Space . . . the final frontier.
These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise,
it's five year mission:
. . . to explore strange new worlds . . .
. . . to seek out new life and new civilizations . . .
. . . to boldly go where no man has gone before.
Star Trek was created by Gene Roddenberry, a young pilot who became enthralled by the potential of television and quickly abandoned his career to write for the small screen. He wrote for a number of shows and was eventually hired as the head writer on the popular series "Have Gun, Will Travel". In an attempt to play on the popularity of one of the most popular western television series of the time, Roddenberry originally pitched Star Trek as a "Wagon Train To The Stars". The networks felt the pilot, featuring an almost completely different cast, was too cerebral and would not air it. The networks also claimed that the public would not be able to accept the notion of a female first officer (played by Roddenberry's wife, Majel Barrett). The show was completely reworked. Captain Christopher Pike was replaced by Captain James T. Kirk, Majel Barrett was demoted to Head Nurse, and every other character was changed with the exception of the Enterprise's science officer, Mr. Spock, who was promoted to the position of first officer. The reworked cast was approved and the show was picked up by Desilu Studios.
James T. Kirk...... William Shatner
Mr. Spock.......... Leonard Nimoy
Leonard McCoy...... DeForest Kelley
Montgomery Scott... James Doohan
Hikaru Sulu........ George Takei
Nyota Uhura........ Nichelle Nichols
Pavel Chekov....... Walter Koenig (joined at beginning of 2nd season)
Christine Chapel... Majel Barrett
Janice Rand........ Grace Lee Witney
Star Trek told the story of the voyages of the Federation Starship U.S.S. Enterprise, NCC-1701. Under the command of Captain James Tiberius Kirk, its mission was principally scientific, though the Enterprise and her crew were regularly called upon to perform in a more militaristic capacity. What made Star Trek truly special was the way in which it unblinkingly tackled sensitive social issues. The "cerebral" attitude which caused it to be rejected in the first place proved to be the show's greatest strength. During a time when civil rights were hotly contested in the public forum, Star Trek aired an episode where a race was divided against itself, where the inhabitants of one side of the planet (who were white on the left side of their faces and black on the right) were perpetually at war with the inhabitants of the other side of the planet (whose faces were white on the right and black on the left). The show featured a very multi-ethnic cast, even going so far as to include a Russian navigator at a time when Cold War tensions were at their peak.
Star Trek was a show about ideas. When it wasn't addressing important social issues, it took on the limits of authority and regulations with Kirk's regular flaunting of the Prime Directive, or asked what the world would be like if Adolf Hitler and Germany had won WWII when Kirk, Spock and McCoy were flung back into the late 1930s by the Guardian of Forever. While Star Trek was not always high drama, and was not always the pinnacle of thespian perfection, episodes like "The City on the Edge of Forever" and the positively Shakespearean "The Conscience of the King" stay with any who watch them because of how well the show brought important concepts to the forefront.
Also key to the success of Star Trek was the relationship between Kirk and Spock. Roddenberry's decision to keep Spock as a principal member of the cast proved a crucial one. Without the regular spats and quarrels between the two main characters as well as the tales of the great ends to which they went for each other, much of the show's dynamic would be painfully absent. Their deep and abiding friendship produced some of Star Trek's most memorable moments such as the end of the episode "Amok Time" and Spock's death scene in "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan".
But don't get me wrong, Star Trek was not without its fair share of action and adventure. Hardly an episode went by where Kirk did not get into a fistfight with a fearsome Gorn, wooed a beautiful, exotic, green Orion slave woman, destroyed a mighty energy being's power source and witnessed the gruesome deaths of a red-shirted ensign or two. Traveling from planet to planet across this half of the galaxy, one cannot help but get into scraps with Klingons, Romulans and Talosians along the way. Such colorful supporting characters as Montgomery Scott, the resourceful Scottish engineer and Leonard "Bones" McCoy, the irascible chief physician made further sure that there was never a dull moment.
Star Trek did not last long in its original incarnation, going only 3 seasons and 79 episodes from 1966-1969. However, upon its cancellation, Star Trek's popularity skyrocketed. It was more popular in syndication than it ever was while new shows were being produced. The Star Trek universe has since expanded to include 4 spin-off series, an animated series featuring the original cast, 10 feature films, countless books and comic-books, yearly Star Trek conventions and has insinuated itself into popular culture. It is not uncommon to hear the phrase "Kirk out" in modern parlance. The green, tentacled, bug-eyed aliens in The Simpsons are named Kang and Kodos after two particularly fiendish Star Trek baddies. The first Space Shuttle was named Enterprise after NASA received truckloads of letters from the show's ardent fans, who came to be known both derisively and proudly as Trekkies or Trekkers. The list goes on. Love it or leave it, Star Trek is here to stay.
For more on all things Trek, head on over to The Star Trek Project, compiled by the inestimable General_Wesc.
The Star Trek Encyclopedia
Everything I Need To Know I Learned From Watching Star Trek by Dave Marinaccio
but mostly, my head. Yes, I'm a geek.