For the past 11 years, Dennis Couch has been helping to keep all the details of the 50-year-old "Star Trek" universe straight on one of the most famous information sources for fans of the franchise: Wikia's Memory Alpha.
The website has been active since 2003 and covers all topics in the "Star Trek" canon, which means all the events that take place in any of the official movies and TV shows. Events in fan films, comics, books, video games and similar media are covered in a sister site, Memory Beta. These encyclopedic websites are built and written entirely by volunteer fans like Couch. In this online community, fans of "Star Trek" — no matter what incarnation of the franchise they love — can actively engage with the content.
"The Memory Alpha community helps generate and maintain interest in 'Star Trek' by providing a resource for people to answer questions, look up information and glean tidbits," Couch, who is currently an administrator for the site, said in an email to Space.com. That means the site serves as not only a gathering point for the fans, but also a resource for collectors and researchers. [What Makes a 'Star Trek' Fan? Costumed Trekkies Share Stories (Slideshow)]
Memory Alpha is just one example of how "Star Trek" fans can keep their communities thriving between the times when they meet up in person at various conventions. To name a few more examples: There are "Star Trek" hubs on social media, from Twitter to Reddit. Fan-made "Star Trek" films and television series let dedicated Trek lovers both make their own productions and watch other fans' creations.
And in recent years, social media has made it possible for more and more people to reveal themselves as Trek fans, such as NASA astronaut Terry Virts, who did a Vulcan salute while in orbit in 2015 (he also appeared in an episode of "Star Trek: Enterprise").
These are some of the ways that "Star Trek" fans have kept the franchise alive over the years. That enthusiasm is reaching a fever pitch this year, with the celebration of "Star Trek's" 50th anniversary.
Smithsonian Air and Space Museum Curator Margaret Weitekamp said she is a "Star Trek" fan herself. And as part of her job at the museum, she recently helped with the restoration of the museum's beloved model of the USS Enterprise, the iconic ship from the franchise. The 11-foot (3.4 meters) starship model was used in all episodes of the original "Star Trek" TV series, which ran from 1966 to 1969. She said the fans of "Star Trek" have helped make fandoms generally more mainstream.
"Fan gatherings in the early 1970s for 'Star Trek' have spawned a booming business of fan conventions that are held around the world regularly by small fan groups, and other groups that make this their business to put on these kinds of events for the fan community," she told Space.com in an interview.
As the internet matured, sci-fi show creators and actors were able to talk with their audiences directly. The sci-fi TV shows "Babylon 5" and "Battlestar Galactica" (the 2004 version) are famous among fans for having the series' staffs interact with fans online while the shows were airing. Today, Weitekamp added, actors often tweet about shows as they are happening, allowing fans to follow along.
The reduced cost of modern day computers and video equipment are making it possible for fans to make their own "Star Trek" creations more and more impressive looking. Fan-made movies today "don't look like [they were] filmed in someone's garage."
But this is also opening new frontiers for CBS and Paramount Pictures, the entities that jointly hold the "Star Trek" copyright. Those companies traditionally encouraged fan films, but are now setting restrictions on how professional such creations can be, Weitekamp said. A much-anticipated fan film called "Star Trek: Axanar" is currently stuck in a lawsuit with Paramount and CBS.
"It shows one of the ways in which these film technologies develop, and [it] makes things a little more complicated for the rights holders," Weitekamp added.
CBS is pursuing many avenues for fans to make their own "Star Trek" projects, especially as the network works on its new "Star Trek: Discovery" series set to debut in 2017. Multiple CBS officials told Space.com they are not giving interviews about or discussing details of the new show yet.
However, the network is offering licensing to several "Star Trek" exhibits scattered across the U.S. that celebrate the franchise. This includes the traveling "Starfleet Academy Experience" currently in New York City, the Seattle EMP Museum's temporary exhibit on original "Star Trek" props and a traveling "Star Trek" art exhibit called "50 Artists. 50 Years."
Liz Kalodner, CBS' executive vice president and general manager of consumer products, has also been on the convention circuit. She described a conversation she recently had with a fan at a show in Las Vegas.
"Somebody said to me that for 'Star Trek,' people are not coming in costume. They are coming in uniform. And I thought that was just an interesting way to think about it," Kalodner said in an interview. "That's how people think about 'Star Trek.' They are part of the experience. They are part of the bridge. They have the same hopes and dreams as these characters, and they are simply living out that vision."
Uniting the fans
A "Star Trek" convention celebrating the franchise's 50-year history just wrapped up in NYC last weekend. "Star Trek": Mission New Yorkfeatured events ranging from panel discussions to Trek-related virtual reality experiences, a huge gaming zone and more. One key strength of conventions today, said Mission New York organizer Brian Stephenson, is that people of different "Star Trek" generations can meet and share information. It encourages fans to check out series or movies they have missed, he said.
"I hear that a lot, whether that's 'Voyager' or 'Deep Space Nine,'" said Stephenson, who is global brand marketing director for ReedPOP, a company specializing in pop-culture exhibitions like Mission New York. "You start to have these generations of fans that just want to share the excitement they have and what they think is the best TV show and the best movie."
Many people interviewed for this story also talked about "Star Trek's" relentless optimism, even as the world surrounding the franchise encountered racism, war, refugee crises and other human conflicts. Trek fans always celebrate this belief in a better world when they come together, said Gary Berman, co-CEO of Creation Entertainment, which hosted a Star Trek convention in Las Vegas last month.
"The conventions serve as a common meeting ground for the live celebration of ['Star Trek' creator] Gene Roddenberry's ideals of a positive future that celebrates diversity," Berman said in an email. "Fans feel safe in this environment to honor these views. The celebrities are, of course, a major draw, but the commonality of a shared passion for positivity is the main factor."