Perhaps no other single character has inspired more dreams of “space – the final frontier” than Star Trek’s Captain James Tiberius Kirk. No matter how many other roles William Shatner has played throughout his long career, he will always be remembered as the beloved, legendary Captain in the very first Star Trek series.
Now he has been awarded NASA’s highest civilian honor, the Distinguished Public Service medal, for his “outstanding generosity and dedication to inspiring new generations of explorers around the world, and for unwavering support for NASA and its missions of discovery.”
When Gene Roddenberry created the Star Trek concept, man had not yet taken that “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” The first episode of the Starship Enterprise’s voyage into space hit television screens on September 8, 1966, almost three years before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed Apollo 11 on the moon on July 20, 1969.
Star Trek and Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, Bones, Uhura, Scotty, Sulu, and Chekov became household names in the decades that followed, with countless children and young people looking to the stars, dreaming of reaching for the stars. Star Trek opened up a world of possibilities for minds that were hungry for exploration, for MORE. For how many of NASA’s astronauts was the desire to reach into space awakened by watching the voyages of the USS Enterprise? How many leaders are still “energized” by the visionary innovation of Captain Kirk?
The award was presented to William Shatner on Saturday evening, April 26, at Shatner’s annual Hollywood Charity Horse Show, where the celebrity raises money to support children’s causes. NASA credits 83-year-old William Shatner with being a strong voice in their mission:
“William Shatner has been so generous with his time and energy in encouraging students to study science and math, and for inspiring generations of explorers, including many of the astronauts and engineers who are a part of NASA today,” said David Weaver, NASA’s associate administrator for the Office of Communications at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “He’s most deserving of this prestigious award.”
William Shatner and NASA have a long-term relationship, starting in the very beginning of the Star Trek series. References to the space agency and NASA programs were incorporated into Star Trek scripts throughout the TV series and the subsequent film franchise. Innovations envisioned by the writers of the show have found their way into the space program and into everyday life almost five decades later. Concepts such as the PC, cell phones, GPS, tablets, voice recognition, video conferencing, biometrics, and wireless earpieces (Bluetooth) were introduced as far-out, futuristic concepts in Star Trek, but now they are an integral part of the fabric of today’s reality.
Shatner has been a spokesperson of sorts in a number of NASA projects over the years, including hosting a documentary for the 30th anniversary of space shuttle missions, and beaming his iconic “Space, the Final Frontier…” monologue to NASA astronauts working in 2011 on the shuttle mission, STS-133, which was the final flight of the shuttle Discovery. He recorded a message for the astronauts living aboard the International Space Station. Just before the Mars rover Curiosity landed on Mars in 2012, William Shatner and Wil Wheaton narrated the video about the historic rover landing.
The first space shuttle unveiled by NASA in 1976 was originally named Constitution, but the name was changed to Enterprise in honor of Star Trek.
Though the original Star Trek series only ran for three seasons, the franchise spun off five additional television series, 12 feature films, and countless books, memorabilia, and Star Trek conventions. Among his writings, William Shatner has authored several books set in the Star Trek universe, contributing profound insight into James T. Kirk that only Shatner’s intimate knowledge of the character can provide.
Canadian born William Shatner is the grandson of European Jews who immigrated to Montreal from Austria, Poland, Hungary and Ukraine. His incredible journey has been full and varied. It is difficult to imagine how very different the world would be without the influence of William Shatner and his iconic portrayal of Star Trek’s Captain Kirk. It would appear that NASA thinks so, too.
[images via NASA and bing]