37¢ Star Trek
Celebrate the Century – 1960s
Issue Date: September 17, 1999
City: Green Bay, WI
Printed By: Ashton-Potter (USA) Ltd
Printing Method: Lithographed, engraved
“Star Trek” began in 1966 as a television series about space explorers in the 23rd century. Although it became a worldwide popular culture phenomenon, the series was relatively unsuccessful in its original TV run.
Created by Gene Roddenberry, “Star Trek” was the first prime-time, adult science-fiction, color TV series. The first pilot Roddenberry wrote was rejected by the NBC network. He wrote a second pilot, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” in 1965. The series was then picked up by NBC. The first “Star Trek” episode, titled “Man Trap,” was aired September 8, 1966.
Captain James Tiberius Kirk, played by William Shatner, led the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. The last names January, Boone, Timber, Raintree, and Hudson were also considered for Shatner’s character. Other crew members were Mister Spock (Leonard Nimoy), Scotty (James Doohan), Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley), Lieutenant Uhura (Nichelle Nichols), Ensign Checkov (Walter Koenig), and Mister Sulu (George Takei).
Low ratings led to “Star Trek’s” cancellation after 79 episodes. The last new episode, “Turnabout Intruder,” aired June 3, 1969. Sections of the set were donated to the Theater Arts Department at UCLA after the show ended, and many of the props and costumes were stolen.
NASA Unveils Enterprise
On September 17, 1976, America’s first space shuttle, the Enterprise, made its debut public appearance.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, NASA and the Air Force researched different ways of flying winged vehicles back from space and landing them similar to an aircraft. From this research they built six different prototypes and flew 223 glide tests that would help them to develop the concept of the first space shuttle.
Plans for America’s first two shuttles were approved and contracts awarded on July 26, 1972. One shuttle would be a test ship built without engines or a heat shield, making it incapable of spaceflight, while the other, the Columbia, would be the first shuttle to make it into space.
Initially, the test ship, designated OV-101, was to be named Constitution, and presented to the public on Constitution Day, September 17, 1976. However, fans of the television show Star Trek launched a massive letter-writing campaign requesting that the shuttle be named after the starship from that show, the Enterprise. President Gerald Ford received hundreds of thousands of letters, and was also partial to the name, so he encouraged NASA to change it.
After the shuttle was completed, it was ready to be unveiled publicly. The rollout was still held on September 17, 1976, in Palmdale, California. However, because of the connection to Star Trek, series creator Gene Roddenberry and several cast members were invited to take part in the dedication ceremony. Click here for a photo from the ceremony.
The following year, the Enterprise began a series of flight tests that would prove invaluable to the future shuttle program. Most of these tests revolved around approach and landing. These tests proved that the shuttle could fly in the atmosphere and land like a plane even though it didn’t have power, similar to a glider. The Enterprise was also subjected to vertical ground vibration tests.
Initially, NASA planned to refit the Enterprise so it could be used in space, but they found it would be too costly. Instead, the Enterprise was retired and sent to the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. It was later sent to New York as part of the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum.
Click here for photos of the Enterprise.