'Beam me up, Scotty!' The Henry Ford explores 'Star Trek'
It's one of the preeminent pop-culture crazes of the last half century, with influence that radiates into language, literature, the arts and technology.
And now, 53 years after its bold debut on NBC-TV, the exhibition "Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds" will take over the Henry Ford Museum Saturday - Sept. 2.
For the museum's Exhibits Manager Kate Morland, 31, this is nothing less than thrilling.
"I am very excited to have this exhibit here," she said, acknowledging that she's a major fan. "It may be my favorite exhibit I've ever worked on."
"Exploring New Worlds" includes more than 100 artifacts from the various iterations of "Star Trek" TV shows and movies, including the original navigation console from Capt. James T. Kirk's U.S.S. Enterprise, a Borg cube, Mr. Spock's tunic, Geordi La Forge's visor and, quite marvelously, the unitard worn by Seven of Nine from "Star Trek: Voyager."
Interactivity abounds. Enter the transporter simulator and beam yourself onto a rogue, runaway space freighter, or down to a planet in a search for herbs to remedy incurable diseases.
Alternately, if you loved the 1982 film "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," there's a video booth where you can record and mimic Capt. Kirk's outraged, desperate scream — "KHAAN!" — when the planet the evil mastermind has marooned him on is about to be annihilated.
"Exploring New Worlds" was created by Seattle's Museum of Pop Culture in conjunction with CBS Consumer Products. The Henry Ford is the show's third stop. It opened in Seattle in 2016, and traveled to the Indianapolis Children's Museum before landing in Dearborn.
Creator Gene Roddenberry's original "Star Trek" first aired in this country on Sept. 8, 1966, when President Lyndon B. Johnson was in the White House. Interestingly, Canadians, as it happens, got a jump on their U.S. neighbors — they met the Enterprise crew on the CTV network two days before.
Skeptics might think this is all just so much mass-culture fun, but Morland notes that two of her Henry Ford colleagues "wrote high-level academic papers on 'Star Trek.'"
You can also read the series as a prism through which to view American society. The original, 1960s show, Morland said, "dealt with the same issues the country was facing at the time, but in an abstracted way that gave them new form. So racial issues," she added, "were dealt with through alien culture."
The series, Morland added, "looked toward an optimistic future you don't necessarily see that much in science fiction, and handled serious social problems in a way that was less threatening for viewers."
There are, of course, people who are devotees of "Star Trek," and others who worship the "Star Wars" films. While those two groups often overlap, in tone and theme, the two storylines represent very different universes.
One big difference, of course, is that "Star Trek" is set in the future, while "Star Wars" takes place, as the opening credits in the original film announce, "in a galaxy long, long ago."
There are other contrasts, Morland said.
"'Star Wars' in general is much grittier and messier," she said. "In 'Star Trek, things are more orderly. And while they both deal with space and space travel, there's more mysticism in 'Star Wars' with 'The Force.'"
As for what Morland likes best in "Exploring New Worlds," she confesses that the 1995-2001 TV series "Star Wars: Voyager" was what first really hooked her as a middle-schooler.
"So we've got the captain's chair from the U.S.S. Voyager," Morland said, "Captain Janeway's uniform, and the uniform worn by Seven of Nine."
While "Exploring New Worlds' opens Saturday, the official Opening Party will happen May 16 from 4 p.m.-7 p.m. at the museum.
The Henry Ford, 20900 Oakwood, Dearborn
9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. - seven days a week
$24 - adults, $22 - seniors (62+), $18 - youth (5-11); members and children under 5 free
Opening Party: 4 p.m.-7:30 p.m. May 16; party tickets $25 - non-members, $21.50 - members