There are a lot of reasons why “Star Trek” was so revolutionary when it came out in 1966.
Even for those with only a passing interest in either science fiction or 1960s culture, its impact is still clear: the show and its subsequent spinoff series continue to have a massive influence over not only the way we conceptualize science fiction, but even the way we think of science.
Less casual viewers probably know of creator Gene Roddenberry’s commitment to showing the 23rd Century as a post-racial society. Nichelle Nichols’ performance of Lt. Uhura is famously one of the first times a Black woman was shown on American TV in a considerable role that wasn’t as a maid or a servant (or worse), and the same is true for George Takei’s Lt. Sulu as a Japanese man and Walter Koenig’s portrayal of Ensign Chekov as a Russian man during the Cold War.
“Star Trek” invited us to think of a world where we’ve moved past such horrible things as racism and xenophobia, and that’s part of what made it so good.
But what a lot of people outside of serious Trekkies might not know is that Roddenberry didn’t just envision a post-racial society, but a post-money one.
There’s no money in the “Star Trek” universe, at least during the times in which the shows take place — remember, it’s explicitly supposed to be our future. Roddenberry wanted a world where people do good things for each other, not for want of money, but simply because society requires that we do good things for each other. What’s more, he wanted a society where space exploration is done for the purpose of furthering scientific knowledge, not to make money off it.
That’s part of what makes William Shatner’s trip to space feel so tone-deaf.
Shatner, as you surely know, played Captain James T. Kirk in the original series of “Star Trek.” Now, at the age of 90, he became the oldest person to go to space, flying in a rocket built by the world’s sometimes-richest man, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, through his Blue Origin company.
From the time the rocket launched, spent some time in the absolute lowest levels of space to parachuting back to the ground, only about 10 minutes had passed.
But let’s ignore for a moment that Shatner’s space flight feels much like the astronomical equivalent of having a layover at LAX and using that as an excuse to brag about visiting Los Angeles; instead, let’s focus on how much of a waste of money this all is.
While it isn’t precisely known how much money is spent on resources for each one of Bezos’ wild rides through the upper atmosphere, reporting from Fortune in July for Bezos’ own flight to space reveals that at least one person spent nearly $30 million for a ride to space that — it cannot be overstated enough — only lasts a couple of minutes.
Look at this quote from AP reporters Marcia Dunn and Rick Taber on Shatner’s space ride:
“You have done something,” an exhilarated Shatner told Bezos as he emerged from the capsule, the words spilling from him in a torrent. “What you have given me is the most profound experience.” He added: “I hope I never recover from this.”
Forgive us for responding with a resounding “Who cares?” So many millions of dollars and who knows what else in physical resources had to be spent to give one 90-year-old man an experience he’ll never forget.
In a world where financial resources are growing dangerously scarce for billions of people, while a handful of wealthy folks horde money like dragons and burn through the excess, these instances of space tourism are simply shocking displays of personal wealth.
Captain Kirk and the rest of the USS Enterprise made it their mission to “boldly go where no one has gone before,” a line that echoes through the minds of sci-fi lovers who dream of a better future, one where we prioritize discovery for its own sake and where we actually help each other.
But Shatner, who did nothing but break a meaningless record as the “oldest person to go to space,” brings an older and much less hopeful phrase to mind with his actions.
“Let them eat cake.”
— Times Leader