Star Trek 50th anniversary

On September 8, 1966, a cultural revolution started. The first episode of a new science fiction television series named Star Trek premiered on NBC. This series broke new ground in the genre of science fiction by being one of the first series ever to present high science fiction concepts to television audiences, while also using its space adventures as allegories for contemporary social and political issues. While it presented itself as mindless space adventure in the same vein as Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, it took a serious approach to science fiction that (at the time) was limited to literature like the novels of H.G. Wells and the stories of Isaac Asimov.

Star Trek wasn't the first serious science fiction television series. Shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits had existed for a almost a decade. But Star Trek differed from these series in that it depicted a revolutionarily positive and uplifting version of the future of humanity during the height of the paranoia of the Cold War. Humanity, according to Star Trek would overcome the threat of mutual destruction that the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union posed, and we would come out the other side with a spirit of cooperation and a desire to peacefully and benevolently explore the stars, exploring strange new worlds and seeking out new life and new civilizations.

Television science fiction was dominated by childish adventures like Buck Rogers
and more cynical anthology series like The Twilight Zone that drew off of Cold War paranoia.

The show was created by Gene Roddenberry, a former United States army air force pilot and Los Angeles police officer who eventually found his calling as a television writer and producer. He wrote and produced some police dramas and westerns before pitching his defining project: Star Trek. The show was picked up by Desilu Productions, a company that was run by Lucille Ball (yes, the titular actress of I Love Lucy) and her husband. The production of Star Trek was tumultuous. The show was canceled by NBC after its second season, only to be revived due to an unprecedented, fervent letter-writing campaign staged by its fans. It did not survive its third season, however, as Desilu Productions was rapidly running out of money, was forced to cut budgets, and NBC moved the show to the dreaded Friday night "death" slot. In an age before DVRs, or even VCRs, if people were out on the town on a Friday night, and they missed an episode of a show, then that episode simply went unseen.

Gene Roddenberry
Gene Roddenberry's optimistic vision
of the future remains endearing.

The series eventually saw tremendous success after its cancellation due to its episodes being syndicated during the 1970's. It gained a cult following that grew and grew, setting up conventions that would come to draw thousands of attendees. Though not immediately apparent, Star Trek would grow to become one of (if not the) most successful science fiction properties in the world. The series is often cited by scientists, engineers, and astronauts as their inspirations for their careers, and the technology of the series has inspired many real-world technological innovations, such as wireless communication, mobile devices (in particularly mobile phones), speech-recognition software, and so on. Roddenberry became the first TV writer to receive a star on the Hollywood walk of fame, has been inducted into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Hall of Fame, and was one of the first human beings ever to have his ashes carried into earth orbit...

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Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey - title

Last night, the first episode of the reboot/sequel to Carl Sagan's acclaimed series Cosmos premiered on FOX and National Geographic Channel. I'd been anticipating this show since it was announced last year, as the original Cosmos is one of the best educational programs that has ever been produced. This show is hosted by Neil deGrasse Tyson, whose passion and charisma makes him an excellent communicator of scientific ideas (right up there with Bill Nye) and fitting successor to Sagan.

Cosmos A Personal Journey - cosmic calendar
The new "cosmic calendar".

In this premiere episode, Tyson gives a brief tour of the solar system, recounts the story of Giordano Bruno, and introduces the viewer to Sagan's classic "cosmic calendar". The information presented in this episode is very high-level. I'm hoping that this is due to the introductory nature of this first episode, and that the remaining episodes will go into much greater depth and detail. However, I fear that the one-hour format will be too constraining for Tyson to provide any information of substance. Sagan's original series was made up of thirteen episodes each two hours long, and that format gave him the opportunity give more than just an introduction to a given topic, providing specific details on the evidences and experiments that lead to the discoveries he presented. Will Tyson have the time in later episodes to provide more information than one can get from the first paragraph of a Wikipedia article? I hope so.

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Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

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