TOS Blog: Daily Commentary from an Objectivist Perspective

William Shatner’s Tweet and the Power of Art

Earth date: January 3, 2013. William Shatner—most famously known as “Captain Kirk” from Star Treksent a Tweet to Chris Hadfield, the Canadian astronaut currently commanding the International Space Station.

Shatner Tweeted, simply, “@Cmdr_Hadfield Are you tweeting from space?” Hadfield replied, “Yes, Standard Orbit, Captain. And we’re detecting signs of life on the surface.”

This is remarkable for at least two reasons. First, it illustrates that, in some important ways, we are living in the future portrayed by Star Trek. No, we cannot “beam” people around or travel faster than light. But we can carry around pocket computers once found exclusively in science fiction; we can communicate with people in space; and we are witnessing the private space race heating up, promising bold future ventures into the Final Frontier.

Shatner’s Tweet also illustrates the power of art. Recently my wife and I watched several documentaries about Star Trek, one featuring the son of Gene Roddenberry (creator of the series), another included on a disk release of Star Trek: The Next Generation, and a third directed by Shatner himself. Watching these documentaries, I was struck by the stories of scientists working in technology and space engineering who were inspired to pursue their careers by watching the 1960s-era television show featuring Captain Kirk. Star Trek presented to them a vision of a future they wanted to live in—and they decided to help achieve it.

Although I often disagree with the political views expressed in the series, I too have found Star Trek to be great and inspiring art. Hats off to the creators of the series and to the scientists and explorers it has inspired. And “thank you” to Shatner and Hadfield for creatively reminding us of such greatness.

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Image: Wikimedia Commons

Posted in: Science and Technology, The Arts

Comments are welcome so long as they are civil.
  • Ellen Ross

    Thank you! Star Trek shaped my thinking about the world, from childhood, in more ways than I may ever know.

  • Anonymous

    I think this should be included in the conversation somewhere. In response to the above tweet:

    @Cmdr_Hadfield @WilliamShatner Neil & I would’ve tweeted from the moon if we could have but I would prefer to tweet from Mars. Maybe by 2040

  • Brianna Aubin

    Original Series was more capitalist. It was only TNG and later that started getting all commie on everyone. Actually, if you have some time to waste this is a fun read:

    It’s written by a Canadian who goes through the 10 points of Communism and explains how the Federation fits them all.

  • mtnrunner2

    In spite of some changes over the years, the series has always appealed to the notion of the best humanity has to offer: courage, intelligence, integrity, etc. As far as I’m concerned that’s it’s appeal and the reason for its success as a franchise.

    I enjoyed The Captains (documentary) as well as the 2009 movie, among others.

  • Anonymous

    I saw a lot of religion in Star Trek (I don’t recall which series): pretty brazen stuff too.

    Trekking is difficult though. The nearest star, Alpha Centauri (a binary system) is just a tiny (as astronomical distances go) 4.37 light years away (25.8 trillion miles). It’s believed that there’s a very very hot exoplanet around one of the stars (B), but to get there in, say 50 years travel time, would require an average speed of about 59 million mph. The speed isn’t the problem: it’s getting the energy to accelerate for an average speed like that. There was a conceptual design (Project Longshot — see Wikipedia), done at the US Navel Academy around 1987, that would take 100 years to get there at around 30 million mph.

    According to Wikipedia, some think that because the two main stars are near the same type, size, age, and other characteristics as the Sun, the system could have a planet with life on it. If a candidate is found, there would be a huge push to investigate further and then find a way to get there.

    Maybe Elon Musk, SpaceX founder, can take up this challenge after he beats NASA to Mars. (I haven’t tried to check any numbers on this, but I’m wondering if, maybe, with SpaceX’s goal of drastically reducing launch costs and other innovations from the half dozen new space companies, they could make missions affordable for consortiums of universities or companies and put NASA out of business.)

  • Anonymous

    And the scientists of the 1950s through 1970s were inspired by the science fiction writers of the 1930s through 1950s, like Heinlein and Asimov.

  • Anonymous

    Gene Roddenberry apparently credited Rand as one of his sources of inspiration:

    Yet the Trek series presents more of a liberal humanist perspective than an Objectivist one, and many humanists claim it as propaganda for their side.

    Speaking of humanists, I suspect that most of them, with the notable exceptions of Michael Shermer and Tibor Machan, dislike Rand’s alternative humanism because (1) they don’t share her assumptions about a proper human life; (2) they suffer from Not Invented Here thinking (one of their guys didn’t invent Objectivism); (3) they didn’t expect competition coming from Rand in the market for philosophies of life; (4) Rand’s influence in the culture developed organically, without central planning, and even in spite of liberal social engineering to try to make people believe quite different things.

  • Anonymous

    And Arthur C. Clarke was the first to suggest geo-synchronous satellites. Some of the greatest sci-fi writers were rocket scientists themselves.

  • David Elmore

    As a young boy growing up in a 1960s stifling household, I found Star Trek incredibly inspiring. I couldn’t put my finger on the reasons until I got older, but it projected a positive image of humans and what we are were capable of. I found the egalitarian aspects of the show to be boring, even as a child, so they had little effect on me and usually caused me to head for the frig for another glass of tea. It was the incredible courage and technology that captivated me — going places where no man has gone before. (key the glorious music)

  • Anonymous

    The Wikipedia trail for geosynchronous satellite has Clarke as a popularizer of the idea which was first proposed by (link) Herman Potocnik in his sole book (1928), “The Problem of Space Travel: The Rocket Motor.” The book is available at amazon (Kindle edition too). However, the Wikipedia page for Potocnik gives credit for first putting the idea forward to (link) Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, but Tsiolkovsky’s page doesn’t mention it. His page does mention that he was inspired by the fiction of Jules Verne. Amazon also has some works by Tsiolkovsky.

    As inspiration for the U.S. space program, the series of articles in Collier’s magazine in the early 1950’s should be mentioned as well as the Disney series of TV shows (based on the Collier’s series). The Collier’s articles (March ‘52 to April ‘54) were titled (link) Man Will Conquer Space Soon!and were authored by several people, including Willy Ley and Wernher von Braun.

  • patnap

    you’re right Brianna, The later series got more mystical and/or commie. Interestingly they also seemed to attack the non-interference directive. But also Star Trek was a series so quality varied, some episodes were better, or worse, than others. Even the original series had a few klunkers, but over all it was great!

  • patnap

    years ago an acting teacher taught me a method of analyzing plays that I had never come across before.
    It was four levels of literature. Here they are with some of her examples.
    1. Diversion – spectacle, special effects etc. Example Superman.
    This is the most important level, since without it no one will watch.
    2. Identification – emotion, characters – example soap operas.
    Also important, without it few will remember.
    3. Education – Info about the world in hard si-fi, accurate historical drama, “behind the scenes” stories, etc. – example “Fantastic Voyage”.
    Few shows reach this level.
    4. Inspiration – motivation to change your life (I add way of thinking.) – example Watching a musical like “Chorus Line” and then enrolling in dance class.
    Very few shows reach this level.
    And the point is, Star Trek was about the only TV show I rate as having all four levels. Even if you didn’t become a scientist because of it, it sure made you want to go to that shiny bold new world future. Thank you Star Trek!

  • Anonymous

    I am a retired NASA scientist. I worked on the first unmanned lunar missions, Ranger and Surveyor, and am quick to admit that Startrek had a powerful impact on my work. I never missed an episode and was frequently encouraged by the program as it showed a bright future that was at least partially enabled by what I was working on.