In this video, the astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson chooses the Enterprise over the Millenium Falcon.

One reason he gives is that the Enterprise is the first sci-fi ship designed purely for exploration, rather than going from A to B:

"The Enterprise... is the first ever ship represented in story-telling that was not designed to go from one place to another. It was only designed to explore."

Is that true?

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    I still suppose it depends on how you define exploration. Getting from point A to point B to explore at point B (ie - 'seek out strange new worlds') could be defined as exploring, in which case one could look to Verne or H.G. Wells' spaceships
    – NKCampbell
    Dec 3, 2015 at 19:38
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    It depends on how you define "sci-fi". Tyson apparently thinks sci-fi is "movies and shows". In that case he might have a point, though I would think the first voyage from the earth to the moon would count as "exploration". However, if written science-fiction stories and books count as sci-fi, lots of spaceships went exploring in the 20s, 30s, 40s, and 50s, with Van Vogt's Space Beagle perhaps being the most analogous to the Enterprise.
    – user14111
    Dec 3, 2015 at 19:52
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    @Wikis My point was that Tyson's distinction between "going from A to B" and "exploration" doesn't make much sense. Was Amundsen's journey to the South Pole not exploration?
    – user14111
    Dec 3, 2015 at 20:31
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    Exploration has a pretty clear meaning in his context. Amundsen knew where the South Pole was, and had a specific destination in mind. Space exploration in the Star Trek universe is often more like 'exploration' in an old school RPG computer game: where you're walking around to uncover the black parts of the map to see what's there. Random Walk exploration, basically (perhaps not truly random, but still).
    – Joe
    Dec 3, 2015 at 20:59
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    Jules Verne, De la Terre a la Lune, 1865. A space ship of some sort is mentioned in one of the Alexander romances, c. 1st century CE. Elijah ascended to heaven in a fiery chariot. It's endless.
    – user207421
    Dec 4, 2015 at 2:32

5 Answers 5


No, not really.

  • 1924 - Psycho-ship was the vehicle in Goncharov's book "Psycho-Ship" ("Психо-машина") - part of "Interstellar Traveller" dilogy. It was designed for exploration and moved using psychic energy.

  • 1956 - Passing the torch temporarily (pun intended) to English speaking works, Heinlein's "Time for the Stars" has torchships, explicitly designed for exploration.

  • 1957 - Efremov's "Andromeda Nebula" ("Тума́нность Андроме́ды") has starship "Tantra" ("Тантра") which was built for exploration. As well as several other exploration-only ships.

  • 1958 - to continue on Efremov streak, "Cor Serpentis" ("Сердце Змеи") has "Tellur" exploration ship ("Теллур")

  • 1962 - moving from classics to classics, A&B Strugatskie (the Strugatsky brothers) have several exploration spaceships in "Полдень, XXII век" ("Noon, 22d century"), including "Taymyr" ("Таймыр").

    Apropos nothing, that 1962 book has a made-up mind-recording cutting edge technology named "Kasparo-Karpov" method.

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    Of course! Why didn't I think of that?! :) Great answer btw. Dec 3, 2015 at 20:54
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    Also, not sure if you will classify that as "Exploration", but we have "New Frontiers" from Heinlein's 1958 "Methuselah's Children". I'm also pretty certain there was an exploration starship in RAH's "Star Beast" (1954) that brought Lummox to Earth, but that seemed to have been an aside for setting up the story. Dec 3, 2015 at 21:22
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    Technically, I think the cannon-propelled vessel from the French silent short film Le Voyage dans la Lune(1902) is an even earlier example, since the characters build it and ride it to the moon for the sheer purpose of exploration. Dec 4, 2015 at 18:49
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    Upvotes for Heinlein, @DVK!
    – pixelmeow
    Dec 4, 2015 at 18:57
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    @user10800 - I'm assuming "moon-only" can be lawyered-away by NDT admirers as invalid. Dec 4, 2015 at 21:30

Stfnal starships were exploring the universe long before Star Trek. I have two candidates, one for earliest and one for most like Star Trek.

Earliest: The Skylark of Space by Edward Elmer Smith, Ph.D. and Lee Hawkins Garby, the first novel in Smith's Skylark of Space series; first published as a serial in Amazing Stories, starting with the August 1928 issue; there is a Project Gutenberg etext and a Wikipedia article. (OK, this was preceded by the 1924 Goncharov novel mentioned in DVK's answer, but Skylark was very influential, and it was written between 1915 and 1921.) Here is the Wikipedia plot synopsis:

At the beginning of the story, Seaton accidentally discovers a workable space drive in combining pure copper with a newly discovered [fictional] element "X" (suggested to be a stable transactinide element in the platinum group) in solution. Having failed to re-create the effect, Seaton realizes that the missing component is a field generated by DuQuesne's particle accelerator, and thereafter sets up a business with his millionaire friend, Martin Crane, to build a spaceship. DuQuesne conspires to sabotage Seaton's spaceship and build his own from Seaton's plans, which he uses to kidnap Seaton's fiancée, Dorothy Vaneman, to exchange for the "X". In the resulting fight, DuQuesne's ship is accidentally set to full acceleration on an uncontrolled trajectory, until the copper 'power bar' is exhausted at a vast distance from Earth's solar system. Using an "Object Compass" that once locked on an object, always points toward that object, Seaton and Crane follow DuQuesne in their own spaceship (the eponymous Skylark) to rescue Dorothy and her fellow-hostage, Margaret "Peg" Spencer, until the Skylark discovers DuQuesne's ship derelict in orbit around a massive dead star (resembling a cold neutron star). Having obtained the hostages, Seaton extracts a promise from DuQuesne to "act as one of the party until they get back to Earth", in which relationship they leave orbit and travel further in search of additional fuel.

On an Earthlike exoplanet, they obtain "X" from an outcrop almost purely of that mineral; then leave that planet in search of copper. Following an encounter with a "Disembodied Intelligence" (Star Trek's "Q" would later show similar attributes), they enter a cluster of stars nicknamed “The Green System” and locate a planet having copper sulfate oceans. On the Earth-like "Osnome", they befriend the rulers of Mardonale, one of the two factions of the Osnomian natives. When the Mardonalian ruler attempts to betray Seaton and his friends, they find allies in Prince Dunark (a crown-prince of Mardonale's rival "Kondal") and his consort Princess Sitar, whom they later assist in destroying Mardonale. In gratitude, the Kondalians make new copper "power bars" and rebuild the Skylark as Skylark Two, with new weapons known to Kondalian science. Thereafter Seaton's marriage to Dorothy, and Crane's to Margaret, are solemnized by the Kondalian monarchy, and Seaton himself declared nominal "Overlord" of Kondal. The Skylark then returns to Earth, laden with jewels, platinum, radium, and a plenitude of "X"; but near Earth, DuQuesne leaves the Skylark by parachute, and the story ends with the Skylark's landing on Crane's Field.

Trekkiest: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt; published as a novel in 1950, it was a fix-up of earlier stories, starting with "The Black Destroyer" in 1939 (Astounding Science-Fiction, July 1939, available at the Internet Archive). Quoting from the Wikipedia article:

A huge globular spaceship, manned by a chemically castrated all-male crew of nearly a thousand, who are on an extended scientific mission to explore intergalactic space, encounters several, mostly hostile, aliens and alien civilizations. On board the spaceship during its journey, both political and scientific revolutions take place.

OK, not exactly like the Enterprise with that "chemically castrated all-male" (and all-human) crew, but close enough. (There were starships with multi-species crews in Edmond Hamilton's old Interstellar Patrol series but exploration was not their primary mission.)

  • Skylark sounds much more like Homer's Odyssey (protagonist being cast away against his will and adventures to find a way back home) rather than Star Trek-style exploration (protagonists start at home and set on adventure). I agree on Beagle, though.
    – Agent_L
    Dec 4, 2015 at 16:07
  • @Agent_L Except that Seaton unlike Odysseus is a scientist, and for much of the story is exploring for minerals.
    – user14111
    Dec 5, 2015 at 21:29
  • @user14111 That's "scavenging", not "exploring".
    – Agent_L
    Dec 7, 2015 at 8:43

I'd have to disagree, as the Enterprise isn't designed purely for exploration. It has multiple purposes, one of which being used in war but that is just my opinion.

The Jupiter 2, the ship from Lost in Space, was designed for exploration and colonization (though mostly exploration before it became 'lost'). Also it came out a year before Star Trek did.

  • Wouldn't "The Cage" - the rejected Star Trek pilot technically count as occurring prior to Lost in Space (since it was screened to NBC in Feb of 1965 and Lost in Space premiered in Sept '65)
    – NKCampbell
    Dec 3, 2015 at 19:57
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    @NathanK.Campbell I wouldn't think so, because it wasn't really shown to the public.
    – CBredlow
    Dec 3, 2015 at 19:59
  • Jupiter 2 was meant to go from point A (Earth) to point B (new colony) which, as mr Tyson said, is the exact opposite of "designed to explore".
    – Agent_L
    Dec 4, 2015 at 16:12

I think we run into a debate as to what 'only designed to explore' means since most episodes of Star Trek don't involve exploration in the Cosmos sense of the word - but, with that caveat:

By 1932, a Buck Rogers radio program was airing four times a week. Commercial spinoffs, including toy ray guns, games, uniforms, tin spaceships, and trading cards, were sold everywhere. And Buck’s success also inspired several cartoon copycats, including Flash Gordon and Captain Midnight. When the Buck Rogers film series debuted in 1939, both young and old stood in lines for hours to buy tickets.


One could also consider:

Fireball XL5

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    I don't know anything about Dr Tyson but the hallmark of a great scientist is that they welcome people arguing with them. Dec 3, 2015 at 20:27
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    @Wikis - he's awesome - check him out if you haven't before. His podcast "StarTalk" is both funny and informative. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neil_deGrasse_Tyson
    – NKCampbell
    Dec 3, 2015 at 20:37
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    The Buck Rogers ships were generally not explorations ships. +1 for Fireball XL-5
    – Euan M
    Dec 4, 2015 at 1:19
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    @jwenting if one were to look solely at the missions we see the Enterprise engage in - you'd be hard pressed to say they were any different. They pretty much seemed to patrol existing known space and have run-ins with enemies.
    – NKCampbell
    Dec 4, 2015 at 7:36
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    While Fireball XL5 could be used for exploration mostly it was a Point A to Point B ship where they dealt with a crisis of the week, I wouldn't consider it an exploration ship.
    – MichaelF
    Dec 4, 2015 at 20:52

"The Voyage of the Space Beagle" by A.E.van Vogt.

Which in turn points to The (actual) Beagle, in which Darwin explored the Galapagos Islands, inter alia. Not in story-telling, but in actual life. And predating all the others mentioned so far by so many years.

It's a bit of a stretch to say that something that exists so famously in real-life did not exist in fiction at all.

H.G. Wells's "First Men in the Moon" is also an exploration story, using a space-craft built for the task.

Ships Log Entry, supplemental : EE "Doc" Smith's "The Skylark of Space" and the novels that followed it in the series.

Built purely for exploration - and they do go out and find new worlds and meet new civilisations in the Skylark.

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    If you are going to cite H.G.Wells, Edgar Allen Poe's The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall, written a couple of decades earlier in 1835, describes a very similar exploration journey to the moon.
    – Chenmunka
    Dec 4, 2015 at 21:26
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    Does it focus on the ship that was created, or simply upon the journey? A major part of Wells's tale is the story of the building of the ship and creating the technology that enables the design of that ship.
    – Euan M
    Dec 5, 2015 at 16:23
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    Wasn't that covered by existing earlier answer? Dec 5, 2015 at 16:42
  • There is a detailed description of the ship's construction and how it achieves the journey but there is nothing along the lines of Cavorite.
    – Chenmunka
    Dec 5, 2015 at 18:33
  • And thank you for the tip on posting times unfortunately I'm on mobile
    – Euan M
    Dec 6, 2015 at 9:00

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