First contact restrictions revolve around an ability to construct ships. But is Starfleet prevented from contacting a civilization which could reach other worlds without ships?

Simply, can starfleet make first contact with a race:

  1. which is is pre-warp - it has no warp-capable vessels or technology

  2. and the race can and does freely contact other worlds

Canonical examples would be helpful in answering this apparent problem.

Several races have been able to reach other worlds without ships, yet they had them just the same. Examples: Consider any civilization which has a spatial trajector which can instantly teleport and has no need for ships. Telepaths like the Talosians can project themselves and read minds over vast distances, allowing them to interact with other worlds without leaving their planet. Thasians can teleport without technology. Any civilization with access to the mycelial network also has no need for warp-capable ships.

This question is not asking about the Talosians or the Sikarians or Thasians, it is asking about any new civilization they may meet which can explore by whatever means, yet has no warp-capable ships.

Could Starfleet make first contact with a pre-warp race of galactic explorers?

  • 5
    Considering how often the Prime Directive is treated as really more of a Prime Guideline, I have to suspect that someone would do so sooner or later.
    – Cadence
    Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 3:45
  • Are Species 8472 warp capable? Also those created which attached themselves to Voyager? In Discovery the knowledge sphere isn’t said to be capable, (maybe it is though)
    – Tim
    Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 8:57

2 Answers 2


The Prime Directive, aka General Order One, states that: "No starship may interfere with the normal development of any alien life or society."

That has often been translated in the facts as forbidding contact with any civilisation unable to reach the stars by themselves, with the possession of working warp technology used as the tipping point, as explained in First Contact (TNG S04E15).

(Mirasta is punching buttons when two figures beam in)

PICARD: Mirasta Yale?


TROI: Please, don't be alarmed at our appearance.

PICARD: My name is Jean-Luc Picard. This is my associate Deanna Troi.

MIRASTA: What are you?

TROI: We've come with some important information.

MIRASTA: About what?

PICARD: About space. About the universe you are preparing to enter.

TROI: We come from a federation of planets. Captain Picard is from a planet called Earth, which is over two thousand light years from here. I'm from another planet called Betazed.

PICARD: We've been monitoring your progress toward warp-drive capability. When a society reaches your level of technology and is clearly about to initiate warp travel, we feel the time is right for first contact. We prefer meeting like this, rather than a random confrontation in deep space.

TROI: We've come to you first because you're a leader in the scientific community. Scientists generally accept our arrival more easily than others.

PICARD: We almost always encounter shock and fear on this sort of mission. We hope that you will help us facilitate our introduction.

MIRASTA: Is this a joke? Did Lupo and the others from the lab put you up to this?

PICARD: It's certainly no joke. As you can see, we are physically quite different from Malcorians. And, with your permission, I'm prepared to prove it to you.

MIRASTA: I would like that.

PICARD: Picard to Enterprise. Three to beam up.

The episode also seems to imply that the Federation usually waits after the first successful trip into warp before establishing contact, but they decided not to wait in this case due to the disappearance of Commander Riker and the assurance by Chief Engineer LaForge that the Malcorian warp drive would work.

However, StarFleet and the Federation have established contact with many pre-warp societies and civilization that had already been exposed to the galaxy at large through other means, like the Bendii in Farpoint (TNG S01E01).

The Bendii were clearly lacking the technology to reach the stars by themselves, but they had been contacted by other spacefaring species, their leader cites the Ferengis when negotiating with Picard, thus why the Federation established contact with them and looked at their proposal to establish a starbase on their planet.

A civilization/society/species that has access to the galaxy by any means is already seeing it's development altered by exposure to ideas, technologies and cultures from other races, thus establishing contact with them is authorized as it wouldn't interfere with their normal development.


I think that would be less under the Prime Directive and more under First Contact procedures.

First Contact procedures have an application, and that's when you're likely to encounter a civilization during exploration. It's not a factor when visiting their homeworld; you know you're a guest there. They're worried about chance encounters in other worlds alien to both of you. First Contact is so the other guys go "Oh, they're the Federation, they are no threat" instead of "Who's this? Open the gunports as a sign of respect: what could possibly go wrong?"

The fact that these people are operating on an interstellar scale makes First Contact necessary.

Obviously, the "don't allow them to be aware of us" aspect of the Prime Directive is completely incompatible with First Contact; so yes, it gets sacrificed.

However, the remaining aspects of the Prime Directive remain in force, so don't go looking for help in your civil war or expect to be transported 35,000 light years from home.

  • I agree we're talking first contact procedures and what is interesting is that this protocol even restricted DS9 from contacting Tosk in his pre-warp spaceship (DS9: Captive Pursuit. Sisko did "sacrifice" the Prime Directive in this case but only because the ship was damaged and endangered the pilot's life. If Tosk came through undamaged, it seems they technically should not have even hailed him. This seems confusing and pointless.
    – Vogon Poet
    Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 12:07
  • I'm not sure I agree with the last sentence (though everything else is on point.) The purpose of the Prime Directive as I understand it is to prevent "interference" with a species that is not yet ready to become part of the interstellar community. But once First Contact has been initiated, the interference has already begun. At that point, I would think the question of any further interference would fall under standard diplomatic channels and the PD no longer applies at all.
    – Steve-O
    Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 13:29
  • 2
    I think it's been made fairly clear that the intent of the PD is to prevent confronting species with the knowledge that they are not alone in the universe before they're ready. If you've been exploring using a tradjector, you either know that fact or soon will. Might be a spirit-of vs letter-of debate. Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 18:04
  • @Steve-O see any of the cases where the species were interstellar and were eligible for contact, but were having a civil war and Kirk or Picard said "Nuh-uh!" E.g. The one with the imaginary H-bombs, the one with blackwhite, the one with drug dependency, or the one where the advanced race wouldn't send Voyager closer to home with their tech. That's how episodes are named on Star Trek, right? Janeway mused "now we're feeling the other side of the Prime Directive". Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 18:12
  • @Harper Just because the Federation can interfere (having made First Contact and put the PD to bed) doesn't mean they have to. Most of these just sound like standard diplomacy to me; "Your war your problem." (But they could get involved if a good reason presented itself.) As for the Voyager example, I don't remember that one myself, but it sounds like Janeway's remark is regarding how another species is invoking something very much like the PD against them. But that's not the PD as defined by the Federation, just an analogous law made by another civilization.
    – Steve-O
    Commented Oct 9, 2019 at 13:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.