Thursday marks the start of a new season for NFL football fans, but the day is arguably more important for “Star Trek” fans as the 50th anniversary of the iconic television show’s debut.
“Star Trek” first aired Sept. 8, 1966, sparking over the next half century multiple television spinoffs, 13 movies, countless novels and a worldwide fan base.
The N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh will mark the show’s Golden Anniversary at 7 p.m. Thursday with a free 90-minute discussion on how the longstanding science-fiction franchise has influenced science and culture.
The museum hosts Science Cafe events each Thursday on topics such as science trivia and the human mind. Organizers are expecting a bigger crowd this week, so the forum in the Daily Planet Cafe will also be streamed live in the museum’s theater.
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“I’m glad to see it around for 50 years, and I hope to see it around for another 50 years,” said David Tilotta, one of three panelists at the event and a chemistry professor in N.C. State’s Department of Forest Biomaterials. “ ‘Star Trek’ has always been that light of hope that we’re going to be around and see a future.
“We’re going to get better and improve.”
Tilotta started watching “Star Trek” as a 6-year-old in 1968, an experience that helped lead him, like many other fans of the show, to pursue a career in science. Tilotta now owns one of the largest collections of film negatives from the original series and will show some of those behind-the-scenes images on Thursday.
Airing at the height of the Vietnam War, the original series used a science-fiction setting to deal with topics such as the peace movement and race relations. For instance, the series aired one of the first interracial kisses on American television.
“By and large, ‘Star Trek’ had something to say,” said Tilotta, who helps run a website, startrekhistory.com, that’s dedicated to restoring film footage from the original series. “Not every episode was a sparkling piece of literature, but it had something to say.
“It made people stop and think about things.”
“Star Trek” also is cited as an inspiration for what would become future technologies such as cellphones and tablets.
Patrick Treuthardt, assistant head of the astronomy and astrophysics research lab at the Museum of Natural Sciences, said “Star Trek” over the decades has taken real ideas from science and ran with them.
“I’m hoping that people will get an appreciation of how actual science and science-fiction co-exist,” said Treuthardt, one of Thursday’s panelists. “Sci-fi is a really good outlet of the creative aspect to push the boundaries.”
“Star Trek” has continued on, surviving the cancellation of the original series after only three seasons. The latest movie, “Star Trek Beyond,” was released in July and a new CBS television series, “Star Trek: Discovery,” will debut in January.
“I think that people will come away impressed with the influence and power that a relatively short-lived series had in not only predicting the future but affecting the future,” said Tim Wallace, one of Thursday’s panelists and a N.C. State associate professor and anthropology program director.
If you go
“Star Trek: The Golden Anniversary” will be from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Thursday at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences’ Daily Planet Cafe, 11 W. Jones St., Raleigh. Go to bit.ly/2cCOz09 for more information.