Whether you like Star Trek or simply tolerate it, you can’t deny that the franchise has changed the world in more ways than one. It has had an impact on its fans, opened the doors to diversity on television, and it got the world talking about science. What are some of the ways that Star Trek changed the world?
Star Trek made changes to the TV industry and worldwide culture by instilling interest in the world of science and space exploration. The franchise opened the minds of fans who shaped new medical technologies and communication devices. Even advancements in computers are traced back to Star Trek.
Let’s dive deeper into how Star Trek actually changed the world by taking a look at 10 different ways the franchise accomplished it.
Star Trek Contributed to Advancements in Medical Technology
One of the biggest contributions that Star Trek gave the world was what it contributed to the medical community. There have been numerous advancements in the technology used by the medical field because of the show. Below you’ll find a list of some of these.
While some of these aren’t used as a standard in the medical field, they are making strides to becoming the new normal. There’s no denying the influence that Star Trek had on this industry.
The sickbay on a starship in Star Trek seemed to have everything you could think of to cure or diagnose anything the crew encountered. This opened the world up to limitless possibilities for what we could do in the real world medical field.
One of those neat technological advancements is the medical bed. In Star Trek, the doctor had a screen above the patient’s bed that told him everything he needed to know about that patient. It was doing multiple tasks at once, all while the patient laid there, with little to no tubes or connectors.
There is a real life version of this that doctors are using today. It was developed by doctors at Hoana Medical and will monitor a patient so long as they are lying on the bed. It’s a coverlet that has sensors built into it. These sensors can pick up heart rate, breathing patterns, and more. Not only will it record this information, but it notifies the nurses if something changes.
The goal for many doctors is to find the most non-invasive methods for keeping a patient healthy. There was a time when these important vital signs couldn’t be measured without the prick of a needle.
Check out this video below to learn more about the Hoana LifeBed, which sounds so similar to the bed in Enterprise’s sickbay:
In addition to non-invasive monitoring, doctors have been working toward non-invasive surgical practices as well. It’s popular in science fiction movies and TV shows. Devices that you hold over a wound and it starts to heal.
Or how about internal damage that can be fixed without cutting into the patient? Turns out, that one might not be too far off. There is a medical procedure known as focused ultrasound. This method of treatment can actually heal internal tissue without cutting surgery.
Most of us are familiar with what an ultrasound machine does. Doctors use them to see inside the body. It’s used on pregnant women to see the growth of the child. It’s used in biopsies and in ways to guide the doctor.
If that wasn’t cool enough, researchers have found a way to focus the radiation used in the ultrasound. The point that it touches the patient’s skin is unaffected, but deep within the body, the heat from the light can be used to heal punctures in the tissue. Think of it like focusing the light from a magnifying glass.
This device can be used to seal off punctured lungs and help treat diseases that affect the brain, such as tumors or even Parkinson’s disease. It’s a non-invasive option that many find more appealing over brain surgery.
To learn more about how focused ultrasounds work, check out the video below.
Visual Impairment Devices
In Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG), there was a character named Geordi La Forge. His character was blind, but he wore a visor that helped him see. It wasn’t vision in the way a non-blind person can, but it ensured him a vital position among the crew of Enterprise.
At the time, it seemed like just another piece of Star Trek tech that wouldn’t be a reality. However, scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) have developed something similar. A device they named JORDY (after the much-loved TNG character) has the ability to help visually impaired people see.
Paul Mogan, who was an engineer for NASA in the 1990s, had low vision since he was 19. The use of JORDY helped him achieve his engineering goals, and he eventually went on to work on improvements for the device.
While this device won’t work on someone who is fully blind, it can improve the vision for those on the much lower spectrum.
The hypospray in Star Trek was a handy little device that was typically carried by the doctors to inject medicines and sedatives instantly without a needle. The small device usually housed several different kinds of drugs in them, which we noticed as Doctor Crusher could often be seen changing the settings on hers.
Back in the 60s, with the release of Star Trek: The Original Series, it was easy to see these hyposprays as nothing but sci-fi imaginings created for low budget TV. However, in today’s world, they are becoming a reality.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise. For years now, researchers have found ways of delivering medicine to their patients in a non-invasive way. Nicotine patches slowly disperse the drug into your skin. There are also lidocaine patches used for pain relief.
The hypospray in Star Trek used air to push the medicine into your skin. This is obviously different from wearing a slow dispersal of drugs on you. However, there are now devices that use pressure released nitrogen to deliver medicine into your body without using a needle.
For example, the DosePro is about the size of a jumbo marker and is able to inject a migraine drug into the skin of a patient without the use of a needle. The pressurized nitrogen pushes the medicine into the skin subcutaneously, making this a perfect solution for those who suffer from migraine but are uncomfortable with needles.
While we still have a while before more drugs are available using these hyposprays, it doesn’t seem like an impossibility anymore. Instead, it’s more of a probability. The only question remaining is when will it be the standard?
The medical tricorder is a piece of medical machinery that has been eagerly wished for by those who work and love the medical field. In the show, the tricorder is a scanner that doctors can swipe over the patient and instantly have their vital signs. When this is combined with a doctor’s interpretation, it was possible to easily diagnose a variety of diseases, illnesses and injuries.
It’s an impressive piece of equipment that has been the inspiration for many different pieces of technology within the medical field. However, it was often thought of merely science fiction and not possible for several hundred years. It turns out that in 2017, these science fiction dreams were closer to reality than anyone thought.
A contest was conducted by Qualcomm that would award a team with $2.5 million to the winner. The goal was to invent a real tricorder. This real-life tricorder needed to be able to diagnose 12 diseases, as well as to detect the lack of those same diseases.
In order to win the contest, the tricorder needed to weigh five pounds or less and be able to monitor the patient’s temperature, blood pressure, and breathing. The winner of the contest was a group of Star Trek fans who succeeded in creating such a device, led by a doctor named Basil Harris. They named their tricorder DxtER.
DxtER is able to diagnose over 30 ailments. While this is much less than what an actual doctor can diagnose in their first year of residency, this tricorder is still a major win in the medical field.
It’s the hope of Harris and his team that this device will become a household device in the next 10 to 20 years. You can learn more about this experimental tricorder in the video below:
Star Trek Franchise Introduced New Views on Quantum Physics
While there are many errors in the science of Star Trek, the franchise has been a leading inspiration for many scientists today. Well-known physicists have been known to favor the franchise, and Steven Hawking even liked the show.
The writers of The Original Series weren’t scientists. However, the creator Gene Roddenberry made sure this wasn’t going to be a problem. He hired a physicist and a research team to fact-check his writers to ensure they remained as close to the science as possible. This dedication to science is what inspired new generations of scientists and physicists.
The warp drive was one of the most famous pieces of science fiction that Star Trek introduced to the world. With warp speed, a starship in Star Trek was able to travel to distant parts of the galaxy in much less time.
It would take 12 years to reach Neptune, however, with 4.5 warp speed, the Enterprise is able to make it there and back to Earth in six minutes. This is something that Captain Archer mentioned in the first episode of Star Trek: Enterprise.
In order to achieve this warp drive speed, the summary of the science is that you contract the space in front of you then expand it behind you. This will, in theory, propel you through space much faster. The problem is the amount of energy needed to achieve this. It isn’t something we’re capable of doing at all right now.
This way of travel has been one of the biggest puzzles for scientists and physicists worldwide. The concept is there, and there are people out there who understand the complex science behind it. However, it isn’t something we’re capable of doing… yet.
Star Trek-Inspired the Modern-Day Cell Phone and Many Other Devices
Today, handheld devices are so normal that no one looks twice when they see them. You can thank Star Trek for those cell phones you have. In Star Trek: The Original Series, we were introduced to these small communication devices that seemed like magic when the show first aired.
As viewers, we watched Captain Kirk talk to his starship from the surface of various alien planets as the Enterprise orbited hundreds of thousands of feet above them. It was with the communicator that Kirk was able to call the ship in order to beam himself and his crew out of dangerous situations.
Check out a video below of Kirk using the communicator that started it all:
In addition to cell phones, Star Trek inspired many other devices we see today. Things like Bluetooth, GPS, and tablets have come to fruition following the wild success of the Star Trek franchise. Even automatic doors are something that once seemed too futuristic to many in the science community.
Well-known astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson was one of those who doubted automatic doors could ever be a thing in our lifetime. In fact, that was the element of the show that ruined Star Trek for him.
Check out this interview of Neil deGrasse Tyson with Marques Brownlee as they talk about tech and the future:
Star Trek’s Fan Base Convinced NASA to Name Their Shuttle Enterprise
The year was 1976 and NASA was preparing to launch its first space orbiting shuttle. It was originally going to be named Constitution and wasn’t going to be used in space at all. The name of the shuttle was changed to Enterprise after a massive write-in from fans of Star Trek. It was one of the largest campaigns of its kind and unheard of at the time, but it worked. NASA changed the name and it made history in more ways than one.
The fans of the show felt that the first space orbiting shuttle should be named after the now famous starship of the franchise. NASA even had cast members of Star Trek: The Original Series at its launch. It was too heavy to go into actual space, but it made a flight within the Earth’s atmosphere. It’s now on display in New York.
Star Trek Changed How Many View Space
Engineers, scientists, and astronauts have all made numerous claims that Star Trek was the big inspiration for getting into their respective fields. Whether it’s The Original Series, The Next Generation, or Voyager, there’s something from each of them that drew them into the science of space.
In addition to the warp drive, Star Trek has made those in the industry even more eager to find “new life and new civilizations.” Even though we might not find aliens as they’re portrayed on the show, it’s more than likely that we’ll find some kind of life on other planets.
There’s a good chance any alien life we find out in space isn’t going to be anything like us. However, what Star Trek did was bring those thoughts and questions right to the front of everyone’s minds. It made people excited to try and find these aliens we see on the show.
Star Trek’s influence over space travel goes beyond the technology they created. The show focused on the exploration and possibility that our world goes beyond our little planet.
Diverse Casting Inspired Many Actors to Pursue Their Dreams
Star Trek: The Original Series was far ahead of its time with its cast. Race and gender made no difference to Gene Roddenberry. In fact, his vision for the future of humanity was that there was no more racial division among us. While Roddenberry was in charge of the franchise, that was very much the focus of the show.
Any racial issues were typically done among the alien races the crew of Enterprise encountered. The Star Trek future for humans was filled with scientific-minded people who didn’t see differences between race or gender.
There are some who felt the way they portrayed women didn’t fully reflect that ideal. However, that goes back to the era in which the show was filmed and cast. While the creator had the vision, it’s hard to get the rest of the world on board.
It wasn’t just the show’s science that had an impact on people. Roddenberry’s casting showed a Black woman and an Asian man on the bridge crew of the Enterprise. That was a big deal when the show was first released. Normal stereotypes for both were being ignored and fans noticed.
A famous example of how impactful the casting choices were was when Nichelle Nichols (who plays Lt. Uhura in The Original Series) decided to leave the show. It was Martin Luther King, Jr. who convinced her to stay. He told her that her performance on the show was bigger than herself, and she would be one of the biggest inspirations in the lives of girls everywhere.
He wasn’t wrong, either. Whoopi Goldberg has mentioned that it was the performance of Nichols that made her believe she could be an actress. She remembers telling her mother that there was a black lady on the television who wasn’t a maid. It was the first time Goldberg thought she had a shot at acting. She later went on to have a small role in TNG.
After her work on Star Trek, Nichols actually went on to work for NASA. She wasn’t an astronaut, but she used the platform Star Trek gave her to recruit Blacks and young women.
Star Trek Featured One of First Interracial Kisses on Television
It’s often said that Star Trek holds the very first interracial kiss on television; however, there’s one that came before it. Nevertheless, the kiss between Kirk and Uhura is a monumental one.
The kiss was seen as ground-breaking and ahead of the times. It earned the show even more fame. It was important to the show’s production team that viewers understood the future was accepting and tolerant of other races–that it had moved past the racial hate and division we see today.
Despite its revolutionary ideals, this kiss isn’t always perceived as a positive incident. This is because the two don’t kiss each other because they want to. Instead, they are on another planet that is causing them to see and feel things that aren’t real.
However, this moment of television opened up a dialogue within the show. Kirk mentions that on Earth, it doesn’t matter what a person looks like. Everyone is equal.
The Producers Used the Franchise to Dive into Heavy Controversial Topics
It’s often said that Star Trek: The Original Series made several parallels to the events of the time. Gene Roddenberry had a vision and he used current events to show others. Whether they were political or not, it didn’t matter. Roddenberry found a way to incorporate them into the futuristic setting. It was important, especially in the time of the Vietnam War, when things were so controversial.
Roddenberry was actually a pilot in World War II. When he created Star Trek, he wanted to show the world a future in which humans were prosperous and equal. He had a vision and he was determined to put it on screen.
He used space exploration, science, and aliens to make it more entertaining for viewers, but the message was there. It may not have been noticed or understood by everyone who watched it, but enough fans noticed.
It’s no secret that the politics of the real world influenced the storylines in Star Trek. They’ve used wars, terrorist attacks, military events, social changes, and so much more to influence the stories they told on the show. It was revolutionary.
The Franchise Influenced Science Fiction Conventions
Science fiction conventions are now a popular event among fans. Before COVID-19, they were a normal occurrence. People gathered from all over the world to dress up and meet actors from their favorite shows or movies.
The first Star Trek convention happened in 1969 and only had 300 people in attendance. None of the actors were there, but fans were eager to show their support for the show. It wasn’t until 1972 that celebrity guests attended any of the Star Trek conventions. In 1973, actors from the show made appearances.
At the 1972 convention, the people organizing it didn’t believe there would be more than a few hundred people. 3,000 people attended the event. Each year seemed to grow the conventions. It was this enthusiasm that revived the franchise.
Fans of Star Trek Created the Modern Fandom Era
Star Trek: The Original Series was almost more popular after it was canceled than it was while it was making new episodes. It was actually going to get canceled after its second season, but the fans wrote in to demand it remain on the air.
In fact, the NBC network received more than 100,000 letters that demanded a renewal of the show. This forced the network to renew the show for another season. However, they moved the time slot to a new time. This resulted in there being fewer viewers because of the time it played. With fewer viewers, the network was able to cancel the show for good after just its third season.
However, it took on a life of its own after that. Waves of support came from the fans and created one of the first modern fandoms. It launched an era when fans were almost in control of what was produced and what made it onto their televisions.
Not only were there fans of the show among the viewers, but the cast were huge fans of the series. Various members of the cast went on after the show’s cancellation to promote scientific endeavors, often quoting famous lines such as “Live long and prosper” as they do it. As mentioned above, Uhura went on to work with NASA to recruit new astronauts. Leonard Nimoy was present at both the first Enterprise launch and the last.
There are so many ways that Star Trek has shaped the world we know today. The show not only instilled new interests and ideals within its viewers, but it promised a better future–one that is filled with acceptance and exploration. Going boldly into new worlds that we could only dream of; Star Trek changed the world.
- Trinity College: Star Trek as an Agent of Cultural Reproduction
- Springer Link: From Bones to Brain: 50 Years of Star Trek and Changes in the Stigmatization of Psychological Disorders
- Wired: ‘Star Trek’ Was Wrong: TV Won’t Last the Decade
- Fandom: Medical tricorder
- XPrize: MEDICAL TRICORDERS ARE REAL. SERIOUSLY.
- Science News for Students: Star Trek technology becomes more science than fiction
- ZD Net: Building the Tricorder: The race to create a real-life Star Trek medical scanner
- YouTube: Real-Life Tricorder – DxtER
- Fierce Biotech: Sickbay Vital Signs Monitor – Four Star Trek medical technologies we use today
- YouTube: Oceanit on Discovery Channel: Beyond Tomorrow | Hoana LifeBed
- Oceanit: REMEMBER DR. MCCOY’S SICK BAY BED IN STAR TREK?
- ZD Net: Noninvasive Diagnostics: Space science makes Star Trek’s Sickbay a reality
- University of Washington: Star Trek medical device uses ultrasound to seal punctured lungs
- Focused Ultrasound Foundation: How It Works
- YouTube: How Focused Ultrasound Works