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A consistent part of the Starfleet uniforms in the Star Trek shows and movies has been some version of this insignia:

starfleet logo

I originally thought this was a stylized letter "A", but that doesn't really make sense.

What is this symbol supposed to represent?

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8 Answers 8

up vote 16 down vote accepted

It is my understanding that the symbol is a stylized version of the NASA emblem of our time. Emblem

Memory Alpha also leans towards a connection between Star Trek and the NASA badge:

In a form of fact emulating fiction (and vice-versa), the US Air Force Space Command badges have a delta arrowhead very similar to the 1960s-designed Enterprise insignia, while the 22nd century Starfleet insignia seems to be a deliberate synthesis between the TOS era pennant and the NASA logo.

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This has been retconned over the years. This is the most current version, that I know of:

This is the NASA insignia:

NASA Insignia

This is the United Earth Starfleet insignia (in the 2150s, ENT-era):

United Earth Starfleet

These are the TNG-DS9-VOY-era Starfleet insignias:

TNG-era DS9-era Alpha Quadrant VOY-era

And one further variation from the future:

29th Century Starfleet


Originally, this was Starfleet's insignia in the TOS era (no explanation given):

TOS Starfleet


The truth is, the symbol we all know was originally the assignment patch for Kirk's Enterprise. In that era, each ship had their own symbol, and the pennant seen above was Starfleet's. The Enterprise symbol was later adopted for all of Starfleet in recognition of that five-year mission (in-universe). For alternate examples:

This is Admiral James Komack, wearing the Starfleet admiral patch/pin of that time:

James Komack

This is Commodore Matt Decker, former captain of the USS Constellation, wearing the insignia for his ship:

Matt Decker

From left to right, these are the assignment patches for the USS Exeter, the USS Defiant, and finally, the USS Enterprise:

Exeter Defiant Enterprise

And there's a whole lot more, in every era prior to TNG.

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Fantastic answer! –  NikolaiDante Jan 3 '13 at 15:57
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Wow. I never realized the Defiant-class Defiant was named for a Constitution-class ship. Awesome stuff! –  Iszi Jan 3 '13 at 16:10
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Love that shot of Spock and Bones. Looks like everyone's waiting for their appointment with Dr. Shiny Boomerang. –  Paul D. Waite Sep 24 '13 at 9:58
    
The "TNG-DS9-VOY-era Starfleet insignias" (excluding the one from the TOS movie era) represents what the communicators of that timeframe look like, which do not necessarily match the "pure emblem". For that purpose, it is interesting to look at the hull markings from the respective eras: The Enterprise 1701-D does feature the arrowhead with the oval, whereas Voyager only has the arrowhead, not the angular shape found in the communicator. –  O. R. Mapper Aug 2 at 14:52
    
@O.R.Mapper No, those are the emblems. The background part has been included much of the time they appear. From Ex Astris Scientia, for example, Harry Kim's Starfleet certificate uses the third one –  Izkata Aug 7 at 2:59

I vaguely remember a Star Trek novel named "Federation" where both the TOS and TNG Enterprises are involved with Zephram Cochrane and in that novel a decsription of the insignia was given based on the physics of the warp drive.

In that book, the insignia represents how warp drive sidesteps relativistic mass dilation. The top curve represents the energy required to continue accelerating at near-light speeds, which approaches infinity. IF you could somehow exceed the speed of light, that would then work backwards (higher energy would result in you moving slower. Time would also run in reverse.). The lower curve represents how warp drive cheats. However, being a book, this is not canon

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In that book, the insignia represents how warp drive sidesteps relativistic mass dilation. The top curve represents the energy required to continue accelerating at near-light speeds, which approaches infinity. IF you could somehow exceed the speed of light, that would then work backwards (higher energy would result in you moving slower. Time would also run in reverse.). The lower curve represents how warp drive cheats. However, being a book, this is not canon. –  Compro01 Jan 3 '13 at 20:33

Its the USAF Space Command insignia prior to NASA.

http://www.afspc.af.mil/shared/media/photodb/web/2013/08/130821-F-AS983-002.jpgenter image description here

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Intriguing, but do you have any sources to back it up? –  Lèse majesté Jan 3 at 5:29
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I don't buy it. The US Air Force Space Command was not formed until 1982. So wouldn't be that this emblem seems to include some forms that resemble the UFP emblems? –  John S. Jan 4 at 0:26

I seem to remember reading an article back in the early '70s that attributed some influence on the emblem to the constellation Aquila, the Eagle. I can not attest to the accuracy of this, but there is some resemblance.

enter image description here

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The insignia also refers to the arrowhead like shape of the warp field, as initially sketched and theorized, and later proven by Zepherin Cochran.

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The warp fields we see on screens in TNG onwards are all either basically a distorted bubble shape or mostly conform to the ship. Do you have a reference for warp fields being arrowhead-shaped at some point? –  Izkata Jun 18 at 2:31
    
I wish I could. I remember seeing the diagram in a book (perhaps a novel). The arrowhead was sideways and one arc was more distinct than the other for a specific reason, referred to in the text. –  Dex Aug 7 at 2:43

Though the thought of Atheism having a symbol may seem, at first, odd to some, symbols have been used by every known label we humans can create. If one looks very closely, they may see that one of the two best known Atheism logo's resembles the Star Trek triangle, only backwards. Furthermore, every Star Trek series has numerous episodes with atheistic undertones. Star Trek Voyager episode name: Tuvix, is a very good example. Finally, creator (No pun intended) Gene Roddenberry was known as an atheist.

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Can you provide any sources that this was indeed the intent of the symbol? Otherwise this seems like circumstantial speculation. –  SSumner Sep 23 '13 at 16:50
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So you're saying that the symbol is "a stylized letter 'A'" as the question mentions? You should make that more explicit so this is clearly an attempt to answer the question. You should also include some evidence, as this contradicts the other answers. –  Kevin Sep 23 '13 at 16:51
    
I don't see what this has to do with atheism.. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Aug 27 at 13:11

The starfleet insignia is actually quite simple. The top arc is to represent the energy required to obtain a speed faster than the speed of light. The speed of light is represented by the star that is commonly seen on these symbols. The peek of the top arc is unattainable because of how large this quantity is. The bottom arc also represents the energy that is required to obtain a speed faster than the speed if light, but when using a warp field. As can be seen by the symbol the energy required for faster than light travel with a warp field is greatly reduced.

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What is the source for this? –  DVK Feb 27 at 2:08
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If this were true, then why does it taper off on the right? –  Izkata Feb 27 at 2:17

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