk to each other over great distances. Without wires.
For perspective, when Star Trek debuted, typical American homes were equipped with rotary dial telephones, most of which weighed enough to set you bonkers should a family member wield one on your head in anger. Advanced telephone models hung on the wall and had long, coiled wires that attached the handheld part to connect to the rotary part.
Star Trek communicators were at the heart of every adventure. Some of the top brass had communicators sewn into their uniforms. They’d tap the emblem and be talking with Lieutenant Uhura.
And reception? Way better than we have now. Kirk could flip his communicator open (flip phone) and talk into it without dialing (voice recognition) and communicate clear as a bell to a crew member on the other side of the planet or the Starship Enterprise herself. He could do it at a whisper, when in danger of being discovered by a giant lizard known as a Gorn. (Of course the Gorn was listening in on his own device).
Our “civilization” is not quite that advanced yet. We can’t communicate on current “smartphones” between Tabernash and Winter Park even while wearing foil hats and standing very still on one foot while facing Devil’s Thumb.
The Star Trek communicator was light and clipped onto the belt, next to the phaser, which has yet to be developed. The phaser is a water-pistol-shaped can of whoop-ass that can be adjusted to settings like, “stun,” “kill” or “shoosh!” It attaches almost invisibly and hovers by the hand, ready to draw in a nanosecond.
The Second Amendment pretty much ensures that all Americans will have access to phasers once they are developed. I will be an early adapter.
Because it’s only a matter of time before someone says, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a phaser is a good guy with a phaser.” I want to be that good guy.
Despite wholesome themes and deep, peaceful, cerebral mores, it’s never a doubt that Kirk will deploy the advanced weapons and tactics available when needed.
Other Star Trek inventions include space shuttles, tractor beams, elevators that go sideways, transporters, medical scanners, environment scanners (tricorders), talking computers, computer storage drives, iPads, Zoom meetings, warp drives, advanced imaging, global positioning, cloaking, tribbles and miniskirts that took viewers right to the edge while still leaving something to the imagination — but not much.
All of these scientific advances were deployed by a team of diverse, talented individuals that fit together to form a powerful collective, all on a mission to make the universe(s) a better place.
How diverse? Not only multi-ethnic but also multi-species. Central casting cracked it out of the park when they teamed Captain Kirk with an alien, non-emotional science officer (“Spock”); a hick Southern doctor (“McCoy” aka “Bones”); a drunken, Scottish first engineer (“Scottie”); a black, female communications chief (“Uhura”); an Asian helmsman (“Sulu”); and a Russian navigator (“Chekov”). The crew was international and its captain even fooled around with exotic green and blue women from other planets.
One theme included a pandemic. In the 1966 episode “Miri,” young people on a planet identical to earth contract a fatal disease upon entering puberty. The landing party ages fast while Bones and Spock work together to create a vaccine to save themselves and the future of all kids.
The landing team, in a race against time, develops a rushed vaccine that they must try — or they will die. They gaze at the vial, which is being analyzed by artificial intelligence …
Capt. Kirk asks: “This is the vaccine?”
Dr. McCoy answers: “That’s what the computers will tell us.”
Mr. Spock logically states: “Without them, it could be a beaker full of death.”
And that, my friends, is where we are today.
Steve Skinner likes green skin. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.