NASA has honored William Shatner for inspiring several generations of children to study science and math, two fields of study that are vitally important for space travel and astronomy. The agency celebrates Shatner's unwavering dedication as an unofficial ambassador for space and science.
During Shatner's annual Hollywood Charity Horse Show fundraising event, NASA presented the veteran actor with the Distinguished Public Service medal. This award is the highest possible honor that the agency can give to an individual unaffiliated with the US government.
"William Shatner has been so generous with his time and energy in encouraging students to study science and math, and for inspiring generations of explorers, including many of the astronauts and engineers who are a part of NASA today, " said NASA associate administrator for the Office of Communications David Weaver. "He's most deserving of this prestigious award."
Shatner is best known for his role as Captain Kirk of the Starship Enterprise. The highly successfully television and movie series is still one of the most memorable and popular science fiction franchises of all time. The original series, in which Shatner portrayed Kirk, ran from 1966 up until 1969. After the series was completed, Shatner also reprised his landmark role in a number of Star Trek movies and even an animated television series.
Star Trek and NASA has a long and colorful history together. Since the first series aired, various references and tidbits of information about NASA, the agency's history and its various accomplishments were regularly featured on the show. In the movie Star Trek: The Motion Picture, NASA's Voyager Program was heavily referenced in the movie's plot. One of the movie's main characters was a fictional deep space probe that was said to be a part of the program.
When NASA launched the space shuttle program as a replacement to the Apollo program, the first space shuttle prototype was named Enterprise in honor of the Star Trek's starship Enterprise. The shuttle was originally supposed to be named the Constitution.
Aside from being a highly lucrative commercial success, Star Trek is also credited with inspiring thousands of young people to pursue careers in science, math and astronomy later in life. This held true back in the late 60s and the trend still continues up until today. However, Shatner has done more than just play the role of a gung-ho starship captain. Shatner has also spent a large portion of his life as an advocate for space exploration and science in general.