Published Sep 13, 2021
How Service Defines Starfleet
Examining the role service plays in Star Trek
By Blair Marnell
On September 11, the United States celebrates a National Day of Service and Remembrance. This was done so that something positive could come out of the horrific tragedy of 9/11. It’s about reclaiming the day, and honoring the legacy of the men and women who lost their lives, and also risked their own wellbeing to protect others.
The day's spirit of service and unity is very much in keeping with the ongoing themes of Star Trek. Perhaps most notably in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, when Spock paid the ultimate price because he believed “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” But service in Starfleet is about more than just sacrifice. Almost everyone serving on a ship has embraced Starfleet’s mission of exploration. That’s the purpose that unites them.
As envisioned by Gene Roddenberry, money is a thing of the past by the time of Star Trek: The Original Series. Everyone’s basic needs of shelter and food are met, and homelessness is no longer a problem. Without survival or greed as a primary motivation, humanity was free to pursue their collective passions. Some decided to become artists, writers, cooks, or any number of careers that called to them. But members of Starfleet decided to become part of something greater than themselves.
Many of the Star Trek TV series have followed the bridge crews as they went on adventures and saved the universe on a regular basis. Their names are etched in the history books. But have you ever considered the rest of a ship’s crew? Even beyond the lower decks, each ship in the fleet is staffed by hundreds, if not thousands, of crew members. Remember, they’re not getting paid, and some of them are civilian members of Starfleet. They’ve essentially volunteered to serve for years at a time, with full knowledge that there’s no guarantee they will return home safely.
The crew of a starship may have joined for the sense of adventure, but they wouldn’t be there if they didn’t also believe in Starfleet’s mission. Sometimes, to find a place among the stars, it means taking a job that would be considered menial back on Earth. Fans may remember Mot, the infamous barber from Star Trek: The Next Generation; he loved speaking with Captain Picard and the bridge crew every chance that he got. Computer guided grooming could have completely eliminated the need for Mot’s services, but his skills were still valued on the ship. Picard and the crew even turned to Mot when they needed to disguise themselves with custom hairpieces.
Beyond Mot, we only occasionally caught a glimpse of the Enterprise’s maintenance crew, the engineers, the technicians, and even the food servers in Ten Forward. The civilian members of the crew had their roles to play, just like the Starfleet officers. That’s why it’s important to remember that there are no menial jobs in space. Without the service of everyone on the ship, the Enterprise wouldn’t have been able to function. That’s true of every other ship in the fleet as well, just look at Star Trek: Lower Decks!
Even Voyager maintained that sense of service while the ship was trapped in the Delta Quadrant. Captain Janeway faced several challenges under adverse circumstances, but the crew largely remained united behind the common goal of getting home. They also did their best to uphold Starfleet’s beliefs and values. Voyager’s crew didn’t betray their principals simply because it would have made things easier for them.
Every crew member on a ship has value and purpose, but Starfleet is always searching for people to fulfill those important roles. Similarly, the National Day of Service calls for volunteers to find ways to serve their communities in badly needed ways. That’s especially true this year, as we face crises on several fronts.
We need each other now, more than ever. It’s alright to be scared, because these are frightening times, but the only way that we will ever pull through them is together. If we’ve learned one thing from Star Trek, it’s that volunteering to help others is not a burden, it's a privilege and an honor. The utopian future of Star Trek may seem far out of reach, but that doesn’t mean we can’t work together to make things better now. There will always be adversity along the way. Regardless, the people who want to build a better tomorrow need to start today.
Simply performing good deeds and acts of kindness can go a long way. We, as individuals, have the power to start changing the world around us. Sometimes that change can start with a single person. Now, tell us @StarTrek on Twitter and Instagram how you plan to put something good into the world this year. If you’ve ever wanted to be a hero, this is your chance.
Blair Marnell (he/him) is a featured writer for Superhero Hype, Marvel.com, SYFY.com, Digital Trends, and several other geek media outlets. He's also been a big Star Trek fan for as long as he can remember.
Star Trek: Lower Decks streams exclusively in the United States on Paramount+ and in Canada, on Amazon Prime Video in Australia, New Zealand, Europe, Japan, India and more and in Canada, airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave.