Star Trek’s Role in the Post-War Popularisation of Space

Captain James T. Kirk’s introductory monologue for Star Trek matched the national space rhetoric of Eisenhower, Kennedy, and NASA.

A mid-century belief in the viability of space exploration saw a revitalization of the American frontier by those who sought to use the growing popularity of the nation’s space rhetoric to spread their message of exploration and conquest. This Cold War cultural effort to explore space reawakened a sense of manifest destiny in postwar America by reviving freedom, courage, and exceptionalism—the same ideals that originally drove expansionist boosters to America’s west. After all, how could a country that had tamed the great North American frontier by the end of the nineteenth century not succeed in conquering the frontier of space by the 23rd century?

This essay attempts to explore the origins of some of the national space rhetoric that appeared during the Cold War, the way its use in political documents, congressional reports and campaigns tells us something about the self-image of Americans in the early to mid 1960s, and how this rhetoric may have influenced Gene Roddenberry during the creation of his pioneering and highly influential television series Star Trek.

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