William Shatner, of 'Star Trek' Fame, Gets NASA's Highest Civilian Honor

William Shatner is presented with NASA’s Distinguished Public Service medal by Bob Jacobs, NASA Deputy Associate Administrator, Communications, on April 26, 2014. (Image credit: NASA)

NASA saluted Captain Kirk over the weekend, giving William Shatner the Distinguished Public Service medal, the space agency's highest award for civilians.

The 83-year-old Canadian actor played Captain James Tiberius Kirk, one of TV's most beloved space pioneers, who commanded the starship USS Enterprise in NBC's "Star Trek" from 1966 to 1969. In real life, Shatner has been a vocal advocate of science education and space exploration.

"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, " David Weaver, NASA's associate administrator for the Office of Communications at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a statement. [William Shatner's Twitter Chat with Astronaut in Pictures]

The legacy of Star Trek is more than four decades old and still going strong. See the evolution of Star Trek in this SPACE.com infographic. (Image credit: Karl Tate, SPACE.com Contributor)

"He's most deserving of this prestigious award," Weaver added.

Shatner accepted the honor Saturday evening (April 26) in Los Angeles at his Hollywood Charity Horse Show, an annual event in which he raises money for children's causes, NASA officials said.

According to the medal's citation, Shatner was honored for "outstanding generosity and dedication to inspiring new generations of explorers around the world, and for unwavering support for NASA and its missions of discovery."

NASA and the Star Trek franchise forged a mutual admiration society a long time ago. References to NASA and its programs were written into Star Trek storylines throughout the TV series and films. Originally called Constitution, NASA's space shuttle prototype was named Enterprise in honor of Star Trek.

Shatner has been more than happy to be an informal spokesman for NASA, especially in recent years. In 2011, Shatner beamed a wakeup call that recreated his "Star Trek" introduction to NASA astronauts working on the shuttle mission, STS-133, the final flight of the shuttle Discovery. The next year, he recorded a message for the real-life spacemen living aboard the International Space Station. And to help drum up excitement for NASA's Curiosity Mars rover, Shatner narrated a video about the robot that was released just a week before it landed on the Red Planet in 2012. 

Shatner has also supported his home country's smaller space agency; last year, he traded tweets with astronaut Chris Hadfield, Canada's first space station commander.

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Megan Gannon
Space.com Contributing Writer

Megan has been writing for Live Science and Space.com since 2012. Her interests range from archaeology to space exploration, and she has a bachelor's degree in English and art history from New York University. Megan spent two years as a reporter on the national desk at NewsCore. She has watched dinosaur auctions, witnessed rocket launches, licked ancient pottery sherds in Cyprus and flown in zero gravity on a Zero Gravity Corp. to follow students sparking weightless fires for science. Follow her on Twitter for her latest project.