Image: The original crew of the Starship Enterprise from the 1979 movie "Star Trek: the Motion Picture" (Getty)
It launched with a five-year mission "to boldly go where no man has gone before," but half a century on "Star Trek" has become a visionary blueprint of humanity at its very best.
As the multi-billion-dollar cultural phenomenon, adored by fans the world over, marks its 50th anniversary on Thursday, it is being held up as a utopian masterplan for an inclusive society free of prejudice and hate.
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When the show debuted on September 8, 1966 the concept was a three-season television show following the crew of the starship Enterprise as they ventured into the galaxy to seek out new civilizations.
An inauspicious first episode, "The Man Trap," told of a shape-shifting alien that attacked members of the Enterprise to harvest their salt.
Little did NBC know it would snowball into a touchstone in entertainment spawning six shows with a combined 725 episodes and 13 movies, and turning its stars into household names.
"To be talking about the 50th anniversary is insane. I was born the same year that Star Trek was," veteran filmmaker J.J. Abrams, the creative force behind the new "rebooted" trilogy, told a convention in Hollywood in May.
"I know how old I feel, so the idea that this thing endures is incredible."
The original series starred William Shatner, now 85, as the suave Captain James T. Kirk and Leonard Nimoy, who died last year at the age of 83, as his stilted sidekick -- a half-human, half-Vulcan science officer named Mr Spock.
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Gene Roddenberry wrote the pilot in 1965, the same year as the first US spacewalk, and pitched the show as "a wagon train to the stars," figuring that westerns were popular in Hollywood at the time.
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Fans say Roddenberry examined earthly social issues with an unparalleled sensitivity, presenting television's first truly multiracial cast, and the first televised interracial kiss.
"When I was a kid, sci-fi movies and TV shows were about humans beating -- or being beaten by -- monsters," astronomer Phil Plait told Air and Space, a bimonthly magazine produced by the National Air and Space Museum in Washington DC.
"The original series episode 'Devil in the Dark' showed that who was the monster isn't always that clear-cut, and that had a deep effect on me."
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