Star Trek or US Space Force?
Let us settle this debate once and for all
Since this administration unfurled the new official emblem for the Space Force. Many people, including actors from Star Trek, have raised issues with how similar it looks to the Starfleet Command logo. It turns out it’s no accident that this has happened, but not for the reasons you probably think. When Star Trek came on the air in the 60s, there was already a long legacy of the Air Force using similar logos and seals going back to at least 1935. Star Trek has borrowed from real life on numerous occasions, from riffing off the UN for the United Federation of planets in Star Trek The Motion Picture from 1979 to the mirror universe Terran Empire emblem.
The Unites States Air Force and related branches have had many symbols over the years, but there’s a few that have risen to the surface as iconic over years. Starting in WWII there were quite a few groups and squadrons which have adopted many symbols that have much reuse. One of the first symbols has been the delta or arrowhead symbol. It saw use in 1935.
In this 1939 rendition, it has the same orientation we’ve come to know and love from both the 1966 Star Trek and 1982 Space Command logos:
In 1940, it even took almost the same 3-d texture:
Here are some more examples:
One of the other design elements is the globe. Various images of globes are all woven through many aspects of gaming, television, to numerous government agencies. One of the most iconic versions is the United Nations seal, which attempts to show no more deference to any given nation; by doing so, it has become one of the more unique representations. However, there have been many unique presentations of the globe in Air Force history.
The UN globe was originally drafted in 1945. This is the draft version:
Eventually it was refined and in 1946 the final version was adopted, which no longer centered North America:
When National Aeronautics and Space Administration was established in 1958, this was its logo. In my opinion it is awfully similar to the 322d Troop Carrier Wing (1944) emblem. The main difference is that it includes the moon and stars and not just a generic globe.
One of the next steps in the evolution of the delta was the 163rd Fighter Group. It has been using this as its emblem through a few of its incarnations, but I’m not sure if this is the same as the original. There have been 9 reassignments since 1958.
One of the next organizations to be establish was the Space & Missile Systems Center. If you looked close at the delta emblems above, you’ll see that exact same 3-d shading pattern as the modern deltas was applied to the design from the 353d Fighter Group (1942). The next time we see this shading applied is in 1961. That was when ballistic missiles were brought under control of the newly established Space & Missile System Center.
It seems at this point numerous space related capabilities came into existence and each of them used the same symbol. For instance, in 1964 the 30th Space Wing was established and had the following logo:
Finally, in 1982, the Air Force Space Command was established using this emblem:
As one can now hopefully see, this was already painfully derivative at the time. It uses:
- the delta element from the 1940s
- the global grid styled like the 15th Bombardment emblem (1944)
- the orbits around the Earth from the 442d Bombardment (1942)
- the elongated stars which represent satellites (1961).
It’s no wonder, with our tastes for modern design and culture saturated with Starfleet logos, we would think a modern version of the 1982 Air Force Space Command emblem would be ripped off from the Star Trek franchise. However, according the history of Star Trek, this emblem predates any of Star Trek’s Starfleet Command emblems. This actually means that the designers did their job well, since the design seems woven with the same intent.
In 1964, during the same year that the 30th Space Wing was created, Bill Theiss created the Starfleet insignia. It seems to be a play on the elongated v-delta seen in the 60th Troop Carrier Group (1940), 353d Fighter Group (1942), 322d Troop Carrier Wing (1944), 468th Fighter Squadron (1944), and NASA (1958) insignias. The elongated star seems to be a play on the elongated delta, but for space instead of atmosphere.
There was never a Starfleet Command emblem on screen until 1996’s DS9: Rules of Engagement.
If there wasn’t any Starfleet Command Emblem until 1996, why do we remember it as being there before then? Probably because of all the time traveling in the series and all the details filled in through shows like Voyager, Enterprise, Discovery, Picard, and movies in the Kelvin timeline which all proudly display their versions of the Starfleet Command emblem.
What was on the screen through all of Star Trek: The Next Generation? It was actually the United Federation of Planets emblem with the words “Starfleet Command” below it.
This symbol is a refined version of the modified UN emblem introduced in Star Trek The Motion Picture.
At this point, I’d also like to draw attention to the International Atomic Energy Agency emblem, because it takes the olive leafs and throws away everything else. They officially adopted this logo in 1960:
In my opinion, this is really the variant which set precedent for the design of the United Federation of Planets design. It set the stage that many variants of the design could be created. Indeed, other variations of the UN emblem have been created for many different UN agencies.
Of course, I would be remiss to not include the probable inspiration behindthe Terran Empire insignia.
As is common with the themes of Star Trek, the design of the Terran Empire emblem is really just a mirror looking back at our most dark reflections. We can look into this mirror and acknowledge what we see and deal with it. Or we can look into it and ignore it until the darkness and anger bubble up once again. What choice are you going to make in your life?
- Air Force Combat Units of World War II. United States, U.S. Government Printing Office, 1961.
- Combat Squadrons of the Air Force; World War II. United States, USAF Historical Division, Department of the Air Force, 1969.
- The Architect Who Designed the UN Logo. UN. 2015.
- Alex Wellerstein. “The story behind the IAEA’s atomic logo.” Nuclear Secrecy. 2013.
- “Wing emblems of the United States Air Force.” Wikimedia Commons, the free media repository. 5 Aug 2019, 21:47 UTC. 19 May 2020, 22:15. [Many of the emblems in black in white here have color versions on this page.]
- Chris Burns. Why the Space Force logo looks like Star Trek, and Star Trek looks like NASA. SlashGear, 2020.
- Jörg Hillebrand, Bernd Schneider and Brad Wilder. The Emblem of Starfleet Command. Ex Astris Scientia.
- John Cooley. Starfleet Insignia Explained. Star Trek. 2018.
- Jörg Hillebrand, Bernd Schneider and Brad Wilder. The Evolution of the Federation Emblem. Ex Astris Scientia.