Even if you know almost nothing about Star Trek, odds are that you’re at least aware that it’s about some people going around in a spaceship. Names like Kirk and Spock and even the Starship Enterprise have entered the general pop culture consciousness. The goal of the Weekly Trek posts is to delve into various parts of Star Trek’s 50 year history, but, as we’re still in the early going, I’m going to spend this week talking about one of the franchise’s core aspects. Namely, why are these people flying around in a spaceship in the first place?
As stated in the opening narration of the original Star Trek television series (Henceforth to be called by its usual fan designation of TOS), the USS Enterprise under the command of Captain James T. Kirk is on a “five year mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before” (This would be changed to the more inclusive “no one” in the opening of Star Trek: The Next Generation.). The Enterprise’s mission is generally exploratory, but during the course of the series they also perform other duties, such has transporting ambassadors and acting in a more military role.
The word mission, though, implies that someone has sent them, and that someone is the United Federation of Planets (or UFP). The UFP is an interstellar governmental body consisting of over 150 members worlds, including Earth. Members of the UFP share resources and knowledge and are represented on the Federation Council. The UFP also has a democratically-elected president.
The exploration and military side of the UFP is Starfleet. The Enterprise, USS Voyager, and Deep Space Nine are all part of Starfleet and commanded by officers who have graduated from Starfleet Academy. The Academy and Starfleet Headquarters are both in San Francisco, while the office of the President of the Federation is in Paris.
Why is an interstellar body so Earth-centric? (Other than the real-life reason that Star Trek is made on Earth by and for Earthlings.) To answer that we need to quickly run through a bit of history.
Around the middle of the 21st Century, Earth was ravaged by World War III. After it ended in 2053, humanity began the work of rebuilding. One scientist, Zefram Cochrane, was focused a bit beyond Earth, though. On April 5, 2063, working in an old nuclear missile silo in Bozeman, Montana, Cochrane launched the Phoenix, Earth’s first ship capable of breaking the light barrier (In Star Trek, moving faster than light is called moving at warp-speed). A passing Vulcan ship spotted the Phoenix and landed in Bozeman, marking the official first contact between humans and an alien species.
Over the next several decades, humans continued to recover and in 2150 formed a United Earth government, all the while advancing their knowledge of warp drive under the guidance (and more than a bit of hinderance) from the Vulcans, who were concerned that humans were trying to push out into the galaxy before they were ready. In 2151, Earth completed and launched its first starship capable of reaching Warp 5, the USS Enterprise under the command of Captain Jonathan Archer. Over the next several years, Archer’s voyages helped to create bonds and reduce mistrust between the Vulcans, the Andorians, and the Tellarites. These three races as well as humans would eventually come together to form the alliance called the Coalition of Planets. In 2161, following the Earth-Romulan War, the coalition was formalized into the United Federation of Planets. Captain Archer was one of the signers of the Federation Charter and later served as Federation President.
As Earth was the primary catalyst for the coalition and the Federation, it became the seat of the Federation government. That has unfortunately put it in the crosshairs of aggressor species wishing to do the Federation harm including the Borg, the Dominion, and the Romulans, but Starfleet, most often in the form of the USS Enterprise, has been there to defend Earth and the Federation as a whole while still finding time to get out and explore a number of those strange new worlds.
- Alan Decker
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