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William Shatner given NASA's Distinguished Public Service medal

William Shatner
Photo by David Buchan

William Shatner, though he is best known for playing the most famous fictional space explorer of all time on both the small screen and large, has never himself actually be in space. But NASA has given the man who created the iconic Captain James T. Kirk its Distinguished Public Service medal, according to a Monday story in Red Orbit. Previous awardees have included celebrity physicist Neil deGrasse Tyson and science fiction writer Robert Heinlein.

Shatner, now in his 80s, did work before and since “Star Trek,” but he is best known for the role as the captain of the Star Ship Enterprise, whose five year mission was to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilization, to boldly go where no man has gone before, Shatner played Kirk in the three season original series, an animated series, seven motion pictures, and a number of video games. Ironically, though Kirk was an American born and raised in Iowa, Shatner is a native of Canada.

“Star Trek” and NASA have enjoyed a warm, symbiotic relationship since the mid-1960s. There were numerous references to the Apollo program and other NASA projects in episodes and films. The first space shuttle, which never actually flew in space, was named Enterprise. Shatner’s fellow cast member, Nichelle Nichols, was tasked by the space agency to recruit African Americans for the space program in advance of the space shuttle program.

Shatner has also loaned his voice to a NASA documentary celebrating the 30th anniversary of the space shuttle program. He recreated the famous “Star Trek” intro as the final wakeup call for the final space shuttle mission that took place in 2011. He hosted a video presentation of the Mars Curiosity Mission. Shatner was also cited for his encouragement of science and engineering education and his advocacy of NASA and its missions as reasons that he was granted the award.

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