From Academic Kids

Stardate is the dating convention used in the fictional Star Trek universe. It was invented by Star Trek's creator, Gene Roddenberry, as a way to establish the events in the series as taking place far into the future without tying the episodes down to a particular date. Although the events of the Star Trek universe have now been pinned down to particular future dates, stardates are not actually a consistent system. Various attempts have been made to establish stardate systems in other science fiction works, some attempting to be consistent with Star Trek and others just borrowing the name and general flavour. The prequel series, Star Trek: Enterprise does not use stardates.


The Original Series

Gene Roddenberry created stardates as an abstract idea without any thought to actual implementation, choosing to leave the idea up to the imaginations of the viewers. As a result, little thought was given to the numbers used in stardates for episodes, except that the numbers for the dates generally increased. But so little care was exercised with the dates that sometimes episode stardates actually overlapped. When pressed for an explanation, Roddenberry said:

This time system adjusts for shifts in relative time which occur due to the vessel's speed and space warp capability. It has little relationship to Earth's time as we know it. One hour aboard the U.S.S. Enterprise at different times may equal as little as three Earth hours. The stardates specified in the log entry must be computed against the speed of the vessel, the space warp, and its position within our galaxy, in order to give a meaningful reading.

Roddenberry admitted that he didn't really understand this, and would rather forget about the whole thing.

Note that Roddenberry's explanation makes stardates meaningful only in the context of the individual starship. There have been many other explanations that had this feature, including some in which stardates are counted relative to the ship's current mission. This is one way of accounting for the surprisingly low stardates at the beginning of the original series: stardates ranged from 1312.4 "Where No Man Has Gone Before" to 5943.7 "All Our Yesterdays" in the course of the series. Explanations in which stardates are universal tend to be preferred, however.

The Next Generation

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, a slightly more systematic system of stardates was used. They were 5-digit numbers, initially starting with 4 (symbolically to represent the 24th century), and followed by the season number. Within these thousand-unit ranges, sub-ranges were allocated to writers of episodes to use. After the first season, these increased monotically between episodes. In Deep Space Nine and Voyager the same system was kept, incrementing to 48xxx in what would have been TNG season 8, and wrapping round to 50xxx and beyond in season 10.

In this era each television season is deemed to occupy a year of time in the Star Trek universe. This keeps the fictional universe running at the same rate as the real world, so characters age at the same rate as their actors. Thus, in this system, 1000 stardate units is just about an Earth year. It is also generally assumed that the stardate system is aligned such that a stardate divisible by 1000 is close to the start of a year in the Gregorian calendar. Specific Gregorian years have been mentioned in Star Trek: The Next Generation—and it seems that the calendar is still in common use outside Starfleet—but specific dates within the year have not appeared.

Within a single episode, TNG writers have most commonly increased stardates at the rate of one unit per Earth day, contradicting the 1000 units per year used on the larger scale. Although closer to a usable system than they were in the original series, stardates remain inconsistent and often arbitrary.

Stardate systems

Fans of the series who attempt to develop a stardate system go to great lengths to reverse engineer such a system that makes the dates used in the series logical. Many critics find this attempt farcical since the writers of the original series picked dates almost at random, not cohering to any type of standard with the exception that dates should generally increase. Critics feel that it would be far more useful to invent a real standard—one that can be used practically in everyday life without trying to back-legitimize fictional events.

In fact, stardates given in the original series are hopelessly inconsistent and no satisfactory theory is possible that is consistent with the series. There are episode overlaps, episodes with insufficient gaps between them, and other problems. Stardates during the course of the films based on the original series increase at wildly varying rates. No consensus has been reached on what the stardate system is, although the book Star Trek Chronology (2nd ed. ISBN 0671536109) assigns approximate Gregorian calendar dates to most events. The authors of the Chronology, who are Star Trek production staff, perhaps wisely avoided pinning down stardates precisely.

Some fans have adopted a convention of writing a Gregorian calendar date in the superficial form of a stardate, so that, for example, "stardate 9802.13" represents February 13, 1998. Aside from the name and appearance, this is clearly unrelated to the stardates used in Star Trek.

Star Fleet universe

In the Star Fleet Universe of Star Fleet Battles, a simpler system was used and has been closely watched for continuity by the game designers and players. The system uses the standard American/European dating conventions with the year represented by "Y[year]" with Y0 being the year of first contact between Earth and Vulcan. The actual Gregorian equivalent to Y0 has been deliberately left vague. The events of the Original Series (the Star Fleet Universe officially deviates shortly after the end of the OS/Animated time period) occur c.Y150.

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