VIDEO: Star Trek, NASA Connected Since Original Star Trek TV Series Premiered In 1966

By  //  July 25, 2016

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Original Star Trek Series premiered in 1966

ABOVE VIDEO: Star Trek actors Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto sat down to answer NASA multiple choice questions about space with just two choices with Gay Yee Hill of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. (NASA video)

BREVARD COUNTY • KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FLORIDA – NASA and Star Trek have been connected, directly and indirectly, since Star Trek: The Original Series premiered in September 1966.

While the TV show featured large ships voyaging to stars far away on five year missions, NASA was only beginning stretch humanity’s presence beyond Earth.

When Star Trek premiered on Sept. 8, 1966, astronauts Pete Conrad and Richard Gordon were four days from launch aboard Gemini XI, a three-day mission that would reach an altitude of less than 200 miles.

Conrad and Gordon practiced docking with a target vehicle, a skill that would be needed to get astronauts to and from the moon, as it seemed unlikely transporter beams would be invented by 1969.

Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto in costume as Dr. Spock and Captain Kirk. ( Star Trek Image)

Beyond Gemini, NASA was working hard in other areas to understand space. In April 1966, NASA had launched the first Surveyor mission to the moon, to begin collecting scientific data and help ground teams determine where on the moon Apollo missions would land.

The first commercial communications satellite, Intelsat I, had gone into orbit a year before. Earlier, spacecraft had flown by Venus and Mars. And NASA had already begun its Earth science program with the first series of weather satellites.

Star Trek moved beyond NASA’s limited horizon at, well, warp speed. In three seasons, it reached out beyond Earth to encounter Vulcans, Romulans and Klingons, not to mention tribbles and Harry Mudd.

When the show ended after three seasons, NASA was still six weeks from landing astronauts on the moon, but Star Trek had firmly implanted the idea of travel to the stars in the collective imagination.

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Cut, as they say on TV shows, to 1976. NASA is rolling out a test version of its new spacecraft, which will launch like a rocket, carry astronauts into orbit and then land like a glider. Most of its parts, including the orbiter, will be re-used.

NASA had planned to call it the Constitution, but a letter-writing campaign by Star Trek fans persuaded the White House to direct NASA to name it Enterprise, after Star Fleet’s most famous ship.  Some even believe Star Trek influenced NASA to call its new vehicle a space shuttle.

Since then Star Trek’s and NASA’s paths through space have intersected several times. Actress Nichelle Nicholls, who played Lt. Uhura and was one of the first African-American actors to play a major part on an American primetime series, helped NASA recruit African-Americans to become astronauts in the 1970s.

ABOVE VIDEO: NASA Astronaut Mike Fincke and ESA European Space Agency Astronaut Luca Parmitano reflect on the inspiration that actor Leonard Nimoy’s character Mr. Spock in the television series Star Trek had on scientists, engineers, space explorers and fans around the globe (NASA video)

Leonard Nimoy, who played Mr. Spock, narrated the film Destiny in Space, an IMAX production that included footage shot by astronauts as they repaired the Hubble Space Telescope. Nemoy passed away in February of 2015 at the age of 83.

Several astronauts have said Star Trek inspired them to want to go into space, and Dr. Edward Weiler, former chief scientist for the Hubble Space Telescope, said the show made him want to study science. Several astronauts have appeared in Star Trek on TV or in films, and NASA officials have served as consultants to the films. Hubble Space Telescope images have been used on Star Trek: Voyager.

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In recognition of the way Star Trek inspired people around the globe, NASA awarded its Distinguished Public Service Medal posthumously to Gene Roddenberry, the show’s founding producer.