Amazing Ways That ‘Star Trek’ Changed the World
The idea that Star Trek has changed the world might sound as farfetched as some of the USS Enterprise’s spacefaring missions, but the truth is that the science fiction series has directly or indirectly impacted both our present and future.
It seems like an absurd statement — when creator Gene Roddenberry was first kicking around the idea in 1964, he probably never imagined that Star Trek would still be around in 2017 with reboots in the pipeline. But it’s influence in the realm of science, technology, and social progress is something that certainly supports the claim of how important entertainment can be.
Here are seven ways that Star Trek changed the world.
1. Increased interest in science
One of the most important ways Star Trek has left an indelible footprint is the way in which it has inspired a generation of scientists and inventors — many of whom have fundamentally changed the way we live. In a Discovery piece from scientist and writer Ian O’Neill, he explains, “The spirit of discovery and adventure inspired me to learn about what makes our Universe tick.” And the sentiment is widespread according to O’Neill. “On a daily basis I come across scientists who claim the same thing: Star Trek, through its various incarnations, inspired them,” he adds. While it would be presumptive to say that Star Trek is directly responsible for an entire generation of scientific progress, the rest of this list might make you wonder.
2. Theoretical physics
While most of Star Trek’s science and technology is rooted in fantasy, that hasn’t stopped scientists from exploring ideas from the show. One such example is the Alcubierre warp drive, a speculative idea put forth by theoretical physicist Miguel Alcubierre in which a spacecraft could achieve faster-than-light travel. The actual science behind the theory is incredibly complicated, as Science Fiction & Fact Magazine shows, but the end result would be something very similar to Star Trek’s warp drive or Star Wars‘s hyperspace.
3. Non-invasive imaging and medical technology
Star Trek introduced non-invasive medical technology that seemed to magically heal wounds, but something close to it is not that far off. Gizmodo reports that NASA and GRoK Technologies are currently working on new technology that will have the ability to regenerate bone and muscle tissue that could potentially change the way we deal with muscular pain and inflammation. “It’s not just science fiction anymore,” GRoK founder and CEO Moshe Kushman says. “All indications are that 21st century life sciences will change dramatically during the next several decades, and GRoK is working to define the forefront of a new scientific wave.”
4. Spacecraft propulsion
The Alcubierre warp drive is a fascinating idea, but it exists strictly in the speculative world. Enter ion propulsion — a form of spacecraft propulsion that is real and currently in use by NASA.”Using solar arrays spanning 65 feet, Dawn collects power from the sun to ionize atoms of xenon,” as explained by NASA. “These ions are expelled by a strong electric field out the back of the spacecraft, producing a gentle thrust.” Essentially, ion propulsion allows a spacecraft to not only be smaller, but to travel further without being encumbered by large amounts of fuel. All of this, inspired by an episode of Star Trek entitled “Spock’s Brain.”
5. The cell phone
The cell phone has fundamentally transformed the way we live our lives, and we have Star Trek to thank for it. A little over 40 years ago, Martin Cooper was at Motorola when he unveiled the huge, impracticable first cell phone nicknamed “The Shoe” by its designers, writes High Tech History. The idea for the cell phone began in 1973 when the small, handheld communication devices on Star Trek struck Cooper as essentially being a portable, cordless phone, and a prototype was ready within the year. Of course, it would be decades before a cell phone even vaguely resembling the device on Star Trek would exist, but when the era of flip-phones arrived in the early 2000’s the likeness was simply staggering.
6. The personal computer
The first electronic computer — ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer) — arrived in 1946, but in the decades to come the idea of a home computer wasn’t considered a possibility. However, Star Trek’s depiction of an interactive computer was partly responsible for shifts in thinking, pushing computer programmers and designers to imagine a world where computers were used by the masses. Enter Ed Roberts’s Altair 8800 in 1975, named after a location the Enterprise travels to, which became the first personal computer.
Soon after, Paul Allen and Bill Gates joined the team and wrote the software for Altair BASIC which would lay the groundwork for Microsoft. Digital Trends points out that following his death in 2010, Allen and Gates wrote in a statement, “Ed was truly a pioneer in the personal computer revolution, and didn’t always get the recognition he deserved.” They added, “Ed was willing to take a chance on us—two young guys interested in computers long before they were commonplace—and we have always been grateful to him.”
7. Social progressivism
Despite all the science fiction-based influence of Star Trek, it was the show’s progressivism in a time of social and political upheaval that remains its greatest achievement. The series consistently dealt with subjects like sexism, feminism, racism, and militarism which were directly connected to the events occurring in the late 1960s, but continue to be relevant to this day. Most notable is how Star Trek dealt with race. On a surface level, the series was unusual at the time (and even now, unfortunately) for simply having a multi-cultural cast including George Takei (who was Japanese) and Nichelle Nichols (who was African American).
The show also pushed race boundaries, the most well-known being when William Shatner kissed Nichols in an episode marking the first interracial kiss on television. Of course, the show wasn’t perfect when it came to progressivism as the article Star Trek: A Phenomenon and Social Statement on the 1960s points out — it simply wasn’t possible in the climate. But considering the era in which Roddenberry was writing the show, it should be applauded that he attempted to break barriers whenever he could.
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