The original Star Trek series and Star Trek movies basically portrayed the Star Fleet culture aboard ship as similar to the U.S. Navy. The culture is predominantly male but women are allowed on most ships, especially in "support" roles such as science, medicine and communication. Despite a certain level of romance aboard ship through TOS, though, wives and children are not found on the original USS Enterprise, and its complement is only about 400 people as a result.

In Star Trek: the Next Generation, Deep Space 9, and the new Star Trek movie, ships of the fleet are seen carrying a substantial complement of youth and non-Starfleet types. The Enterprise-D, in fact, has a complement of over a thousand, many of those being families and children of serving Starfleet personnel (which had to be evacuated in Generations before separating the saucer). The U.S.S. Kelvin in the new Star Trek was carrying James Kirk's mother (apparently a noncombatant), who gives birth to him on a shuttlecraft as his father assumes command of the Kelvin and holds off the Romulan ship that attacked them.

Why the difference, in-universe? Starships are dangerous places, as the new Star Trek demonstrated, and even if the personnel would be in space for months or even years at a time on rotation, and even if the ship's stated mission is exploration, it would seem foolish to risk the lives of non-combatant women and children in a battle with a Romulan cruiser, or by being on the wrong end of a scientific experiment like the Soliton Wave, or encountering the wrong spatial anomaly like Tyken's rift. I understand the presence of family aboard DS9, which if nothing else is a stone's throw from a relatively safe haven on Bajor, but a ship intended "to boldly go where no one has gone before" has to be crewed with the understanding that it may not come back.

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    Don't forget non-combatant men.
    – Sam
    Commented Oct 18, 2011 at 22:07
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    "women are allowed on most ships" - were there ships in the Original Series where women weren't allowed? (I'm not very familiar with the Original Series.) Commented May 28, 2013 at 13:24
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    Neither am I, but as a small-budget serial drama it centered on the recurring crew of the Enterprise, and AFAIK we didn't get a real deep insight into the demographics of any other ship. Also, despite Gene's wishes to showcase a future world devoid of petty biases, the fact it was shot in the 60s means there were quite a few in evidence, including the lack of any woman in a command rank (from this website, more than half of them were non-Starfleet, and the other half were between yeoman and lieutenant)
    – KeithS
    Commented May 28, 2013 at 23:38
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    @KeithS: You're right about that. Based on the fact the we just never saw any female command officer during TOS, but that 100 years earlier, there was already a female starship captain, we can simply assume it was pure chance the Enterprise never happened to encounter a ship with female command officers during TOS. Commented Apr 29, 2014 at 11:42
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    And now I’me looking again, two years later: “basically portrayed the Star Fleet culture aboard ship as similar to the U.S. Navy. The culture is prodominantly male but women are allowed on most ships, especially in "support" roles such as science, medicine and communication.” Is that what the U.S. navy is like?? Commented Jul 9, 2015 at 7:28

10 Answers 10


The Enterprise-D was a 'starship' and not a 'warship' (except in the episode Yesterday's Enterprise which was an alternate timeline). Its primary mission was exploration (although, it seemed to spend a lot of time in the Federation core as well) - so the analog in a historical context would be more like the expeditions undertaken by Cook and Magellan. Although not common, some expeditions in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries carried some of the officers' (and even some of the crew's) families with them - especially when the voyage was expected to last several months or more.

Families on long-term exploration does make sense - for morale and stability.

Galaxy class starships also have the ability to separate the saucer as a 'lifeboat' while the star drive section engages in battle - and it has been speculated that most of the standard design starships (including the original Enterprise, a Constitution class) could detach the saucer - although, reconnecting many of these classes required a space dock due to explosive bolts.

As Xantec mentions, there is an observation bias with TV episodes (and movies) - we only see the most exciting events (26 episodes per season [not counting/excluding doubles] with maybe 3 days passing in your average episode [not counting time loops] only adds up to 80 days out of 365 over the year that passes in the season).

On the other hand, ships such as the Defiant, which was specifically built as a warship, have no apparent provision for family quarters (or even recreation). And it can be assumed that the larger class ships used in planned battles against the Borg and Dominion have either safely removed their civilians to a suitable planet away from the battle, or never had them aboard to start with.

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    Lets not forget Voyager, which was also a warship and didn't carry any families at all, not even the Captain's. They had to create their own families on the trip. - The Enterprise D was the flagship. That is a very ceremonial charge for a ship during peace times. Most of her missions were diplomatic or posturing.
    – DampeS8N
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 3:29
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    @KeithS - Klingons probably label ships based on threat/challenge to them rather than the Federation's intended purpose, but the original Enterprise didn't appear to have families on, for that matter. The Galaxy would appear to be as well-armed as the rest of her class: en.memory-alpha.org/wiki/USS_Galaxy - the 'first Galaxy-class ship' was a script error, but could be explained as the first after the lead of the class. As for designations - it's more about the mission than the designation - exploration = families, war = no families.
    – HorusKol
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 3:52
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    @KeithS Star Fleet equips their ships to be able to defend themselves against their primary antagonists (Klingons, Romulans etc). Exploration is all well and good, but going out unable to protect yourself is not a very bright idea. Automobiles are primarily transportation devices but they still have seat belts, air bags, crumple zones, fire walls etc.
    – Xantec
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 11:54
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    The same reason many US Army bases have a day care, on base housing. The Enterprise is a small town that flies, and only a small portion of the crew are martial specialists, on a mission without a permanent base of operations, and longer mission durrations. Voyager was more of a patrol ship, with a much smaller crew (about 1/10 dependent on source), a much more military mission, and a much more limited theater of operations (Cardassian/Bajoran border), with a regular port of call, possibly Starbase 375 or DS9. Commented Feb 15, 2012 at 23:19
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    Because somebody thought watching Picard shed manly tears over his decision to not have children or the O'Briens having a lover's spat umpteen times a season would be really interesting stuff to watch. Commented Mar 22, 2013 at 13:06

I'd like to point out that families NOT travelling with soldiers is more of a twentieth-century invention.

In the Revolutionary and Civil wars, complements of women did follow the soldiers, doing laundry, cooking, and serving the soldiers in other ways (lol). It is likely some of them had babies with them.

The Enterprise is probably a lot safer than the middle of the woods in Kentucky. You're probably less likely to get dysentery on a starship.

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    In the present day, there are also families who travel together to very remote parts of the world (e.g. missionaries). I've also heard of at least one case where a family of 4 (2 parents and 2 young children) spent years effectively living in their sailboat, sailing from port to port, exploring the world. The parents' reasoning was that, even though the kids would miss out on kindergarten and elementary school, they'd gain a lot more life experience, culture, and family bonding by traveling together during those years. Sure, it's dangerous, but some families are willing to take that risk. Commented Nov 21, 2011 at 5:06
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    "You're probably less likely to get dysentery on a starship." If only Voyager had got an eight season. You know that storyline would have happened at some point. Commented May 28, 2013 at 13:29

The focus for the sereis, or at least Gene Roddenberry's vision when it started, was on people and the family life, but Roddenberry also used to write westerns, and he described Trek, originally, as a "wagon train to the stars." He knew that explorers in the old west had to be well armed to survive, and explorers in the new galaxy had to be armed as well.

From the Star Trek: The Next Generation Writers'/Directors' Guide (no season or date given, it does include Guinan, but also a lot of info that's clearly from the 1st season and outdated by the 3rd season):

Page 37 (The USS Enterprise - NCC-1701-D):

(After a comparison to the original Enterprise NCC-1701)

However, it is now designed to be a home (home in a very literal sense to something over 1,000 pesons). Gone is the metallic sterility of the original ship, the reason being that the last century or so has seen a form of technology progress which the 24th Century poets call "Technology Unchained" -- which means that things are smaller, faster, more powerful, and very much centered on improving the quality of life. (Italics are theirs, but were underlines in the manual.)

Page 41 (Community and Family Life):

This Starship is much more fully "a home away form home" than any of the earlier Enterprises. As humanity probes deeper and deeper into space with missions 20 years or longer becoming the norm, Starfleet has begun encouraging crewmembers to share the space exploration adventure together as a family group and space community members. Most 24th Century humans believe that "Life should be lived, not postponed."

There's 2 more paragraphs emphasizing family life and how "people need people." (Quoting the manual, not Barbra Streisand.)

From the Star Trek: The Next Generation Writer's Technical Manual (Fourth Season Edition:

Page 3 (USS Enterprise Overview):

The Galaxy-Class Enterprise boasts a complement of about 1012 people, including crew members and their families. The ship is capable of independent operation for about three years without refueling...

The mission of the Enterprise is primarily research and diplomacy, and it is superbly equipped for both. For those occasions when a show of military force is unavoidable, the ship is also equipped with an impressive array of defensive and offensive weapons.

Page 14 (Weapons and Defense):

The mission of the Enterprise is exploration, science, and diplomacy. It is not a warship, nor is Starfleet a military organization in the 20th Century sense. Nevertheless, the galaxy is a big place, full of unknown -- and occasionally hostile -- life forms. For those times when the Enterprise must protect itself and the interests of the Federation, the ship is fully equipped with both defensive and offensive weaponry. When provoked, the Enterprise is a formidable adversary.

Page 20 (Starfleet):

The Federation Starfleet is an extraordinary organization dedicated to exploration, diplomacy, research, and defense. Although its mission includes military elements vital to the Federation's survival, Starfleet does not primarily consider itself a military organization in the 20th Century sense of the term. Think of a cross between the US Coast Guard, NASA, and Jacques Cousteau's Calypso.


Keep in mind that from the viewer's perspective we are typically seeing the most extra-ordinary missions and action (it makes for good TV/Movies). In reality space is very big and filled with a lot of nothing. I bet most stellar systems are probably not so interesting, that they'd attract the interest of every baddie or random alien with something to prove.

That said, even with FTL travel I'd venture to say that most star ships go years between serious injuries, let alone deaths. Life just isn't that exciting.

Also, although Star Fleet may have a number of Ships of the Line and labeled warships, their proclaimed primary mission has always been one of peaceful exploration.


We see a marriage cancelled by an alert in TOS. We see dependents aboard in TNG & DS9.

There seems to be no issue in TOS with romantic liaisons when they don't interfere with duty. There is explicitly no issue with it in TNG, and clearly there are limits on it as evidenced in DS9.

The reasons for it are explicit in subsidiary materials for TNG: For long duration vessels, the ability to keep family close by allows having a relatively "normal" life.

Given the size of the Federation, and the speeds given, taking annual leave "back home" could be a physical impossibility, or at least prohibitively long, for many crews.

Shorter duration vessels seem to have families back at home port, much like modern naval practice, tho' it's quite likely that a small and rotating group of family members might be abord a given vessel, in lieu of leave.

A note on ST XI: Nowhere does it indicate Mrs. Kirk wasn't also a crewmember; likewise, it doesn't indicate she is. We see some other non-uniformed individuals, as well... and it appears that there may be some dependents aboard the Kelvin. But nothing conclusive. The divergence would tend to imply that later ships probably don't carry significant numbers, but there is little conclusive evidence.


Because, like all her predecessors, this Enterprise was a ship of exploration, not war.

The USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-D) was a Federation Galaxy-class explorer.

In an alternate timeline, the Enterprise was the first Galaxy-class war ship constructed.

  • Historically, families don't travel on ships of exploration either, for obvious reasons. Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 15:33
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    historically, they might depending on the length of the voyage and its intended conclusion (settlement, colonisation, establishing a permanent trade post, etc.).
    – jwenting
    Commented Nov 16, 2011 at 11:13
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    Historically, ships of exploration didn't contain cruise-ship-level luxuries and 24th century safety equipment. Historically, you don't have an advanced medical bay capable of curing pretty much any disease or injury on a 16th century galleon. Historically, you don't have schools, replicators, bars, and holodecks on ships of exploration either. The living standards and life-expectancy of historical explorers are quite different from those of the explorers in Starfleet. Commented Nov 21, 2011 at 5:13

I was always under the impression that Star Fleet didn't have any dedicated warships until the Defiant Class, a class not fully developed and realized until the DS9 series.

Most Star Fleet vessels were meant to support the main role of peaceful exploration. While the ships could be well armed, they were typically meant to avoid violence when possible. The design of the ships and hypothetically the crewing philosophy was really worked out pre-Borg. Like any bureaucracy, they may have simply never updated their idea of how to crew a ship.

It should also be noted that not all Star Fleet vessels carried families. I don't believe that Voyager carried any family members. It could be that Enterprise-D and other Galaxy class ships carried families as an experiment, and most importantly, to give the writers a whole new stream of episodes ideas and twists available.

  • I generally agree with the explanation of the Federation's purpose being peaceful; however, the ships of Starfleet are generally given basic "weight classes" borrowed from our present-day navy, such as destroyers, frigates, cruisers and dreadnoughts. I do see that certain ships/missions did not carry family, but that actually seems to be the exception even on heavily-armed "warships" (I still use the term because MA and other resources call even the Enterprise-series ships that).
    – KeithS
    Commented Sep 21, 2011 at 3:34
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    As far as I know, until the Dominion and Borg conflict, there where no designated battleships in the fleet. Then classes like the Akira, Norway, Defiant, Sovereign and Prometheus were designed and build and put into action to 'resolve' those conflicts effectively.
    – Bobby
    Commented Dec 17, 2011 at 17:29

I think this was part of the utopian vision Gene Roddenberry had about the future. Any utopian vision essentially relies on not having to make the trade-offs between competing good things in the real world - in our real world, it's clear that having a ship full of families and civilians on a ship that sees combat every third episode is a bad idea.

Maybe the idea was to do a lot of storytelling with the families, but outside of Wesley Crusher, I don't recall much. What would have been really interesting would have been a story-arc where it becomes clear to Starfleet that the mission of the Enterprise was incompatible with the safety of the families...but again, that would have run contrary to the utopian nature of the series.

Deep Space Nine can be seen as the rebuttal to this vision, and that's why it's my favorite of the Treks. Families are still present, but are exposed to danger, and occasionally ARE actually evacuated.

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    Yeah, I kind of wonder if the whole "families on the Enterprise" thing was hung on the hook of the Wesley Crusher character. Commented Nov 15, 2011 at 18:04

Roddenberry intended the "wagon train to the stars" motif. It was changed by the network into a more militaristic series in the context of the Cold War during which it was developed. (Vietnam made the Communists the bad guys during this era. The dark, hairy Klingons fill the roll in the series.) If you watched TNG closely, you will observe times when Picard does not dance around the point that he will push his people to take on missions from which he knows they will most probably not return. One could call it "cold blooded". This is a notably point.

If one allows for a "wagon train to the stars" intent, which TNG was supposed to restore in the post-Vietnam/Glasnost era, and accepts the fact that such a motif is inherently a reference to the European genocide in North America, retold as "brave pioneers conquering a wilderness" from the perspective of the modern victors, rather than greedy immigrants willing to kill anything that stood between them and property ownership that would lead to wealth, you grasp that Star Trek is an imperfect vehicle for what it attempts to portray. The wagon train concept is inherently hostile. The "settlers" are going where they can only cause conflict with the indigenous populations, and they should know that.

TNG seeks to present the future as a place where there is no human induced war, but focuses, too often, on human induced warfare. (If humans weren't there, there'd be no war with the humans in "the final frontier", most of the time.) One can not maintain hostilities with the Romulans, the risk of hostilities with the Klingons, and a host of other hostile species, who don't care for humans (the Gorn, etc.), and not be well armed when anywhere one might run into such species. If children and spouses are on board Federation ships, I see it more as the result of massive population growth on a galactic scale, and a Federation Council that is willing to risk the lives of women and children to support its propaganda. (Given the rate at which humans can reproduce, and assuming that inter-stellar colonization has rendered control of human population a low priority, one could even imagine a fundamental need for expansion, either on the basis of growing populations, or the concept in business that one is either growing or dying, transferred to an imperial scale.)

As has been noted, there is little enough (human) bloodshed in the series to make the use of children and spouses as propaganda tools "in universe" a viable gambit and a means of more effectively spreading the Federation's influence wherever its "vessels of exploration" choose to go, with built-in colonizers on-board. If modern "adventure" sports people take their children into dangerous situations, the concept of such persons being "the special breed" that joins Starfleet, per the propaganda concept, makes perfect sense. What would be too dangerous to risk for some, makes it more interesting for others, a means of "setting themselves apart".

In such a society, who worries about the loss of a parent or a ship? The dead don't speak, and the living embrace the loss as their own badge of honor for service. Service is, after all, voluntary, and in the U.S., most people know how that affects a population's perspective on going to war. No demonstrations daily in the streets to stop the war. No sit-ins in government houses. No riots. All is, for the most part, well. Propaganda arises naturally to support such an environment. To summarize in more sarcastic terms, women and children are expendable in a galactic empire protected by adventure sports freaks given nifty uniforms.


In the Disaster episode of Star Trek: TNG, the ship passes through some invisible quantum wall and gets seriously damaged separating everyone in different parts of the ship. Picard ends up getting trapped in a turbolift with some children when it happens. He seems to make it clear that he doesn't particularly care for children aboard his ship and tolerates it within reasonable levels so long as they don't step foot on the bridge.

So apparently it was fairly normal occurrence to have children onboard. Likely he would have prevented it altogether if he could, so there must have been some sort of Starfleet policy to that effect.

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