“Star Trek” actor George Takei recently reflected on the franchise's impact on advancements in space and technology and how some of today's achievements have surprisingly dwarfed those depicted in the series.
Takei played helmsman Hikaru Sulu aboard Capt. James T. Kirk's USS Enterprise, which "Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry used as a vehicle to comment on social issues and to showcase a future where mankind flourished as it embraced diversity and new technological wonders.
"I think the future is created by these imagineers who imagine the seemingly impossible, and that places a benchmark in our imagined future," Takei told The Seattle Times. "The scientists, the technicians, the innovators take that as a goal and start working toward it.
"So I think in that way 'Star Trek' did stimulate a lot of thinking. ... We still haven’t got there yet, but people are working toward it."
And Takei points to Starfleet's communicator as a key example of an idea that "was amazing back in the ’60s" but is now overshadowed by today's advancements. Smartphones now seem more like tricorders than communicators, he said.
"We talk on it, it takes pictures, we text on it, we find out what the weather’s going to be," Takei said. "It’s an amazing device that has far surpassed anything we had on 'Star Trek.'"
Another remarkable part of today's advancements for Takei is the ongoing evolution of the space industry and people like Elon Musk -- CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors -- who are "real inspirations now" as space travel finally picks up steam again.
"The Starship Enterprise was called enterprise, and now we are going for space exploration via government to the entrepreneurial, private sector," he said. "That’s precisely what happened with the contracts being given to Boeing and SpaceX."
But does Takei seek a voyage to the final frontier himself?
"I absolutely do, but it’s initially very costly," he said. "But like so many technological advances, with competition between Boeing and SpaceX, the cost is going to be brought down. … I know that at my age — I’m 77 — time is important, but I think technological advances are accelerating, too. So I think that within my lifetime I will be able to make that ‘trek’ into space at a rate where I won’t be destitute."
After all, he said, "I have experience as a helmsman, and a captain."
Making his debut as Sulu on Sept. 8, 1966, in the "Star Trek" episode "The Man Trap," Takei went on to appear in six feature films, provided his voice for "Star Trek: The Animated Series" and made his final official appearance as captain of the USS Excelsior in the "Star Trek: Voyager" episode "Flashback."
In 2007, he appeared in "World Enough and Time," an episode of the fan project "Star Trek: New Voyages."
Takei still maintains an active schedule today. In addition to keeping his social media audience of 10 million buzzing and standing as an advocate for gay rights, he is poised to release his documentary “To Be Takei” and spearheads an online series spotlighting technology for the AARP called “Takei’s Take.”
See more of Takei's interview at seattletimes.com.