Why Star Trek is Real Science Fiction
I have been watching Star Trek, all the series and movies, since it premiered on September 8th, 1966 (yes, I am that old…), and the one thing about Star Trek that separates it from so many other sci-fi series or movies is that it is “real Sci-Fi”.
What do I mean by “real Sci-Fi”? From the very inception of Star Trek, it has always tried to be grounded in some form of reality. Yes, warp drive, phasers and transporters have not been developed, not yet; however, everything else about Star Trek is grounded in some form of reality.
We all can agree that a form of the flip phone and the iPad were examples of what was used on The Original Series and on The Next Generation but Star Trek‘s connection to reality is so much more than that. The storylines in TOS were so topical to the events of the 1960s. Interracial relationships, class warfare; the crew of the Enterprise was composed to show a future that was about acceptance of others. Up until Star Trek, it seemed like Caucasians were the only people allowed to go into space. After TOS, each series continued to develop stories that were relatable to what we understand as the “human experience”.
We all have our favorite series and each one seems to have their devoted fans. As in the first paragraph, I’ve stated my long journey of watching Star Trek, but I must admit that my favorite series is Enterprise. And why (if you are asking)? It is due to its attempt to be the most “real” of all the series. Taking place about 150 years from the time of its premier on TV, it was done in such a way that it was relatable to what we understand as our reality. The opening credits pay homage to things we know to be real forms of travel, and we see a progression from the Shuttle program until the first of the fictional spacecraft are seen in the opening, to create a transition to the NX-01.
Look closely at every panel, every device; nearly everything that was part of the NX-01 Enterprise has that subaqueous-style manufacturing label on it. This shows a reality that was manufactured by some firm, much like the firms that built the spacecraft that NASA has always used. I credit the great Mike Okuda for this touch of realism.
The NX-01, designed by Doug Drexler, was patterned after a World War II fighter aircraft: the Lockheed P-38 Lightening. The interior was based on the look of a modern nuclear submarine. Even the food served in the series was much like what we eat today. This devotion to realism was due to the culmination of thirty-five years of storytelling from all the prior series.
However, as a child of the 60s having grown up when NASA was growing up as well, one single episode and scene stood out to me as being the most “real” of the series. It was the eighth episode, “Breaking the Ice”. It is the scene where they answer, nervously, questions from school children about what it’s like to travel in deep space. Watching the Apollo missions as a kid and seeing the astronauts explain what it was like to travel in space, this scene showed me the “realism” of Star Trek. And of course, the question we always wanted to be answered was: “How do you go to the bathroom in space?” The episode handled that one with humor.
Other series also brought forth events from our current or past history that were relatable to what we know and understand. I think every series had a Nazi storyline. But it was done to explain how that time was so terrible and that we need to remember the past or we are doomed to repeat it.
As for movies, the one that is the most real would be Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. The crew members from TOS travel back in time (yes, not real!) to ensure the survival of the whale species in their time. The movie came out at a time when we realized that many species on our planet were doomed to extinction, and this film held it up for us to help realize that it was happening. For those who love the 80s, it is a love letter to that time, from the punk rocker with a ghetto blaster to Scotty trying to use a modern (for that time) computer, to the idea of transparent aluminum. That is another example of fiction that became a reality: ALON.
And that is the most endearing reality of Star Trek…the drive to make its fiction real. So many have been inspired to turn Star Trek’s fiction into reality that it has been a driving force in science. If Star Trek has a single legacy, it’s that it has helped to foster a love of science and the drive to develop new technology to better us all.
So, is Star Trek “real”? Without question. One day, someone might unravel the secret of faster-than-light speed. And if that day happens, it might be called “warp drive”. We can only hope.