Star Trek Celebrates 50 Years: Industry Insiders Reflect

Star Trek crew, original series, season 3.

Promotional photo of the cast of Star Trek during the third season (1968–1969). From left to right: James Doohan, Walter Koenig, DeForest Kelley, Majel Barrett, William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, Leonard Nimoy, and George Takei.

The first episode of Star Trek aired on September 8, 1966, some 50 years ago today. The first ever episode of Star Trek was titled The Man Trap, and begins with the Captain’s log for Star Date 1513.1, with the Enterprise orbiting planet M-113. Mr. Spock is in temporary command of the ship, with Captain James T. Kirk and Doctor McCoy beaming down to the surface of the planet. And thus the saga began.

“Space: The final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: To explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.” These were the words spoken by Captain Kirk at the beginning of every episode. In Star Trek: The Next Generation, Captain Jean-Luc Picard would speak the same words, varying only slightly the opening: To boldly go where no one has gone before.”

Although the original series ended after only three rather disappointing seasons, the franchise would go on to spawn many sci-fi series and blockbuster movies. Star Trek has inspired generations of scientists and engineers, who continue to attempt to bring into being the gadgets and technology written into the story line. For example, several years ago the United States Patent Office issued a patent on the first cloaking device, last year scientists at the U.S. Naval Research laboratory created transparent aluminum, IBM’s omnipotent computer known as Watson can easily be likened to the all-knowing Star Trek computer, and a real-life food replicator can prepare a meal in 30 seconds. Of course, countless scientists have theorized about the possibility of a real life transporter, which is described as the holy grail of Star Trek technologies. Indeed, just a few months ago Russia embarked upon a path to achieve transporter technology within the next 20 years, and researchers believe through the use of quantum mechanics they can create a transporter-like device for data.

Publicity photo of Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner as Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk from the television program Star Trek.

Publicity photo of Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner as Mr. Spock and Captain Kirk from the television program Star Trek.

To celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Star Trek, I asked a several people for their thoughts on Star Trek, which appear below. What moment sticks out in your memory and why? What impact or influence has Star Trek had?

For me, the moments that stick out are almost too numerous to mention. I have long thought that the original Wrath of Khan was the best of the Star Trek movies. The Wrath of Kahn is a great movie (in my humble opinion), but what always separated Star Trek for me was the social commentary and emotion. The loss of Spock, no matter how brief it ultimately wound up being, was devastating. Star Trek never shied away from that, whether it was the first interracial kiss on television, commentary about the fighting of war becoming too clean and without the horrors associated with war, or the constant ethical dilemma presented by the Prime Directive (i.e., do the “right thing” or allow cultures to evolve on their own under their own rules).

Having grown up in the 1980s I really appreciate The Voyage Home, or as it is more commonly referred to The Search for Whales. It was in large part a science fiction time travel comedy, but the scene that sticks out most is the one with Scotty dealing with transparent aluminum. The fact that transparent aluminum is now a scientific reality just continues to add to the legend of Star Trek.

It will be interesting to see what science is inspired by Star Trek and the rebooted movie franchise over the next half century.  Live long and prosper!


John WhiteJohn White
Director, Soryn IP Group
Patent Bar Review

Star Trek (all versions) has a definite following in the patent realm. The Star Trek culture being constantly bolstered by Big Bang, and other Sci/fi oriented pop-culture media. Each generation of practitioner plugs into the version most familiar to them and the conversation and cultural touchstones proceed. You can even talk patent procedure in the context of various Trek crew-mates and their situation. What would Spock do? What is it that Scotty has come up with? What if interplanetary EFS is down for maintenance?

For me, teaching nascent geeks for the past 30 years, the ease of using Star Trek as a common technical reference is amazing. It even shows up on the PTO exam (again and again). Machinable transparent aluminum anyone? Sure, Star Trek 3, the movie, and on the exam. But, also, someone out there actually invented it; just recently. Amazing!


Scott-McKeown-160-200Scott McKeown
Partner, Oblon, McClelland, Maier & Neustadt, L.L.P.

“Kobayashi Maru” is a training exercise of Starfleet Academy for future commanders.  As most Trekkies know, “Kobayashi Maru” is shorthand for a no-win scenario.  The test, forces a would-be commander to choose between two disastrous outcomes relative to a disabled freighter named Kobayashi Maru.  The first option is to violate a Klingon Neutral Zone to rescue the crew of the Kobayashi Maru.  The violation of the Zone will provoke the Klingons to attack the rescuing ship and destroy it. The second option is to ignore the Kobayashi Maru distress signal based on its forbidden location, but this will ensure the death of the Kobayashi Maru crew.  The point of the test is to evaluate the potential commanders character during a no-win, disaster scenario.

Captain Kirk took the Kobayashi Maru test twice, with two disastrous outcomes. For his third attempt, he surreptitiously reprogramed the test the night before so that a positive outcome could be attained.  This proves that not only is James T. Kirk an all-around intergalactic bad ass, but that he would be a great lawyer.  That is, when faced with bad facts, like any good lawyer, Captain Kirk switched his focus to changing the existing laws.  As the saying goes, if the facts are against you, argue the law.


warren-tuttle-160Warren Tuttle
President, United Inventors Association
Open Innovation Director, Access Innovation Solutions

In college I watched every original episode Star Trek many times, as well as all the subsequent movies. The opening of every episode featuring the Captain’s log star-date soliloquy never disappointed! My favorite James T Kirk adversary was the memorable Khan, played brilliantly by Ricardo Montalbon. Though the show was certainly tech based, it offered so much more. One of Kahn’s famous lines, “Kirk, to the death do we grapple” symbolized the struggle between opposing cultures, good and evil and provoked thoughtful analysis of many inherent societal biases. To me, Star Trek supplied all the drama a screen could possibly handle. Almost Shakespearean. One of the all time great TV shows.


amy-savoie-160-200Amy Savoie, Ph.D.
Intellectual Property Advisor, Evelo Biosciences

Choosing a favorite Star Trek moment was no easy task. I would select a moment from an episode of Deep Space Nine that features my favorite character, Garak, if I could, but there are far too many of Garak’s brilliant quotes, lies, and riddles from which to choose. That being said, “The Visitor” is one of my favorite episodes, even though Garak does not appear to liven things up. It brilliantly portrays the unique pain caused by a loss without closure. More than just a sci-fi series, this episode is a testament to DSN writers’ oft-lauded ability to dig deeper into relationships than most tv shows (and movies) dare to go.

In “The Visitor,” Captain Benjamin Sisko and his son, Jake, enjoy a loving and easy father-son relationship. Jake is an 18-year-old aspiring writer of novels and short stories — weaving his tales on an iPad-like tablet through the use of a stylus (Star Trek was ahead of its time as always, as this episode was released in 1995). One day Sisko beckons Jake to stop writing for a short while so they can watch the inversion of a nearby wormhole together. On their way to watch the event, they are simultaneously struck by an energy discharge from the warp core. Jake is thrown to the ground and Sisko dies, his body completely disintegrating in front of Jake’s eyes.

Over a year following the accident, Sisko unexpectedly appears on the ship, injured and confused — and not dead after all. Jake and the crew learn that Sisko has not died, but his temporal signature is out of phase. The infirmary team predicts that Sisko will be pulled back into subspace in just a few moments, so Sisko and Jake look upon each other for what may be the last time. Jake is visibly devastated by the fact he is going to lose his father again. At this point, Sisko’s top priority is not to save himself, but rather to ensure his son’s well-being. “I need to know you’re going to be alright,” Sisko says to his son. And Sisko disappears. Years later, Jake tells a visitor to his home (hence, the episode’s title, “The Visitor”) that he didn’t think anything could be worse than losing his father the first time, but realizing that his father was out there, trapped outside of time, was even worse. Sisko’s next appearance is years later, when Jake is in his mid-30’s. Sisko again urges his son to move on with his life and to get beyond his grief. In defiance of Sisko’s pleas, and now even more determined to see his father again, Jake gives up writing to study subspace mechanics so he can figure out a way to be reunited with his father. During his desperate pursuit, Jake’s marriage crumbles. Years later, upon their next encounter, Sisko is both shocked and devastated by his son’s escalating obsession to rescue him. He fervently orders Jake to move on with his life. “You still have time to make a better life for yourself! Promise me you’ll do that!”

I won’t give away Jake’s heartbreaking plan for rescuing his father, but my favorite moment occurs during the scene of their final encounter: Jake is an old man and, due to the circumstances surrounding Jake’s unanticipated and devastating solution, Sisko truly realizes the depth of his son’s love for him. This episode is quite powerful – and the final scene would have even some sci-fi haters reaching for the Kleenex.


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Join the Discussion

5 comments so far.

  • [Avatar for Mark T]
    Mark T
    September 9, 2016 03:40 pm

    The Voyage Home is such a great, light-hearted movie. The transparent aluminum scene is precious. I like the scene where Dr. McCoy is so passionate about the advantages of 23rd century medicine over 20th century medicine. “Now, put away your butcher’s knives and let me save this patient before it’s too late!” Compassion and advanced technology are a mighty potent combination.

  • [Avatar for step back]
    step back
    September 8, 2016 12:20 pm

    To boldly go and discover new natural phenomenon?
    Not under present day politics.

    It’s 48 years since Planet of the Apes.
    Turns out that movie is the more prophetic one.

    Check out U toob watch?v=y3sU0setco8

  • [Avatar for A Rational Person]
    A Rational Person
    September 8, 2016 10:21 am

    Of possible interest to Star Trek fans and tech geeks: the full episode of “Building Star Trek” which premiered on the Smithsonian Channel earlier this week is currently available to stream at:

    I’ve only had a chance to watch part of the program but it deals with the restoration of the original Enterprise model used for the series, what happened to other props for the series, and how various technologies predicted by the series have more or less been invented in real life.

  • [Avatar for Gene Quinn]
    Gene Quinn
    September 8, 2016 09:53 am

    Thanks EG!

  • [Avatar for EG]
    September 8, 2016 06:50 am

    Hey Gene,

    Live Long and Prosper! I am and shall ever remain a Trekkie.