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Starfleet is supposed to "explore strange new worlds and boldly go where no man has gone before", yet most of the time they explore worlds that are more Earth-like than not, and are inhabited by human-like species.

I understand that the out-of-universe reason is that it is difficult to tell a story when the characters are always in space suits, but couldn't the writers have found some other way, rather than skipping all the interesting non-humanoid life forms? I remember the animated series characters using a skin-tight force field (a life-belt?) to explore inhospitable environments.

Or, are there really not that many interesting life forms on other classes of planets?

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    I would probably say out of universe they could not make a full episode on planets that had nothing on them. They could only do so much with an empty planet. Whereas class M/Earth like planets they could introduce new species easily. In universe answer I would say that they did but because the vessels in the episodes were not science vessels they were never tasked with such a mission. The Enterprise was the flag ship for the federation, I would probably say combat and diplomatic missions were more important for that vessel. That is my theory. – Popeye Apr 4 '12 at 11:32
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    As another note, but not exactly an answer, Voyager did visit a Demon-class planet, and found something completely unexpected. I think the idea is that non-class-M planets with life are supposed to be so strange, the writers in general wouldn't be able to come up with something stranger than the viewers' own imaginations. – Izkata Apr 4 '12 at 11:55
  • I was thinking of this very planet when I asked the question. But in this case, they visited it out of desperation -- they were running low on deuterium (which, strangely, is something you can pick up by the tonne from any old planet with water). – HNL Apr 4 '12 at 12:01
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    There was also an episode in TNG where Data visited an H-class world with humans on it. I forget the episode (and memory-alpha is blocked at work) but it involved the Sheliak – Xantec Apr 4 '12 at 14:51
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    The phrase "strange new worlds" was actually a marketing decision made when televising Starfleet's activites. The actual Starfleet mission statement is to explore strange new foreheads. – Paul D. Waite Feb 27 '13 at 12:18
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One reason is philosophical: Star Trek was always as much about entertainment and social commentary as about telling science fiction stories -- actually possibly more so. As such, production staff felt that there always needed to be ways to ensure the audience had just enough familiarity with what was going on to feel comfortable and to be able to draw parallels to the real world easily. That, in turn, meant keeping the environments Earthlike-but-weird.

Another reason is pseudoscientific: At the time Star Trek, the original series, was being developed, there was a "theory" that Roddenberry felt had some merit (and touts in all the material he used to sell the series to the studios, and in the early writers' bibles) suggesting that the universe was filled with parallel Earths. This is not parallel-universe theory as we now tend to see it played out both in later Star Trek and in other stories like Sliders. This is the notion that in our universe are multiple, separately evolved planets that nevertheless have people and histories remarkably similar to our own. Several stories clearly play on this, most notably "Bread and Circuses" (in which the Roman Empire survived to see technology equivalent to our 20th Century) and "The Omega Glory", which depicts a world in which the Cold War yielded to actual nuclear war.

And the final reason is budgetary: all those Earth-like worlds meant they could use existing Paramount back-lots, with their pre-built faux-towns and faux-cities that could be redressed to match a variety of needs (or in some cases had been built to mirror a particular time and place for some movie or other and now needed to be used).

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In Universe:

The original studio pitch offered by Gene Roddenberry confirmed that Captain Robert April's standing orders were to investigate Class-M planets due to the limitations of his ship (landing craft, standard sensor packages, etc).

Nature and duration of command:

Galaxy exploration and Class-M investigation: 5 years

You will patrol the ninth quadrant, beginning with Alpha Centauri and extending to the outer Pinial Galaxy limit.

You will conduct this patrol to accomplish primarily:

(a) Earth security, via exploration of intelligence and social systems capable of a galaxial threat, and

(b) Scientific investigation to add to the earth's body of knowledge of life forma and social systems, and

(c) Any required assistance to the several earth colonies in this quadrant, and the enforcement of appropriate statutes affecting such Federated commerce vessels and traders as you might contact in the course of your mission.

Consistent with the equipment and limitations of of your cruiser-class vessel, you will confine your landings and contacts to planets approximating earth-Mars conditions, life, and social orders.

Out of Universe

It's cheaper.

Some format and budget considerations . . .

SETS: Our format is tailored to practical production and cost factors. Use of stage sets, backlot and other locations are simplifled by Captain April's "Class-M" orders. And our own "Parallel Worlds" concept. The majority of story premises listed can be accomplished on such sommon studio backlot locales and sets such as Early 1900 Street, Oriental Village, Cow town, Border Fort, Victorian Drawing Room, Forest and Streamside.

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I would probably say out of universe they could not make a full episode on planets that had nothing on them. They could only do so much with an empty planet. Whereas class M/Earth like planets they could introduce new species easily. In universe answer I would say that they did but because the vessels in the episodes were not science vessels they were never tasked with such a mission. The Enterprise was the flag ship for the federation, I would probably say combat and diplomatic missions were more important for that vessel. That is my theory.

  • Not being class M is entirely different from "having nothing on them". – O. R. Mapper Jun 18 '15 at 3:57
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I think we are meant to make the assumption that intelligent life in the Alpha quadrant (at least in a form recognizable to humans) is typically humanoid and therefore typically requires an M-class environment. This idea is supported by the TNG episode that touches on the existence of an ancient race of which most known species are descendants (The Chase). But there are exceptional species, e.g. the Benzites.

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    Can you support the Benzites not being descended from the original humanoids, or are you referring only to their preferred atmospheric mix? – Politank-Z Jun 17 '15 at 20:26
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Personally, I don't think they want to explore the worlds. I think they want to meet the people. Humans are social creatures. We saw several times in ST:ENT where Archer chose to go with an inhabited world instead of a astronomical oddity. When they explored that star that was close to supernova, they seemed more interested in meeting the people who were studying it.

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    "Humans are social creatures." That explains how they survived the cramped quarters of the Nx-01 without going insane. – Nate Watson Jun 17 '15 at 15:51
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First your premise is wrong. Starfleet has multiple missions and purposes, but it's the Enterprise specifically that:

Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds

The Enterprise, both TOS and TNG, has a duty to explore strange new worlds. But that's only part of the mission.

to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no man has gone before.

It is being sent to search for new sentient, sapient life. People it can trade and learn from, or from who it should prepare to defend from if they are a threat.

Second, strange has multiple meanings. While the first means different and weird, hard to understand, the second meaning is unknown, foreign, alien. This is in line with the Enterprise mission, seeking new people. It's a first contact mission.

Third, apparently in universe, the Enterprise mission statement comes from Cochrane, from the Enterprise Pilot.

On this site, a powerful engine will be built. An engine that will someday help us to travel a hundred times faster than we can today. Imagine it – thousands of inhabited planets at our fingertips... and we'll be able to explore those strange new worlds, and seek out new life and new civilizations. This engine will let us go boldly... where no man has gone before. emphasis mine

Out of universe, the intention was the same.

Finally, the mission is first contact and planetary charting. Strange planets, ones that don't have any sentient life or ruins detectable, are still noted, scanned, and mapped, for future research and follow up by dedicated long term teams. Case in point, Wrath of Khan, a research team returns to the sister planet that Khan was dumped on. Ceti Alpha VI was not expected to have any sentient life. Ceti Alpha V was "barely" Class M as it was too, no sentient life either. Both were cataloged by the Enterprise.

As a parting note, there were only a handful of classification for planets used on screen. Only some of these are considered to have life of any kind. Some classes are Gas Giants and the Demon worlds. Some are life less, atmosphere less rock planets or moons. Class L only had vegetable life. Class h is "generally uninhabitable". Class K needs Terra forming or pressure domes. The Enterprise can scan planets from space for life signs, or signs of civilization like ruins, buildings, man made structures. If a non Class M planet has no signs of life, they catalog it and move on.

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