Fifty years ago today, the pop culture landscape was changed forever when NBC aired the premiere of Gene Roddenberry’s visionary sci-fi series Star Trek. You all know the story, of course: The Desilu production was controversial in its time and often struggled in the ratings but acquired a devoted fan base that managed to save it from cancellation in Season 2. Even so, Star Trek ultimately was axed after its third season and appeared headed for obscurity. That is until Desilu was purchased by Paramount and acquired its shows, after which Star Trek found new life in syndication, where it quickly became a cornerstone of the then-relatively new thing now called geek culture.
In syndicated reruns the show became more popular than it had ever been. Spurred on by the success of Star Wars, Trek was revived in the 1970s and went on to spawn 13 movies, four (soon to be five) television sequel series, and a mountain of fan fiction and now sits as one of the most influential and successful entertainment franchises of all time.
Star Trek not only impacted subsequent entertainment but real-world science and technology as well. Generations of scientists and engineers (particularly at NASA) openly set out to make advances seen on Trek a reality, but more importantly, you’re probably reading this on a touchscreen device directly inspired by Trek tech like communicators and the PADD. Trek also had enormous social impact, from the beginning being particularly popular with people who felt marginalized – nerds of course, but racial and sexual minorities as well, attracted by the promise of a future built around egalitarian ideals, progress, and equality – a popularity that continues to this day. (It bears noting that even Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a fan of the show.)
All of which is to say that Star Trek‘s 50th birthday is a very big deal. So it is that fans of the show and the people who starred in its various incarnations took to social media to celebrate the milestone. Including original Enterprise crew members William Shatner, Nichelle Nichols, and George Takei.
Naturally some of the kids of Trek notables joined in too. Rod Roddenberry, son of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry and CEO of Roddenberry Entertainment spoke on behalf of his father, while the official Roddenberry Entertainment Twitter posted a video of Nichelle Nichols singing “Happy Birthday” to the franchise. Meanwhile, Chris Doohan, son of James Doohan who played Chief Engineer Montgomery Scott through 1994’s Star Trek: Generations paid tribute to the show’s impact on his life.
Stars of the Next Generation family of shows piped in as well. Notably Wil Wheaton, who played Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: The Next Generation and has long poked fun at himself and the character (while consistently making clear he’s a huge fan), shared a screenshot from one of the show’s more infamous Wesley Crusher moments.
Naturally, cast members from the Star Trek reboot films also paid tribute, including Karl Urban, Simon Pegg, and John Cho.
And of course there were the fans both famous and corporate, including former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who posted a photo taken with the cast of Next Generation, and NASA.