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'Star Trek' turns 50 next week: Here's where to boldly go to celebrate

A model of the USS Enterprise
Source: Smithsonian Institution | National Air and Space Museum
A model of the USS Enterprise

Warp speed, Trekkies — Thursday marks the 50th anniversary of the first televised episode of "Star Trek," and to commemorate the occasion, some venues across the U.S. are boldly going where they've never gone before.

Die-hard fans know that first show's name ("The Man Trap"), plot (it involved salt), and massive amounts of other Trek minutiae by heart. But even if phrases such as "Beam me up, Scotty" and "Live long and prosper" are all you know about the science fiction show that spawned a decades-long entertainment juggernaut, you can't ignore its place in popular culture.

It's also why so many esteemed institutions are celebrating the golden anniversary with such gusto.

"'Star Trek' is today as much a part of our culture as Superman or Jane Austen or disco," said Brooks Peck, a curator at Seattle's EMP Museum, where the exhibition "Star Trek: Exploring New Worlds" will run through Jan. 31.

The house that creator Gene Roddenberry built "is constantly referred to in film, television, music and literature. People use 'Star Trek' metaphors to argue policy and in legal rulings," said Peck. "And that's because everyone almost universally understands the characters and themes of 'Star Trek.' It is a modern mythology, and its characters serve as modern archetypes."


  “Star Trek” gallery
Source: Brady Harvey | EMP Museum

Parties marking "Star Trek's" milestone are likely taking place in all quadrants of the galaxy, but there are a host of celebrations and exhibitions to check out here on Earth. This weekend, the Javits Center in New York is hosting a "Star Trek" fan fest with a packed schedule of photos ops, celebrity appearances, panel discussions, interactive exhibits and screenings.

A cosplay (costume play) competition and an auction of items belonging to the late Leonard Nimoy (who played the iconic Mr. Spock), will be part of the fanfare, and the convention will officially launch the U.S. Postal Service set of Trek-inspired stamps.

Through Oct. 31, NYC's Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum is celebrating the anniversary with "Star Trek: The Starfleet Academy Experience." Billed as an immersive "Trek tech" experience, the program will run the gamut of the show's futuristic technologies.

From Sept. 16 to Sept 25, New York's Paley Center for Media will be hosting "Star Trek: 50 Artists, 50 Years." The traveling exhibit is filled with original artwork, including illustrations, photographs, sculptures, paintings and more by artists from around the world, including Nimoy.

Seattle's EMP Museum features more than 100 artifacts and props from the five "Star Trek" television series, spin-offs and films. Included are set pieces from the original series, such as USS Enterprise command chair occupied by Capt. James T. Kirk (played by William Shatner) and the navigation console, costumes worn in the original series, and a 6-foot Enterprise filming model from "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

“Star Trek: The Next Generation” costume display, courtesy of Brady Harvey via EMP Museum
Source: Brady Harvey | EMP Museum
“Star Trek: The Next Generation” costume display, courtesy of Brady Harvey via EMP Museum

In addition, the EMP will have a host of events that even include Klingon classes — the arcane language used by the hostile species Kirk and his crew faced in their adventures.

In Washington, a restored 11-foot studio model of the Enterprise used in all 79 episodes of the original "Star Trek" series was recently put on permanent display at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall. The model is in its last-known filming configuration, used in the episode "The Trouble with Tribbles."

One museum official explained to CNBC that the series had more in common with the real life development of space travel than might be apparent to the casual observer.

"There are instances of a very direct relationship between what appeared on "Star Trek" and the course of history in space exploration," said Margaret Weitekamp, a curator of the spaceflight collection at the National Air and Space Museum. Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Nyota Uhura in the original series, helped recruit more diverse candidates to the spaceflight program, Weitekamp explained.

The National Air and Space Museum also has three nights of special programming planned to mark the anniversary, with one event featuring Roddenberry's son. On Friday, the museum will host tours, presentations, special guest appearances and film screenings.

And on the next day, the museum's Washington location will host a Trek-centric program with "Star Trek"-themed selfie stations, sky gazing, special guests and presentations by museum experts.



— Harriet Baskas is the author of seven books, including "Hidden Treasures: What Museums Can't or Won't Show You," and the Stuck at the Airport blog. Follow her on Twitter at @hbaskas . Follow Road Warrior at @CNBCtravel.