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‘Building Star Trek’ links TV with future tech

Image: Starship Enterprise
A model of the Starship Enterprise hangs from the ceiling at “Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds,” an exhibit at Seattle’s EMP Museum marking the TV show’s 50th anniversary. (GeekWire photo by Kevin Lisota)

The vision of the future that “Star Trek” laid out in 1966 may have been bright and shiny, but 50 years later, the most valuable artifacts that the show left behind were a real mess.

“Building Star Trek,” premiering on the Smithsonian Channel on Sept. 4, tells how those artifacts were restored to their 23rd-century glory – for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum, and for Seattle’s EMP Museum.

You can see the fruits of the conservators’ labors at the EMP’s 50th-anniversary “Star Trek” exhibit, but “Building Star Trek” shows you much more: glimpses behind the scenes at what it takes to preserve the past, parallels between the futuristic fiction of “Star Trek” and cultural trends of the 1960s, and present-day technological developments that echo the show’s sci-fi innovations.

There are even enough cheesy clips from the original series to remind you that this was a TV program from the days before computer-generated wizardry took hold, when “Bonanza” led the ratings.

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‘Star Trek’ exhibit relives 50 years of the future

Image: Starship Enterprise
A model of the Starship Enterprise hangs from the EMP Museum’s ceiling. (GeekWire photo by Kevin Lisota)

From several yards away, the bridge of the Starship Enterprise looks as if it was beamed down from the 23rd century into the “Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds” exhibition that opens Saturday at Seattle’s EMP Museum.

But up close, you can tell it’s a 50-year-old movie prop, with rocker switches from the ’60s and bits of plastic peeling off the control console.

In a weird way, that’s a big part of the golden-anniversary exhibition’s appeal. When the TV show had its premiere in 1966, “Star Trek” was all about a bright and shiny future. It still is, but the exhibition also casts a spotlight on the social issues and foibles that have shaped the saga over the course of five decades.

“Star Trek” is famous not only for its optimistic vision of spaceflight and technology, but also for its allegorical references to the civil rights movement and cultural diversity, East-West tensions and the rise of environmentalism, gender identity and same-sex relationships.

“All these are ingredients that you can see get funneled into ‘Star Trek,’” museum curator Brooks Peck said today during a preview of the exhibit. And they’re funneled into the exhibition as well.

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