Space scientist, TV and equality scholar say Star Trek’s impact goes far beyond screen

The original Star Trek series celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, with events to commemorate the show’s debut throughout the year the new “Star Trek Beyond” movie opening Friday.

Two Cornell University professors – one who served as NASA’s Chief Technologist, and another who studies gender and racial roles within American television and film – say the iconic series changed society, technology and their lives.


Mason Peck: Star Trek put scientific and technological exploration on a pedestal

Peck – whose father was developing a script for season four with Gene Roddenberry when TOS was cancelled – is a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Cornell University and served as one of the seven highest-ranking NASA officials from 2011 to 2013. Peck is now developing electromagnetic formation control of close-proximity space crafts – commonly known as a ‘tractor beam’ – with a team at Cornell University.


Peck says:

“Star Trek presents a vision of the future where most of the consumerism of our world has become obsolete, and when all sorts of exclusion such as racism and sexism are behind us – at least for the crew of the Enterprise. It’s also a vision that puts scientific and technological exploration on a pedestal, as the highest expression of human achievement.

“Star Trek has also given us common terms for uncommon technological ideas, such as warp drive (now in development at NASA), the tractor beam (now being developed at Cornell), the replicator (what we know it as the 3-D printer), the holodeck (getting close with Oculus Rift and variants), and the tricorder (arguably analogous to smartphones).  We haven’t quite figured out the transporter beam yet, but when we do, you can be sure this is what it will be called.”




Samantha Sheppard: Roddenberry created a show of racial and gender equality he wished to see in the present.

As a film and television expert in Cornell University’s Department of Performing and Media Arts who examines the representation of black characters in mainstream culture, Sheppard says we cannot underestimate the power Star Trek had in envisioning a future of racial and gender equality.


Sheppard says:

“Despite only airing three seasons, Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek is one of the most progressive series in the history of television, particularly for its representation of women and people of color.

“Unlike most science fiction in popular culture, Star Trek actually did go boldly where no television series had gone before. Most significantly, the show envisioned a future that included people of color. Revolutionary in this respect, people of color were not cast as aliens – as literal and proverbial ‘others’ – but as active agents within both an interracial and international coalition.

“We cannot underestimate the power of Roddenberry’s imagined televisual world. With the show, he was able to project on TV and into the homes of many a future of racial and gender equality he wished to see in the present. The landmark show’s allegorical narratives and interracial cast, particularly Nichelle Nichols unprecedented role as Lieutenant Uhura, inspired many, including Martin Luther King Jr., Mae Jemison and Whoopi Goldberg.”


For interviews contact:
Daryl Lovell
office: 607-254-4799
cell: 607-592-3925


Rebecca Valli
office: 607-255-7701
cell: 607-793-1025


Cornell University has television, ISDN and dedicated Skype/Google+ Hangout studios available for media interviews.

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