Star Trek fantasy beams up modern inventions

CHRIS GARDNER
Last updated 11:40 09/05/2013
Star Trek
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Fiction meets fact: Star Trek cast attend the 1976 rollout of the space shuttle Enterprise at the Nasa Palmdale manufacturing facilities. From left, Nasa administrator Dr James D Fletcher with DeForest Kelley (Dr ‘‘Bones’’ McCoy), George Takei (Mr Sulu), James Doohan (Mr Scott), Nichelle Nichols (Lt Uhura), Leonard Nimoy (Mr Spock), Gene Rodenberry and Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov).

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If you thought Star Trek was just a fantastical science fiction film and television series with no links to reality, think again.

Star Trek was based on American think tank the Rand Corporation's "projection of things to come", according to the late Jeffery Hunter.

Hunter played Captain Christopher Pike in the first Star Trek episode The Cage and told a reporter in 1965: "Except for the fictional characters, it will be like getting a look into the future and some of the predictions will surely come true in our lifetime."

While that was not true for Hunter, who died four years later, it was true for his successor William Shatner, who played Captain James T Kirk.

Star Trek, with Shatner in the captain's chair, had a massive impact in the fields of technology, medicine and engineering, with Nasa naming its first space shuttle Enterprise after Kirk's ship and inviting cast to its rollout.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who wrote of his Star Trek fandom in his 1995 book The Road Ahead, is funding research with the Canadian government into creating a real life medical tricorder. Dr Leonard "Bones" McCoy, and his successors, could wave the handheld sensor equipped computer over a patient and instantly diagnose their symptoms.

Star Trek, whose fans also included the late Apple founder Steve Jobs, postulated notebook style computers before desktops appeared in every home and also delivered tablet computers known as the personal access display device (PADD) decades before Jobs made the iPad appear.

The PADD also possibly inspired Amazon founder Jeff Bezos who, it was revealed in his biography One Click, named his dog after a Star Trek character because it was his favourite television series.

As well as winning the heart of these movers and shakers Star Trek has also influenced the world in small ways. DeForest Kelley and James Doohan, who played the USS Enterprise's chief medical officer Dr Leonard "Bones" McCoy and chief engineer Montgomery Scott in the original series and spinoff films, dined out on stories of fans who had become doctors or engineers because of their portrayals. The curmudgeonly Bones had a great bedside manner and Scotty could work miracles.

Doohan's ashes were launched into space after his death in 2005.

Nasa was so impressed with the role model Nichelle Nichols became as communications officer Nyota Uhura that it wanted to recruit some of its own.

As a black woman starship officer of the future Nichols gave hope to the oppressed minorities of 1960s America. Another famous fan was Dr Martin Luther King, who encouraged Nichols to stay with the show when she considered leaving.

Star Trek Into Darkness hits cinemas today and stars Chris Pine as Captain James T Kirk, Zachary Qunito as science officer Spock and Karl Urban as Dr Leonard "Bones" McCoy.

Follow me on Twitter @CHRISGARDNERNZ

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