NASA honors William Shatner (AKA Captain Kirk)

After nearly 50 years of warping across galaxies and saving the universe from a variety of alien threats and celestial disasters, Star Trek’s William Shatner finally went where no other member of Starfleet has gone before. This weekend, the acclaimed actor and director was honored with NASA’s Distinguished Public Service medal, the highest award bestowed by the agency to non-government personnel.

The honor was presented to Shatner Saturday evening in Los Angeles at his annual Hollywood Charity Horse Show, where he raises money for a variety of children’s causes. The citation for the medal reads, “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.”

“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 David Weaver, NASA’s associate administrator for the Office of Communications at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “He’s most deserving of this prestigious award.”

A life-long advocate of science and space exploration, Shatner gained worldwide fame and became a cultural icon for his portrayal of Captain James Tiberius Kirk, commander of the starship USS Enterprise in NBC’s science fiction television series “Star Trek” from 1966 to 1969. It was a role he would reprise in an animated version of the series in 1973, seven major films from 1979 to 1994, and more recent “Star Trek” video games.

Shatner’s relationship with NASA dates back to the original series, with references to the space agency and its programs that were incorporated into storylines throughout the television and film franchises. In 1979, when NASA was ready to introduce a reusable spacecraft as the successor to the Apollo program, a new space shuttle prototype, originally to be named Constitution, was dubbed Enterprise in honor of the Star Trek universe and the work of Shatner and his series co-stars.

More recently, Shatner donated his time and vocal talent to host the NASA documentary celebrating the 30th anniversary of space shuttle missions. To honor the final flight of shuttle Discovery in 2011, he agreed to recreate his famous Star Trek television introduction in one of the last wake-up calls for the astronauts of the STS-133 mission.

In 2012, he hosted a video presentation previewing the dramatic mission of the Mars rover Curiosity and voiced his support for NASA spinoff technologies that come as a result of investments in science, technology and exploration.

Other past recipients of the NASA Distinguished Public Service Medal include astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, former NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory director and Voyager project scientist Edward Stone, theoretical physicist and astronomer Lyman Spitzer, and science fiction writer Robert Heinlein. The award is presented to those who “… have personally made a contribution representing substantial progress to the NASA mission. The contribution must be so extraordinary that other forms of recognition would be inadequate.”

Besides his acting and directing talents, Shatner is a prolific author, having taken the reins for nearly 50 books, and is an accomplished horse rider and breeder.