The voyages of Captain James T. Kirk and the starship Enterprise in the 1960s created a fandom that has expanded exponentially over the decades, much like the cute but deadly tribbles of the original “Star Trek” television series. Now many “Trek” fans are excited as William Shatner, the man who embodies that role, readies himself to venture into space — for real.
“I think this is fantastic for the ‘Star Trek’ mythos, to have the guy who really started it all to go into space,” said Russ Haslage, who co-founded the fan organization The Federation, also known as the International Federation of Trekkers, with Gene Roddenberry, the creator of “Star Trek,” in the 1980s.
Through the lens of “Star Trek,” human space travel has typically had a rosy tint. Much of the show’s universe takes place hundreds of years in the future, with humanity venturing into the Milky Way after surviving a brutal 21st century. Homo sapiens expand from our solar system under the flag of United Earth, a founding member of the United Federation of Planets, an egalitarian alliance of intelligent species. That vision, started in Mr. Roddenberry’s original TV series, is a culmination of the events set in motion by Yuri Gagarin in 1961, when he became the first human to travel to space.
Captain Kirk is arguably the most extreme incarnation of the show’s high-minded, moralistic vision.
“He’s the guy who’s at the center of all of this,” said Mr. Haslage, who’s planning to offer live commentary on the launch’s livestream via The Federation’s YouTube and Facebook pages. “There wouldn’t be any of this without Captain Kirk.”
Carly Creer, a moderator for a “Star Trek” Facebook group with over 150,000 members, grew up watching the original series with her father. Mr. Shatner is a regular at an annual “Star Trek” convention in Las Vegas that she often attends.
“If we didn’t have Captain Kirk and that awesome force that he created, we wouldn’t have the amazing fandom that we’ve got,” Ms. Creer said.
The involvement of billionaires like Jeff Bezos selling private spaceflight experiences to wealthy customers has generated considerable criticism. But among fans like Ms. Creer there is a fascination with what both NASA and private companies are working to accomplish.
“I’ve really appreciated how SpaceX and Blue Origin have stepped in,” she said. “I really think it’s just amazing. It’s been so wonderful to watch, because as a fan of ‘Star Trek’ all you want is to see that future that Gene Roddenberry created so well.”