Star Trek and real-life space exploration have often gone hand in hand. In fact, the franchise is one of the media's favorite go-to analogies whenever new space technology is revealed. Take, for example, this op-ed headline from CNN, "This new satellite is on a mission straight out of Star Trek."
It's always exciting to see the real astronauts who explore the final frontier mingling with Starfleet officers in the real world. Both sides seem to understand that while people like Alan Shepard and Dr. Sally Ride are the real heroes, Star Trek has played a part in inspiring public interest for space exploration. Thus, whenever we've seen these people in the same room, united by their shared passion for what space travel accomplishes and symbolizes, it stands out as a heartwarming crossover event.
Here are some memorable highlights from when Star Trek cast members have paid tribute to ongoing space exploration and brushed shoulders with NASA legends in the biggest mutual admiration society our galaxy has to offer.
March 16, 1989: Shatner Sends Wake-Up Call to Space Shuttle
Ground control "waking up" astronauts has been a long-time NASA tradition. Most of the time, they just pipe in some music. But every once in a while, the crew are treated to voices from Starfleet. In 1989, William Shatner recorded one for the Space Shuttle Discovery. (He did not include his infamous cover of Elton John's "Rocket Man.") Shatner has interacted with other astronauts as well over the years.
August 26, 1989: Voyager 2 Sweeps Past Neptune
In August of 1989, Voyager 2 had gone the distance. Specifically, the probe had managed to travel all the way Neptune. Back on Earth, The National Space Society was celebrating in style, on set of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Gene Roddenberry, Patrick Stewart, Buzz Aldrin and Deke Slayton were all on hand to commemorate NASA’s remarkable achievement.
May 3, 1991: Mercury 7 Astronauts Tribute
Thirty years after the U.S.A.'s first manned spaceflight, the surviving Mercury Seven astronauts attended a ceremony commemorating the anniversary in 1991. Also paying tribute that night were the likes of Patrick Stewart, Wil Wheaton, Gates McFadden, Brent Spiner, and LeVar Burton. Stewart told The Washington Post about the cultural connection they share with the astronauts, saying, "We're the make-believe amateurs. These are the men who, indirectly, made what we do possible."
May 22, 1993: Jemison Travels to Space... Twice
Mae Jemison holds the distinction of being the first African-American woman in space. In 1992, she served aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavor, followed by a brief stint on the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise in 1993. Jemison's TV appearance in the season-six TNG episode "Second Chances" was made all the more special by her friend Nichelle Nichols stopping by the set.
January 10, 1995: Kate Mulgrew Presents Gift to Sally Ride
The series premiere celebration for Star Trek: Voyager not only served to look ahead toward the future, but also to pay tribute one of history's biggest heroes. As Kate Mulgrew stood onstage at a theater on the Paramount Pictures studio lot, she presented Sally Ride with a prop communicator pin. After Ride passed away in 2012, her partner donated the pin to the National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C. the following year.
October 6, 1996: Buzz Aldrin Appears at Star Trek: 30 Years and Beyond Celebration
Unsurprisingly, the 30th anniversary celebration for Star Trek in 1996 was a star-studded event. Cast members and producers from every Trek era turned out for the tribute, which also included the infamous Star Trek/Frasier crossover. Perhaps returning the favor for Star Trek's presence at the Mercury 7 celebration, Buzz Aldrin also spoke onstage that night and expressed his hope that our next journey where no one has gone before would include Mars expeditions.
May 13, 2005: Two Astronauts Guest Star in Enterprise Finale
Twelve years after Jemison appeared on TNG, two real-life astronauts appeared on Star Trek: Enterprise: Mike Fincke and Terry Virts. And it just so happened that they popped up in “These Are the Voyages...,” the series finale and the last new episode of a Trek TV show until the series premiere of Star Trek: Discovery in 2017.
April 17, 2015: Fans Also Include the Italian Air Force
In 2015, an ISS Astronaut displayed her best Janeway cosplay. A captain in the Italian Air Force, Samantha Cristoforetti donned the signature Voyager uniform and tweeted out an epic picture that also boasts planet Earth photobombing in the background.
Joe Bergren (he/him) is a writer and coordinator for Entertainment Tonight. He’s obsessed with “Star” franchises and retro celebrity scandals, as well as niche topics like his very cool dog.