'Star Trek' first aired 50 years ago this week
Sept. 5, 2016
by Mark Ollig

A futuristic, science fiction television series, Star Trek, premiered Thursday evening September 8, 1966 on NBC-TV.

It began as a five-year mission to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations; however, it boldly fell short by two years.

The series lasted three seasons, turning out 79 action-packed episodes, and creating a whole new science fiction fandom subculture called “Trekkies.”

Yes, I was a Trekkie.

Todays preferred description is Trekker, which I also favor.

Canadian actor William Shatner played the heroic protagonist, Captain James T. Kirk, who was born in Iowa during the 23rd century.

“It was just a television show,” Shatner said shortly after the series ended, during an appearance on “Saturday Night Live.”

We Trekkers knew it was much more than a television show.

The science fiction series ignited the imagination, and provided encouragement to the younger generation, who faithfully watched each week’s episode.

Some of these young viewers went on to become astronauts, engineers, scientists, doctors, nurses, and computer programmers.

“Star Trek” also influenced this moonlighting columnist, whose day job is in telecommunications.

The series reassured us things would turn out alright for humanity, that we would set aside our warring differences and work together; not “blow ourselves up with nuclear weapons.”

We could take a break from reality, and immerse ourselves inside each adventurous, hour-long “Star Trek” episode.

The show’s creator, Gene Roddenberry envisioned a “wagon train to the stars,” and hired excellent actors and writers with creative and imaginative minds to bring his dream into fruition on television.

After spending time over the years watching William Shatner speak and take questions during Star Trek conventions, reading the books he wrote, and seeing the independent films he created about “Star Trek,” I think he finally understands why the series was so popular.

In addition to the action, camaraderie, and relationships between the leading characters, some young viewers were inspired by the futuristic technology used onboard the starship USS Enterprise.

Many of these young minds worked to make “Star Trek” technology a reality.

For example, in the starship’s sickbay, a patient on a hospital bed would have their vital signs continuously monitored and shown on a display screen on the wall above their bed.

There were no physical arm cuffs, tubes, or wires connected to the patient.

Information on the display screen instantly informed Dr. McCoy or Nurse Chapel of the patient’s vital signs, and if they were within acceptable medical limits.

Recently, I discovered a medical device company called Hoana Medical located in Honolulu, HI, which makes the LifeBed Patient Vigilance System.

The LifeBed continuously tracks respiratory and heart rates – without direct physical contact to the patient lying on the bed.

A patient’s vital signs are monitored via sensors embedded in the LifeBed’s mattress cover.

The medical vital signs are shown on a display screen positioned on the wall above the head of the patient – just like on “Star Trek.”

If the patient’s heart or respiratory rate drifts outside of (adjustable) medical limits, the LifeBed will immediately alert medical personnel using the hospital’s notification system.

The LifeBed can also inform medical personnel whether the patient is in bed.

“To use the system, the patient simply lies on the bed. Within seconds, sensors embedded under a mattress coverlet start capturing signals generated by the patient – even through bed linens and multiple layers of patient clothing. By tracking these signals, the system provides continuous vigilance, observing the patient when the nurse is away from the room,” According to Hoana Medical’s website.

The LifeBed with its display screen looks amazingly like the one used in the sickbay on “Star Trek.”

The website for the LifeBed is http://tinyurl.com/LifeBed.

This is just one of the many examples of “Star Trek” technology which have become a reality.

During a “Red Alert” condition on the bridge of the USS Enterprise NCC 1701, Captain Kirk, when fighting the Klingons or other hostiles, would occasionally give the order to: “Fire phasors!”

Today, the US Navy has successfully installed and operates a laser (phasor), called Laser Weapon System (LaWS) onboard the navy ship USS Ponce (AFSB (I) 15).

“We ran this particular weapon, a prototype, through some extremely tough paces, and it locked on and destroyed the targets we designated with near-instantaneous lethality,” said Rear Adm. Matthew L. Klunder, chief of naval research.

The US Navy expects the laser to be used on guided-missile destroyers and combats ships by 2023.

The laser will also be used with airborne and ground-based weapon systems – fighter jets may be using them by 2020.

LaWS operates using electrical power.

The US Navy released an impressive video demonstration of LaWS in action at http://tinyurl.com/NavyPhasor.

We will need to wait a while for the transporter and warp drive to be invented; although sources tell me they are being worked on.

Congratulations “Star Trek” on your 50th anniversary.

I also want to shout-out a “happy birthday” to my brother, Mike.

Follow my journey through cyberspace via my @bitsandbytes Twitter user name.

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