The crew of the Starship Enterprise began their voyage 50 years ago, airing for the first time on September 8, 1966. As a kid, Star Trek was my favorite show. When my cousins and I played Star Trek, I would always play Scotty, the miracle working engineer, and in many ways, Star Trek was personally influential to me. My decision to go into engineering and join the U.S. Navy were both inspired in part by Star Trek. In honor of Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary, I would like to highlight a few of the predictions and inspirations that have arisen from Star Trek.
Diversity in the work force
If you watch the original series now, you probably wouldn’t think twice about the crew’s cultural diversity. However, the crew’s diversity was unheard of at the time and included Lieutenant Uhuru (a black woman), Lieutenant Sulu (an Asian), and Ensign Chekov (a Russian). If you look at the times, the Civil Rights Movement was in full swing, the United States was also in the middle of both the Vietnam War and the Cold War. In comparison, Star Trek’s closest contemporary, Lost in Space, had an all-white cast. Star Trek had an optimistic view that, in the future, we would all learn to resolve our differences and work together.
I was watching Star Trek with my niece and when Captain Kirk pulled out his communicator, she commented, “How cute, a flip phone.” Interestingly enough, Dr. Martin Cooper, the inventor of the first handheld phone, admits his inspiration came from Star Trek. In addition, Motorola’s first flip phone, the StarTAC, looked remarkably like a Star Trek communicator.
When the iPad first came out, it reminded me of Star Trek’s PADD (Personal Access Data Display). Interestingly enough, when Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, first demonstrated the iPad, he showed the rebooted Star Trek Movie as an example of a video that could be watched. In a recent History Channel documentary, 50 Years of Star Trek, it was revealed that Apple approached Star Trek to license the “PADD” name.
The Tricorder was a medical device used by Dr. McCoy to diagnose his patients and has yet to be invented. However, XPRIZE has a $10 M Tricorder Challenge, which is an open competition to develop a “Tricorder device that will accurately diagnose 13 health conditions (12 diseases and the absence of conditions) and capture five real-time health vital signs, independent of a healthcare worker or facility, and in a way that provides a compelling consumer experience.” Results for the competition will be announced in 2017.
The Space Shuttle
The Starship Enterprise used Shuttlecrafts to ferry crew members to a planet when they couldn’t use a transporter. In 1972, when NASA began to develop a reusable spacecraft, they called it the Space Shuttle Program. The prototype for the shuttle program was originally to be named the “Constitution” but after receiving hundreds of thousands of letters from devoted Trekkies, President Ford requested the prototype to be renamed “Enterprise.”
Star Trek creator, Gene Rodenberry, had an optimistic view that humanity will overcome the challenges that threaten to destroy us and travel to the stars. Fifty years later, Star Trek is still going strong in books, video games, movies and television. For you inspiring entrepreneurs looking for an idea for your next startup, try watching a couple episodes of Star Trek.