It occurred to me at the time that I was making a bad choice.
It was already well past midnight and I was facing a four hour drive through traffic that I knew would be nightmarish at best, but that wasn’t going to stop me.
I had stumbled across the information while perusing Facebook a few nights prior and had gotten excited – in celebration of Star Trek’s 50th anniversary on September 8th, the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space museum was hosting an exhibit called the Starfleet Academy Experience. Be still my nerdy little heart!
As I child I grew up watching Star Trek. The shows became a sort of weekly family event for me where we would all sit together for an hour and blast into the future. Some children had family game night, I watched space soap operas.
The exhibit boasted interactive displays, trivia, memorabilia, and the chance to become a Starfleet Academy cadet for a brief time. There was only one drawback that I subsequently didn’t discover until far too late – the museum was in New York.
There were a million reasons I shouldn’t have gone – the condition of my car, my lack of money, the fact that I should have been doing homework etc. – but Star Trek was the first nerdy thing I loved, and I wasn’t going to miss the chance to live it.
And so I went.
As my first mate and I waited for our chance to enter the 24rd century, we explored the U.S.S. Intrepid, a 73 year-old aircraft carrier that served in World War 2 and now serves as the bulk of the museum. Included on display were the NASA space shuttle Enterprise and a piece of Star Trek history, the space shuttle Galileo prop from the original series 1960s series.
Upon finally entering the exhibit, we had our pictures taken and were outfitted with a watch-like device that we were instructed to scan at the various stations and it would record our results.
Outfitted and ready, we were greeted by the hologram of a young Vulcan woman upon entering. She welcomed us to the academy and introduced us to the possible departments we could be sorted into like a more mundane, futuristic Harry Potter.
Would I be command, tactical, navigation, engineering, science, medical, or communications? I couldn’t wait to find out.
The overhead lights were dimmed and the walls were inlaid with neon lighting that reflected onto their pale panels giving each one a glowing effect. Screens and displayed were laid out logically, allowing visitors to interact without too much of a wait.
The first room was medical and communications. After the initial 5 question aptitude test for each department, we were given tasks like scanning an unconscious Klingon for ailments and diagnosing him, and even learning a few choice Klingon phrases.
There were also more personalized elements to the displays allowing visitors to alter pictures of themselves with certain distinct alien facial features. Hint to the wise: Klingon forehead ridges and Andorian antennae don’t mesh well.
Each room presented kiosks with the same sort of mini aptitude test as in the first, as well as bigger exhibits and both props and costumes on display. I was able to beam myself down using a transporter, plot a course through dangerous space for the Enterprise, and take phaser training, all while my results were stored away for further analysis.
The experience culminated in the final, the ultimate, the most infamous test in all of Star Trek history: the Kobayashi Maru. Fans of the series may recall that this test is considered impossible to pass as it puts the student in an unwinnable situation. The only person known to pass it was the legendary Captain Kirk, who reprogrammed it to do so (he essentially cheated).
Cadets are placed in front of a terminal on a recreation of the bridge of the Enterprise D and presented with the facts of the test and the options – three aggressive Klingon vessels, one highly damaged star ship with 300 crewmen requiring rescue, and you and your crew. Do you fight? Save as many as you can? Save your own crew and leave the rest? Even digitally, it’s an intense experience.
After limping away from the terminal in disappointment, the exhibit comes to a close. Visitors turn in their information watches, get their results, and exit through the gift shop. Back into the sunlight, back into the real world, I walked away knowing that my normal, mundane life would look boring for at least the next day or so.
As a fan, I had just had the experience of a lifetime, regardless of price or distance, so maybe it wasn’t such a bad choice after all.
And just in case anyone was curious, I saved 120 people in the Kobayashi Maru, and my results were that I was best suited for command and (go figure) communications.