The original Star Trek, like most science fiction from decades ago, often postulated a variety of technological advances and milestones as occurring in our “the far off future” of the 1990s or early 2000s. Back in 1960s, the 21st century did indeed seem quite a ways off. With the dawn of the Space Age and the race for the Moon gripping everyone’s attention, surely we would be living on space stations, lunar colonies or perhaps even Mars within a few decades, right?
Though the original Star Trek fell into this trap a couple of times, this practice was largely avoided by the ensuing spin-off series. Still, infrequent references to something taking place in the early to mid-21st century still popped up now and then. Now, while we all know that Star Trek’s future isn’t really ours, it’s still fun to consider that possibility. One of my personal favorite coincidental references comes from the 1967 Star Trek episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” when it’s said that the “first manned moon shot” will be launched on a Wednesday. The Apollo 11 mission was launched on Wednesday, July 16th, 1969, and the episode only missed the actual launch time by less than four hours. Pretty cool, huh?
So, yes, it’s fun to imagine that Star Trek might well be portraying our future, but we can’t really do that unless we note that some of its “futuristic” predictions (or historical references, if you prefer) usually didn’t always pan out for us here in the real world. For example:
The United States never launched a nuclear weapons platform into space (Star Trek, “Assignment: Earth”) – Or...did it? This was supposed to happen back in 1968, perhaps with NASA using the launch of one of the early Apollo rockets as cover for this secret project.Of course the government would deny such a thing, yes? Fortunately for us, if this ever does happen and something goes wrong, Team Daedalus can always go up and fix it.
Chronowerx never got off the ground (Star Trek: Voyager, “Future's End”) – Henry Starling’s little startup computer company never seemed to attract the attention of any serious investors, who obviously had already been won over by Microsoft. Too bad, as we might all have been spared the horror that was Windows Vista. Besides, “Browser Hound” is a way cooler name for a web browser than “Internet Explorer.”
Chicago Mobs of the Twenties was never published (Star Trek, “A Piece of the Action”) – According to Trek lore, this rather hefty tome, with its extensive look at organized crime in the Windy City during the era of prohibition, should’ve been published in 1992. Just for the sake of argument, suppose somebody like James Ellroy could give us a look at this period with the same style he employs for his novels like L.A. Confidential or American Tabloid? We’d all be walkin’ around with heaters and puttin’ the bag on people. Right? Check.
Voyager 6 never launched (Star Trek: The Motion Picture) – Unfortunately, the Voyager series never got past two such probes, both of which were launched in 1977. As of this writing, both probes remain operational, having long ago successfully completed their original mission objectives of exploring Jupiter and Saturn. They’re still transmitting data back to Earth from billions of miles away as they continue on trajectories which eventually will take them into interstellar space. As for their sibling? According to the Trek mythos, it was lost when it flew into a black hole. After that? Well, let’s just say that Earth’s track record with unmanned probes isn’t all that great (see “Nomad.”)
No Eugenics Wars, no Khan, no Botany Bay (Star Trek, “Space Seed” and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan) – This is the biggie, I think, so far as things that didn’t happen. Despite our society’s wondrous ability not to pay attention to stuff like this unless it’s happening right in front of us, I dare say something on the scale of the Eugenics Wars would’ve attracted somebody’s attention. But of course, there was nothing in the papers about genetic supermen, and I dare say that NASA would’ve drooled at the chance to build something like the Botany Bay back in the 1990s. For another take on how these events might well have unfolded without much public knowledge, check out two Star Trek novels by Greg Cox: The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh, Volumes I and II.
Nobody built the Millennium Gate (Star Trek: Voyager, “11:59”) – January 1st, 2001 came and went without anyone starting work on what should eventually have become Earth’s first self-sustaining biosphere in Portage Creek, Indiana. Come to think of it, there’s no such thing as Portage Creek, Indiana, either. A massive, kilometer-high residential and retail structure, the Millennium Gate would also have provided a template for the first permanent Martian colony. Contrary to rumors, the Mall of America does not fit these criteria.
Nomad probe? What Nomad probe? (Star Trek, “The Changeling”) – This is yet another demonstration of how far behind we are with respect to Trek’s more optimistic estimates about our space exploration program. 2002 was to be the year that the first true interstellar space probe was launched. On the other hand, and based on what we’re to believe ultimately happens to Nomad, missing this window might not necessarily have been a bad thing.
A WMD wasn’t built in Detroit (Star Trek: Enterprise, “Carpenter Street”) – A check of the Googles tells me that nobody named Loomis was arrested by Detroit police officers in 2004. This is good, as Loomis was supposed to be the guy recruited by the Xindi to construct a biological weapon and deploy it on Earth. So far as we can tell, they’re still only building cars in Motor City.
We didn’t send a manned mission to Saturn (Star Trek, “Tomorrow is Yesterday”) –NASA just can’t catch a break, can it? Sadly, there were no astronauts named Shaun Christopher, Alice Fontana or Marcus O’Herlihy on the rolls, and no spacecraft for them to pilot to Saturn. In the 1996 edition of the Star Trek Chronology by Michael and Denise Okuda, this mission originally was purported to take place in 2009, conjecturing a 35-40 year old Christopher as the son of Captain John Christopher from “Tomorrow Is Yesterday.” In Greg Cox’s Star Trek novel The Rings of Time, Trek history is modified to place the mission as taking place in 2020, so there’s still a chance!
Buck Bokai, where for art thou? (Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Big Goodbye” and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Past Tense”) – A check of official notices shows no birth of a Harmon Gin “Buck” Bokai in Marina del Rey, California in 1998. Of course, it’s possible that historical records are inaccurate as to Bokai’s birth place and date, which means someone with that name could still be drafted to play baseball for the London Kings in 2015. What? There’s no team called the London Kings? Well, not yet...?
And there you go. As always, this isn’t meant to be any sort of definitive “Top 10” list or “Best of” or anything like that. The purpose of these columns is simple entertainment and reminiscing, and I’m absolutely hoping you’ll add your favorites in the comments section.
Special thanks to “Moxie Anne Magnus,” super-cool Trekkie to the Mox, for suggesting this topic. If you’ve got an idea you’d like to see explored here in a future “Ten for Ward” column, feel free to share that, too!
The Ten for Ward backlist:
“Ten Favorite Star Trek Games” – November 4, 2011
“Ten Favorite ‘Classic’ Star Trek Comics” – September 26, 2011
“Ten Favorite ‘Old’ Star Trek Books” – June 30, 2011
Dayton Ward is the author or co-author of numerous novels and short stories, including a whole bunch of stuff set in the Star Trek universe, and often working with friend and co-writer Kevin Dilmore. He’s also written (or co-written) for Star Trek Communicator, Star Trek Magazine, Syfy.com, and Tor. com, and is a monthly contributor to the Novel Spaces writers blog. As he is still a big ol’ geek at heart, Dayton is known to wax nostalgic about all manner of Star Trek topics over on his own blog, The Fog of Ward: http://daytonward.wordpress.com.