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Where No One Has Gone Before

Paramount's idea to launch a new Star Trek series was a unique opportunity for Roddenberry, and one he initially refused. When approached about taking the helm, he didn't care much for the ideas on the table until studio executives suggested that perhaps a television revival of Star Trek was probably impossible anyway. This peaked Roddenberry's imagination, and he set out to prove them wrong.

 

Most people involved in early discussion assumed that the new series would feature the original cast in some capacity. This presented several challenges. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and others had gone on to further success, becoming movie stars who commanded far more expensive salaries than they had in the 1960s. They were also twenty years older, raising questions about what types of stories that would work with the aging characters, and whether a run on television was even feasible for some. Roddenberry had a different idea. His vision for Star Trek was still set firmly in the future. He would answer these questions, or rather make them irrelevant, by setting the new show in the next century.

 

In essence, Roddenberry was converting Star Trek from a single television series into a broader science-fiction universe. Instead of copying the designs, characters and locations of the original, he would develop those ideas into a formula that could be expanded for new audiences while remaining unmistakably Star Trek

Roddenverry turned to a few trusted collaborators to design the new series. His team included former original series producer, Bob Justman, as well as former original series hands, Ed Milkis and David Gerrold, writer of The Trouble with Tribbles.

 

Justman contributed significantly to The Next Generation. His early memos suggest some of the more iconic elements of the program, including:

 

  • A "Noah's Ark" Enterprise with families aboard

  • An android crewman

  • A holographic recreation deck

  • A Klingon "marine" on the crew

 

Other ideas, such as a young woman officer, perhaps the granddaughter of Mr. Spock or Captain Kirk, were not adopted by Roddenberry. Justman even provided a list of over 40 potential names for the show, including: Star Trek: The Mission ContinuesStar Trek: The New Generation, Star Trek: Enterprise VII, and Star Trek: A New Beginning.

 

Soon, new members of the team were added as well, including Rick Berman, who would go on to lead Star Trek through its golden age on television in the 1990s. Berman was an executive at Paramount who became fast friends with Roddenberry after their very first meeting. When "The Great Bird" asked him to quit his job and become a producer on the series, Berman could not pass up the opportunity and took a leap of faith.

 

As the Paramount team worked to create the show, the studio first attempted to find a network to air it. Learning from past struggles, Roddenberry knew the network would have to commit up front to a full season of episodes, and a time slot that couldn't be changed -- all demands that NBC, CBS, ABC and even the struggling FOX network passed on. But Paramount knew Star Trek had value in syndication and decided pay for the full production instead, releasing the series directly into syndication. This was an unorthodox move, as syndicated programming was usually the domain of re-runs and second-tier content, but it proved to be a magic formula for Star Trek.

 

All of these decisions reflected a series that set out to correct the mistakes of the past while carrying Star Trek forward into the future. What followed was a mature series from the very first line -- updating an often criticized oversight of the original -- 

 

The Next Generation would boldly go where no one has gone before.

Bob Justman, honored with a shuttle in his name

Rick Berman with Roddenberry on the bridge

The new Enterprise -- first named Enterprise VII, then Enterprise-G, and finally Enterprise-D -- was the fifth ship to have the famous name. Roddeberry believed that starships would be highly automated by the 24th Century. This idea led Probert to design a more spacious bridge and warmer environment where the crew could discuss and interact, rather than operate the various equipment and sensors. Early sketches even included a conference table right on the bridge. This idea was later included as the "Observation Lounge" where the crew would meet for briefings.

 

Roddenberry also had ideas about the weaponry of the 24th Century, just as he had twenty years earlier when his groundbreaking "phasers set to stun" first appeared. Gene never liked using weapons in Star Trek, but felt they were a necessary evil. For Star Trek: The Next Generation, he asked that the phasers become smaller to de-emphasize their presence. The smallest phaser design by Sternbach measured only 3 inches. Nicknamed the "cricket," it was difficult to see in the actors' hands and was soon replaced with a larger model, lovingly called the "dustbuster."

Designer Michael Okuda was tasked with creating the displays visible on the Enterprise and in many alien environments as well. His creations were fondly referred to as "Okudagrams" by the cast and crew, but officially the interfaces aboard Federation vessels is called LCARS (Library Computer Access and Retrieval System). The concept utilizes programmable, touch-screen surfaces that could adapt to take on a wide range of functions. Okuda's designs were far ahead of their time, and quite prohetic. Although the concept was entirely new to viewers in the 1980s, touch-screen interfaces of this kind would be seen in the real world two decades later as a common feature of smart phone and tablet devices.

 

All of these contributions helped to shape the environments of the new series. However, it was the concepts for the Replicator and Holodeck that would become two of the most well known examples of "Technology Unchained." We take a closer look at the Replicator below, and at the Holodeck in a future Mission Briefing...

By the 1980s, viewers were no longer impressed by the sight of personal technology devices. Phones, computers and other real-world gadgets had caught up to the original Star Trek's vision of the future. Gene Roddenberry, now planning to step ahead another century with The Next Generation, knew that the key to science-realism was not simply making technology smaller and faster. Instead, he proposed a new approach he called "Technology Unchained," meaning the breakthroughs of his 24th Century would be focused on improving quality of life for human-kind.

 

Many talented people worked to create this unchained future. Among them, designers Andrew Probert and Rick Sternbach were responsible for much of the Enterprise-D and its technologies, and Michael Okuda brought these spaces to life with his interface designs.

Inventing the Future: Technology Unchained

Treknology: Inventing the Replicator

Star Trek’s replicator is an amazing technology concept that has fascinated us for decades. Working at the molecular level to synthesize materials, the replicator is able to instantly produce nearly any object, food or medicine on demand. It is easy to imagine how the replicator would quickly change the world. Such a device could dramatically reduce or even eliminate the cost of most products. Hunger and poverty would be stamped out worldwide, and much of the time and energy spent working for a living could be used instead for pursuits of education, exploration and the advancement of society.


Star Trek envisions the future of humanity to be one of incredible achievements made possible by evolved philosophies as well as technologies. This hopeful view of tomorrow is perhaps the reason so many have dreamed of inventing real-life versions of Star Trek tech --  from the transporter to the tricorder -- and the replicator is one of the most coveted.

From a scientific perspective, aspects of the replicator are theoretically uncertain. Researchers have made slow progress working in this area, but a true breakthrough on the scale of a Star Trek replicator seems centuries away. The day when we will prepare dinner or produce complex equipment at the push of a button (or with a voice command) could be as far away as our own 24th Century.

 

Even if the full vision of the replicator remains beyond our capabilities, perhaps some version of this technology is possible today. After all, the real appeal of the replicator is not in its molecule-synthesizing abilities, but in the value of instant, custom objects made on demand. This is a reality that some are working toward right now using new technologies that could eventually bring us much closer to making the replicator a reality.

 

A process called “additive manufacturing,” or its more popular nickname, “3D Printing,” has captured the imagination of the tech industry. These machines work much like the two-dimensional printer you may have on your desk, but instead of printing a layer of ink, a 3D printer extrudes many layers of melted plastic to form a physical object. You can imagine this as similar to a hot glue gun, where the heated glue stick is carefully extruded from a nozzle. In the case of a 3D printer, that nozzle is controlled by software and digital design files that tells it how to form a shape.

3D-printed Starfleet emblem

There are many consumer 3D Printers available. One is actually called "Replicator."

Some have compared 3D printers to modern-day replicators, and it’s easy to see how. Watching one in action is a wondrous experience, with objects that once had to be produced on a factory line fabricated in minutes by a machine not much larger than a microwave. Even complex objects with moving parts can be designed and created one-by-one with a little knowhow. It hardly seems like a coincidence that one of the more popular 3D printer models currently available is actually named the Replicator.

The comparisons between 3D Printing and the Star Trek replicator don’t end with plastic. Other materials like wood, metal and even some foods are now being extruded in similar ways to make on-demand creations. This has led to excited speculation that soon we may see the beginnings of a new era of manufacturing in America and around the world, where small-scale production is possible at very low costs. We may even “print” biotechnologies and human organs one day.

We can already see glimpses of this future, with access to these machines increasing in local communities, at “maker spaces” and even public libraries. Some models are now priced within reach of hobbyists and home users, as fans of The Big Bang Theory will remember from a recent episode involving a 3D printer. Even President Obama mentioned the promise of this technology in his most recent State of the Union address.

Though there is much to be excited about here, the development of 3D printing, like all technologies, will take time. With only an estimated 60,000 units sold thus far, 3D printers still make up a very small market. It was nearly 30 years before the personal computer became a household item in America, and some analysts predict the same may be true for 3D printing.

The wait will be worth it. With advancements in material science, the rudimentary machines of today may one day mirror the utility and ubiquity of Star Trek’s replicator. Much like other technologies first imagined in Star Trek, from the mobile phone to the iPad, the Replicator may yet be a reality that will change how we understand our world and open the door to a future of unlimited potential.

The Book on 3D Printing

Signed Copies Available in Store

3D Printing is one of the most important technologies of the early 21st Century. That's why Prof. Rotolo teamed up with Isaac Budmen, a leading expert in the field, to write The Book on 3D Printing. This easy-to-understand guide explains how 3D Printing works and the many ways this technology could reshape our modern world. It should be no surprise that the first chapter begins with a few famous worlds: "Tea, Earl Gey...hot."

 

For those interested in exploring 3D Printing in more detail, The Book on 3D Printing is a great option, and a fun read. Students in #TrekClass can order an exclusive signed copy  in our store!

Spandex: The Fabric of the Future

One thing that did not continue from the orignal Star Trek into The Next Generation was the uniforms worn by the crew. You may have noticed that the colors assigned to Command, Tactical and Science officers have been rearranged. The science color remains the same, but command and tactical have been swapped. Beginning with TNG, we get the new color code of red for command, gold for tactical and blue for science, which will continue throughout the rest of the Star Trek television franchise.

 

The Next-Gen uniforms were different in material as well as color. That's because Roddenberry thought Spandex was going to be the preferred clothing material of the future, and so the original uniforms were made out of the form-fitting fabric. As you will see in the following article, this presented some rather nasty problems for the cast, and even led to the creation of the infamous "Picard maneuver."

 

READ: The Gross Secret Behind Star Trek's Uniforms

The following episodes will be screened in #TrekClass LIVE on Monday, Oct. 26, at approx. 7:15pm and 8:30pm EST. Online students are invited to join us as we "live tweet" using the course hashtag, or to review the tweets afterward by searching #Trekclass on Twitter.

The Measure of a Man

Star Trek: The Next Generation (1989)

The Measure of a Man, a second-season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, raises the question of whether Data, an android, is a sentient being. As you watch this episode, consider how our own technologies may seem to have lives of their own… even personalities. How close are we to developing technology that is lifelike, or even self-aware? 

As Data’s "right to choose" is debated, we also learn that he keeps a book given to him by Captain Picard as a keepsake. Beyond Data’s personal connection to this item, one must wonder why there are still printed books in the 24th Century. Read "Why Are There Books in the 24th Century?" (below) and consider: How do we know when it’s time to move beyond a technology or medium? When is it outmoded? When is it dead? Can we be sure that printed books will disappear in a few hundred years?

Yesterday's Enterprise

Star Trek: The Next Generation (1990)

Yesterday's Enterprise introduces us to the crew of the former U.S.S. Enterprise-C in an episode that comes as close to a "Mirror Universe" scenario as anything in the series. 

As you watch, consider how the alternate timeline differs in subtle ways from the Enterprise and Federation we've come to know. What changes have been made and what do they signify about the alternate reality? What does the character of Guinan add to Star Trek: The Next Generation that had been missing from the franchise previously?

 

Why Are There Books in the 24th Century?

by Meghan Dornbrock

Each semester of Trek Class we watch the TNG episode “The Measure of a Man,” which centers on the android crewmember Data. One of Star Trek’s many courtroom episodes, this one calls into question the very nature of Data’s being, as well as his right to choose. Is he a man, or is he a machine? Does he have the rights equal to those of his shipmates, or is he the property of Starfleet, which they are free to dismantle and duplicate at any time?

This episode brings up a lot of excellent, and often heated, discussions about human rights and “disposable people.” We also look at what we think constitutes sentience/sapience in technology, and what the correct decision might be if (or when) we find ourselves with our own Data. Although the trial only concluded that Data is not property and “has the right to choose”, as a class we argue the implications of the decisions that weren’t made.

But we focus on something else in this episode: Books. Picard has quite a few, as seen throughout the series. In this episode, Data is given a book as a gift by Worf at his going-away party. Data also packs a book given to him by Captain Picard, which is later used as evidence in his trial. Hard-cover, antique-looking books show up throughout the Star Trek series, but not with the frequency that they appear around Picard, and more importantly, Data.

As an android, Data has the capacity to store hundreds of thousands of texts within his positronic brain, and he has proven time and again that he has perfect recall. Even his less-gifted crewmates don’t have a need for printed books, with a resource like the ship’s computer at their disposal. Even the PADDs, close relatives to our own iPads and e-readers, can store text more efficiently than a single-bound tome.

The question then is “Why?” Why does anyone, let alone Data, still have books in the 24th century? With each new tablet and digital reading device that hits the market, journalists and bloggers decry the end of books. When Amazon’s lending service for the Kindle came out in April, or more recently the news of its subscription service for e-books, it was called a “war on libraries.” If books and libraries are gasping their last breath today, then surely in 400 years they’ll be obsolete?

Eli Neiburger, the Associate Director for IT and Production at the Ann Arbor District Library, might disagree. During his lecture as part of a 2010 webinar on e-books and libraries, Neiburger immediately makes a distinction between technology that is obsolete and technology that is outmoded.

 

“Outmoded is different from being obsolete. The codex isn’t worthless… it doesn’t offer no value, but it is outmoded, meaning that it has been replaced by an increasingly convenient format that usually becomes less expensive.” -- Neiburger, “Ebook: Libraries at the Tipping Point” September 29, 2010

Neiburger goes on to explain that the e-book format hasn’t quite reached this perfect storm of convenience and affordability, though this can be blamed on publishing companies fighting the digital format every step of the way, and even libraries fighting to avoid spending on yet another version of content they already carry. (Although, as technology leaders, many libraries offer e-readers on loan, so there is some level of acceptance happening out there.)

A lot can, and has, been said on the stances that should be taken by publishers and libraries to better facilitate the e-book format. But as Neiburger points out, this new format isn’t just another version of the same information, but a distinct shift away from “content that is ownable and shareable.” This approach to media fits in well with the Roddenberry future, where there is no currency and humanity works to better itself. Copyright disputes have long since been an issue, unless perhaps you’re a hologram.

 

So, why are there still printed books?

As an outmoded technology, and not one that is obsolete, printed books serve many emotional purposes. For some, they’re a thing to be collected. For others, they serve as trophies, as proof of an accomplishment that they can see at a glance. Some people enjoy the tactile sensations of a book over a device. Mostly, they’re a connection to something beyond ourselves.

Neiburger cites other similar outmoded technologies, like vinyl records and candles. They’re markers of special occasions, of loved ones, of all types of memories. In class we discussed the significance of a physical gift as opposed to a digital gift, and most agreed that a digital gift could never truly hold the amount of meaning that a tangible gift could. Being able to pass an item from parent to child or friend to friend also increases the sentimental value of an item.

The fact that Data has the ability to perceive the emotional weight associated with the gift of a book plays a big part in the rest of our discussions on his humanity and his sentience. The idea that printed books aren’t going anywhere by the 24th century, for people and for androids, is a testament to their power as artifacts, and a sign that our emotional lives are alive and well. Libraries and publishers may change and adapt their roles over the next 400 years, but the desire for books will remain.

 

Away Mission 5.1

Lt. Natasha Yar (2337 - 2364 A.D.)
Killed in Action, Stardate 41602

In the midst of its first season, Denise Crosby felt her character had not been develped well and decided to leave her post as Security Chief Tasha Yar. This presented a problem for the writers who needed to find a way to dismiss Yar, a main character. One might imagine that Tasha could have been written out of the series in a variety of interesting ways, especially given the action-oriented role of a security officer. Unfortunately, the writers did not come up with one.

 

Tasha Yar is suddenly and unceremoniously killed during an away mission on the planet Vagra II when a tar monster named Armus (an actual pool of evil tar) takes her out with one touch. The death of Tasha Yar was not well received, as you might imagine, and is considered to be one of the worst character deaths in science fiction. Still, Tasha's memorial service was very nice. 

 

Tasha may not have lived to fight another day, but she did play an important role which we will explore in this Away Mission...

Code of Honor

Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987)

Skin of Evil

Star Trek: The Next Generation (1988)

The character of Tasha Yar, however shortlived, did have an important impact on Star Trek going forward. How does Tasha compare with the Star Trek women who came before her? and those after her?

Away Mission 5.2

What is a Ferengi?

Concept art for the Ferengi by Andrew Probert

During the premiere episode, Encounter at Farpoint, Captain Picard mentions the Ferengi, an alien race that is made to sound quite threatening... Indeed, the Ferengi were origianlly created to be a dangerous new enemy race for The Next Generation, and early writing assumed that Picard and crew would soon meet them in battle. This encounter did eventually happen in the first season, but it turned out that the Ferengi were just not scary enough to serve as a major threat to the Enterprise. In fact, the Ferengi weren't very scary at all. They were actually rather funny.

 

The Ferengi didn't become the next great military threat to the Federation, but they did live on in Star Trek history. They soon reveal themselves to be the galaxy's most cunning businessmen, in ruthless pursuit of profit (or gold-pressed latinum, a currency used in some parts of the quadrant). Ferengi business practices are crude by our standards, and so are some aspects of their culture. For example, Ferengi women are not allowed to work or earn profit... or wear clothes.

 

EXPLORE the Ferengi in the following episodes:

 

The Ferengi might not be intimidating, but they do represent a prominent aspect of 1980s culture: greed. How do the Ferengi fit within Star Trek's history of allegorical storytelling and social commentary?

Away Mission 5.3

Doctor, Doctor

EXPLORE: Dr. Crusher
 
The Big Goodbye (1987)
Symbiosis (1988)
EXPLORE: Dr. Pulaski
 
Elementary, Dear Data (1988)
Unnatural Selection (1989)

After the first season, it was decided that the character of Dr. Beverly Crusher would not continue on the series. Crusher was said to take a post as head of Starfleet Medical (despite the questionable parenting decision of leaving young Wesley aboard the Enterprise). She was replaced by a new Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Katherine Pulaski.

 

Pulaski was played by Diana Muldaur, who had guest starred on two episodes of The Original Series -- Return to Tomorrow and Is There in Truth No Beauty -- as a doctor on both occasions. Her character was itself intended to be a throwback to the "country doctor" persona of Dr. McCoy. Pulaski would be similarly old-fashioned, preferring not to use the transporter and struggling to relate to Data much as Bones did with Spock. Unfortunately, Dr. Pulaski didn't quite hit the mark. Perhaps it was the changing times, or maybe just heavy-handed writing, but Pulaski plays more like a curmudgeon than the charming McCoy. Her inability to see Data as a form of life, for example -- regularly mispronouncing his name -- comes across as rude, if not prejudice, and certainly not fitting for a future woman of medicine. Muldaur's performance itself was strong, but lacked chemistry with Patrick Stewart and much of the cast. Fortunately, the writers had chosen not to kill off Dr. Crusher, leaving the door open for her return in Season 3. 

 

In this Away Mission, we will compare the two doctors, viewing two episodes starring each -- one "fun" adventure on the holodeck, and one medical episode where the Doctor plays a central role. 

Compare the characters of Doctors Crusher and Pulaski. What differences can you identify between them? How does the change from Crusher to Pulaski alter the show? Which do you believe adds more to the series? Why?

Away Mission 5.4

The First Lady of Star Trek

Gene and Majel Roddenberry were married in a traditional Shinto-Buddhist ceremony in 1969.

Majel Barrett as Lwaxana Troi

Few have contributed as much to Star Trek as Majel Barrett Roddenberry, both on screen and off. Barrett starred in the original, rejected Star Trek pilot as "Number One," the groundbreaking woman first officer. She then returned in the regular series as Nurse Christine Chapel, most memorable for her unrequited love for Mr. Spock. Then, as Star Trek ended in 1969, Barrett became Roddenberry's real-life "number one" when the two married. 

 

Even when not on camera, Barrett was often present as the voice of the Enterprise computer on the original series, as well as The Next Generation and much of the franchise that followed. This element of consistency helped tie the many versions of Star Trek together in a subtle but special way.

 

But for many, Majel's most memorable role was Lwaxana Troi, "daughter of the Fifth House, holder of the Sacred Chalice of Rixx, heir to the Holy Rings of Betazed" ...and mother of ship's counselor Deanna Troi. The free-spirited Betazoid took the Enterprise by storm in her first appearance in Season 1 of The Next Generation, adding comedy and heart with many appearances in the years that followed. 

 

In this Away Mission, we will revisit the many roles of Majel Barrett, the true "First Lady of Star Trek."

EXPLORE: Number One
The Cage (1965)
EXPLORE: M'Ress
Once Upon A Planet (1973)
EXPLORE: Lwaxana Troi
Haven (1987)
Manhunt (1989)
Ménage à Troi (1990)
Half a Life (1991)

In your opinion, what was Majel's greatest contribution to Star Trek?

A Continuing Mission...

Mission 05 will continue next time with a closer look at the second half of TNG, as well as Away Missions exploring Captain Picard, Worf, Data... the Borg... that flute... and more...

After completing the mission, don't forget to share your thoughts and research with the class in our online community.

 

You may choose to complete some or all of this unit, but we want to hear your insights on the questions above, or anything else you've noticed in the episodes assigned.

 

If you've viewed other episodes not included in the Mission, please feel free to discuss those as well.

 

Tip: Try sharing your question responses individually, rather than responding to the entire unit in one post. We've found this makes for easier discussion.