Star Trek: An Introduction/Starfleet

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Star Trek: An Introduction

01 The future
02 Starfleet
03 Viewer Guide
04 Learn more

Starfleet is the deep-space exploratory and defense service maintained by the United Federation of Planets. Its principal functions included the advancement of Federation knowledge about the galaxy and its inhabitants, the advancement of Federation science and technology, the military defense of the Federation, and the practice of Federation diplomacy.

History and Background

Starfleet began as a defense and exploration organization for Earth and the solar system, and until the founding of the United Federation of Planets, its aim was narrowly focused to benefitting the people of Earth.

At the founding of the Federation, Starfleet’s purpose broadened to a far larger scope of defense and exploration. It was tasked with pushing the horizon of the Federation, defending its worlds, and making contact with species previously unknown.

The motto of Starfleet was, and remains, “to boldly go where no one has gone before.” This motto has greatly influenced the character and mission of the organization.

Starfleet’s mission has always been carried out by a corps of highly trained officers and a fleet of interstellar spacecraft. Most ships are designed to serve multiple functions and are equipped as research and military vessels.

The Prime Directive

While Starfleet currently benefits from subspace transmissions which facilitate extremely fast transmission of communications throughout the Federation territory, it was not always that way. In Starfleet’s formative and developing years, captains of interstellar vessels had to represent the Federation in all of their dealings with different forms and civilizations without the benefit of guidance and feedback from Starfleet command or Federation diplomats. Captains were given an extraordinary measure of independence as a result.

Although it has a great deal of faith in its officers, StarFleet has established a substantial number of guidelines and regulations that control how they carry out their duties. The most important, General Order Number One, also known as the Prime Directive, essentially prohibits StarFleet personnel from interfering with the normal development of any culture. The directive was framed to prevent the cultural contamination of the new societies that StarFleet encountered.

The Prime Directive prohibits Starfleet officers from making their presence known to pre-warp cultures and prevents Starfleet from interfering with internal disputes in neighboring powers, such as the Klingon Empire. The Prime Directive does not apply if an individual or government request Starfleet’s assistance without being prompted.

The Prime Directive was not introduced until StarFleet had been operating for some time, so the earliest explorers often interacted with less advanced cultures. On occasion this had disastrous consequences. For example, the USS Horizon NCC-176 in 2168 visited the planet Sigma Iotia II where the crew made contact with the native inhabitants and left behind a book called “Chicago Mobs of the Twenties.” After the crew of the Horizon had departed, the Sigma Iotians adopted the book as a model for their society. Within several years, the planet was dominated by a mob culture.

Over the years, many StarFleet captains have chosen to violate the Prime Directive if they believe that by doing so they are protecting a culture from destruction or repairing damage done by a previous contamination. For example, when the Mintakans witnessed Federation technology in action in 2366, Captain Picard of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-D chose to explain what had really happened to prevent the Mintakans from falling back into a period of superstition.

The Many Missions of Starfleet

The primary missions of Starfleet remain exploration and defense. But there are many other secondary missions of Starfleet that help direct time and resources of the ships and crew that compose the fleet.

The USS Enterprise-E, a Sovereign class starship

Scientific Missions

Not all StarFleet’s missions involve sentient life forms. Most StarFleet vessels have a large number of science labs – Constitution-class vessels such as the original USS Enterprise NCC-1701 had 14 – and a major part of the starship’s duties involves collecting data on stellar phenomena such as nebulae and comets. The crew of StarFleet vessels also include a number of academic specialists such as botanists and historians.

One of the most important departments on a StarFleet vessel is stellar cartography. This is used to analyze stellar phenomena and collect data about the position of stars and other stellar bodies. This information is then combined with data gathered by subspace telescope to generate the galactic condition database, which provides vital navigational data to all starships.

StarFleet maintains a massive network of starbases to support its ships. Some of these are based on planets, while others such as StarBase 74 are effectively spaceborne cities. These stations provide a number of important facilities. Most starbases have large populations and are home to offices of StarFleet Command and the Judge Advocate General, which conducts StarFleet’s legal affairs. Almost all starbases have facilities and resources that allow tired crews to recuperate.

Medical Endeavours

StarFleet ships perform important medical functions and are often required to transport medical supplies to Federation worlds, especially supplies that may only be produced in small quantities or in specific places in the Federation, like vaccinations, antibiotics, and antivirals.

StarFleet regulations also require its ships to make regular calls on remote colonies to perform medical checkups.

StarFleet doctors have one of the most demanding jobs in the Federation. They have to be able to treat hundreds of different races, some of which are not even humanoid. All StarFleet doctors contribute to databases on the different races and conditions that have been encountered. This information is available to all Federation vessels and on some advanced ships have been incorporated into an Emergency Medical Hologram – a holographic physician that can support the ship’s normal medical staff when necessary.

Supply Lines

All Starfleet ships make regular calls at starbases for routine maintenance and upgrades. This can be as simple as taking on new supplies of deuterium, which is an essential component of the warp and impulse drives, or as complex as repairing major damage sustained in battle. It is extremely difficult for a starship to function without making these regular stops. But starbases also benefit as ships ferry supplies to Starfleet’s bases, especially the ones in more remote locations.

Starfleet also operates a system of subspace relays that allow ships and planets to communicate across vast distances. These relays can send messages at faster-than-light speeds, up to 60 times faster than the fastest starship. The subspace network contains thousands of relay stations. Starfleet vessels deploy more as they explore new areas of space, and make repairs to the network if they come across damaged systems. Without this communication system, the Federation would barely function; although it is often overlooked, maintaining it is one of Starfleet’s most important duties.

Organization & Structure

Direct commanding authority over Starfleet is a power of the Federation president. In addition, the Federation Council, the Federation's legislature, often directly influences the service's operations and even issued orders on occasion.

The day-to-day operations of the service are managed by Starfleet Command, the service's operational authority. Sector Commands are sub-level organizations which oversee operations of service throughout Federation space. Commanding officers of service vessels report to the sector command of their current location.

The highest personnel authority aboard a starship is the Commanding Officer, usually of captain rank. Captains play a vital role in the expansion of the Federation and have to serve as diplomats, scientists, and soldiers. A captain’s duties include putting together reports on potential Federation members and their recommendations are almost always followed.

StarFleet captains are often required to act as mediators in disputes and many, such as Captain Picard, have earned formidable reputations as diplomats. Captains must also be ready to go to war and undergo extensive tactical training for this possibility. Some captains, such as Edward Jellico, are known for being military specialists.

On board ship, the captain is assisted by a first officer who, in many cases, is a captain in training. Under normal circumstances the first officer is responsible for performing crew reviews and determining assignments, but he or she must be ready and willing to take command of the ship if the captain is missing or disabled.

What is it like to be a Starfleet officer?

To be a Starfleet officer is to be devoted to the ideals of peaceful exploration, scientific pursuit, and the betterment of self. It is a life of standing between those who cannot fight for themselves and those who seek to tyrannize them.

Throughout Federation space, members of Starfleet are known as well-rounded, knowledgeable about their duties and other cultures, and dedicated to truth, fairness, and equality.

Many Starfleet officers, especially the on you'll be playing and the ones you'll be interacting with, serve on a starship or a starbase. For those officers, their duty post is central to their day-to-day experience on the ship. An engineering officer, for example, will report to his or her station on the ship – usually Main Engineering – for an assignment or to assess what needs to be done. Then, the officer will coordinate with others to ensure that the daily tasks are completed. If an emergency arises, the officer would assist others to triage the most important problems to ensure that the ship is able to maintain the safety of its occupants.

During and after work hours, this Starfleet officer might enjoy lunch in the crew lounge, or in their quarters. Replicators are standard on almost all Starfleet vessels. Later, the officer might lounge on the holodeck alone, or with friends, before retiring to their quarters in the evening.


Data graciously provided by The Trekker – Officer’s Bible, and Star Trek: Magazine.

See Also

For more information about Starfleet, read the Starfleet article on Memory-Alpha.

Ensigns Orientation