Star Trek is turning 50 this week. The classic franchise that has always been about future people doing future things in a Galaxy far far… oh wrong one… where Kirk, Spock, McCoy and all the rest boldly go where no split infinitives have gone before. The Original Series spawned eleven movies, four more TV shows –plus one more coming in the Fall– and has become a cultural touchstone. The series’ message of hope for humanity and its ability to tackle weighty matters through classic science fiction storytelling has become a staple of the franchise, unless Jar Jar Abrams is in charge. Over the past five decades Star Trek has had its stumbles and flops -aka The Final Frontier– but it has always given us more than enough quality to make-up for the bad.
However, it has also given us something else, incorrect predictions about our future. By the very nature of a show like Star Trek, it had to make some assumptions about where humanity was heading. That means through backstory, set details, and other clues Star Trek has predicted some strange things for our present world. Some of them were not far off, some of them were very far off, and some were just strange. So in honor of fifty years of living long and prospering, let’s take a look at 50 years of predictions that Star Trek has made about our own time.
1968 Orbital Nuclear Weapons
According to Assignment Earth The Unites States of America launches a nuclear weapons platform into orbit above Earth. In the real world this didn’t happen, obviously. A nuclear weapons platform in orbit would have unbalanced the Cold War and possibly ignited a global war. In the episode it was done so that the Enterprise -which had traveled back in time- had something to contend with and use as a lesson to show the “primitive” 1960’s humans that nuclear weapons are bad. It also, worth mentioning that the episode aired on March, 29, 1968. So we’re also hoping that no one on the writing staff had government clearance enough to know something we don’t.
1986 Transparent Aluminum
During another time traveling escapade Kirk and crew travel back to 1986 to steal two whales… because reasons. However, in order to accomplish that Scotty gives an manufacturer the blueprints to design transparent aluminum, which is basically a tougher form of glass. Scotty needs to manufacture the material as a tank for the whales… again for reasons… so he gives the formula to humans of 1986. This whole thing was treated basically as a gag for the movie, The Voyage Home, but it is worthy of this list because in 2015 the US Naval Research Lab actually invented Transparent Aluminum. So Star Trek was right, they were just 19 years off.
1987 The New York Times Closes
Another throw away line from The Voyage Home claims that the New York Times Magazine closes its doors in 1987, as one of the last newspaper magazines of its time, which is a pretty ballsy statement considering the movie came out in 1986. Maybe the producers just didn’t like the New York Times. It is also worth noting that they were not completely wrong, just a little too early. Newspapers and news magazines are closing up shop quicker than ever these days thanks to the Internet, however the New York Times Magazine is actually still in production.
1992 Eugenics and Genetic Engineering
The biggest glaring prediction for Star Trek was their prophecy of the widespread use of genetic engineering by the year 1992. That is the year Khan Noonien Singh… KHAN!!!… rises to power in the Middle East and the Eugenics Wars begin. According to Space Seed and Wrath of Khan, humanity created a race of augmented humans, called Augments. These genetic supermen rose to power in various Middle Eastern and Asian countries the in 1990’s… because Bill Clinton… maybe… Khan at one point held power over a “quarter of the world.” The Eugenics Wars were a series of conflicts between the various Augment dictators of some forty nations. Normal humans eventually rose up and overthrew the Augments in 1996, condemning most of them to die as war criminals. Khan and 84 of his followers escaped Earth aboard the cryogenic-ship SS Botany Bay.
As you can tell none of this actually happened. In fact, the biggest news in genetic engineering to happen in 1992 was that China was the first country to introduce a virus-resistant tobacco plant. With the mapping of the human genome the benefits and risks of Human genetic engineering are still being debated in the science community today, but we are no closer to actually creating genetic supermen than Kirk is to successfully resisting the temptations of any green-skinned woman.
1994 Cryonics and Cryogenics
Speaking of cryogenics… According the Star Trek: Next Generation episode: The Neutral Zone, by 1994 cryogenics are so widespread and safe that people are willing to having themselves frozen at the time of death, and even stored on satellites until cures for their diseases can be found sometime in the future. As you may have guessed, we have not quite perfected cryonics or cryogenic preservation for humans. The closest we have come is being able to freeze human embryos in cryogenic stasis. There is however that portion of people freeze who their brains when they die, Walt Disney style… which our lawyer has reminded us to tell you is actually a myth.
1996 Life on Mars
In the Star Trek Voyager episode: Future’s End, it is briefly implied that scientists discovered ancient microscopic Martian life in 1996. The episode was filmed several days after the NASA announcement in August of 1996 of possible fossilized evidence of microscopic life from a Martian meteorite. However, that claim has never been confirmed fully and as of this article there is still no solid evidence of life ever existing on Mars.
2001 The Millennium Gate
Another Voyager episode: 11:59, depicted the construction of the Millennium Gate. Construction began in 2001 and it was completed in 2011 as a way to commemorate the beginning of the 21st century. For some reason it was built in Portage Creek, Indiana and was a tower 1 kilometer high and 3.2 kilometers wide. The building was a self-contained biosphere with its own ecosystem and over six-hundred stores for shoppers to enjoy. It was covered in solar panels and eventually served a model for the first Martian colony. The Millennium Gate became a national landmark on par with the St. Louis Arch or the Empire State Building and it could be seen from space. This marvel of modern engineering was -of course- never actually built. The tallest building in the world is currently Burj Khalifa in Dubai, standing tall at only 830 meters in height. it is also doubtful that anyone will be looking toward it as a model for a Martian colony.
2002 The Nomad Interstellar Probe
According to Star Trek: The Original Series, in their episode: The Changeling, in 2002 Earth launched the Nomad probe, as our planet’s first interstellar probe with the mission to seek out extraterrestrial life. Of course in typical Star Trek fashion this comes back to bite Kirk and crew when the probe encounters an alien intelligence, gains sentience, and goes on a killing spree. However, as of 2016 we have yet to launch the Nomad, but Voyager 1 entered interstellar space in 2014, making it the first man made object to leave our solar system. And currently there are talks about creating the Starshot project, which might be able to propel a series of small probes to Alpha Centuari in a single human lifetime.
2015 Planetary Baseball League
In the Star Trek Universe by 2015 baseball had become such a popular worldwide sport that Major League Baseball was supplanted by the Planetary Baseball League, which included teams from across the planet, such as the London Kings, the Crenshaw Monarchs, and the Gotham City Bats. -Most likely that last one was meant as a Batman joke- One of the most notable players is Buck Bukai who breaks Joe DiMaggio’s 56 consecutive game hitting streak in 2026. In 2032 the Yankees win the World Series, and the last world series is officially held in 2042, after people’s interest in baseball fades. It is almost humorous that Star Trek created a world where baseball became anything but an American sport, especially since the last time baseball was played in the Olympics was in 2008. As Star Trek predicted the sport is growing less popular, but we doubt it will ever have enough fame to actually get a professional team from cricket-loving London.
2018 Sublight Propulsion
We suppose this one might be true, but it seems doubtful. In Space Seed, it is said that by 2018 sublight propulsion makes cryogenic sleeper ships obsolete. This could be true, considering that “sublight” is literally any sort of propulsion that goes slower than lightspeed. We have some pretty ingenuous forms of propulsion in space, including light-sails and ion drives. However, the bulk of our propulsion is still done through chemical rockets and we still do not have an engine that could get us to another star system in a shorter time than it would take to make the trip using the -also still fictional- cryogenic sleeper ships.
Other Future Predictions
Star Trek also has a few predictions for the coming years including:
- 2024: Ireland Reunification – Northern Ireland becomes part of the Irish Republic, which could happen thanks to Brexit.
- 2024: French Political Strife – France becomes unsafe for tourists thanks to battles between “Neo-Trotskyists” and “Gaullists.” Ironically, -and chillingly- France is currently facing similiar declines in tourism thanks to recent terrorism.
- 2024: Sanctuary Districts – Sanctuary Districts are set up in major cities across the US and the homeless and poor are separated from the rest of the population and put into ghettos for the destitute and jobless. This is the strongest evidence to show that in the Star Trek Universe, Donald Trump was elected President.
- 2026: World War III – The Third World War lasts until 2053 and results in nuclear genocide, population cleansings, and the near destruction of most world governments… Thank you, President Trump.
So we can look forward to that, but -all in all- Star Trek has been an amazing and sometimes weird ride though history, science, and imagination. Despite the fact that their history and our present don’t always line up we can still take the lessons of Kirk, Picard, Sisko, and the rest and apply them to our time. After all, warnings of a fictional World War III might be the best way to prevent it from actually happening. Our Earth has not suffered through or created the same things as Star Trek’s Earth, but that does not mean we cannot share in their sense of hope for the future. We may not have had the Eugenics Wars, but who knows what the future might hold? One day we might have space travel, Starfleet, the Federation… and maybe even a London baseball team.