In the original Star Trek series, stardates in the captain’s log were simply made up, not quite randomly. They gradually increased with the production of each episode, but the episodes weren’t necessarily aired in production order, so sometimes stardates went “backwards.” So many viewers pointed out the apparent errors that Gene Roddenberry came up with an explanation that stardates are calculated against the ship’s position in the galaxy, its warp speed, and relativistic time dilation. When Star Trek: The Next Generation came around, the show had a new, more consistent framework for estimating stardates. The first digit was always a “4.” The second digit indicated the season number, so the first season of ST:TNG was a “1.” The remaining 3 digits increased gradually from 000 to 999 over the course of the season, which presumably represented a calendar year.
When it came time to design the dedication plaque, I realized that this gave me the opportunity to establish the date on which the then-new Enterprise-D had been commissioned. But what date to use? My first thought was to use July 20th, the anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. I also considered December 17th, the anniversary of the Wright brothers’ first powered flight at Kitty Hawk. Then I started to think about one of the most remarkable aspects of the new show: The fact that we had Worf, a Klingon officer, on the bridge of the Starship Enterprise was a powerful reminder that even our most implacable opponents can someday become friends. As President Kennedy once reminded us, “there are no permanent enemies.” With this in mind, I settled on October 4th, the anniversary of the launch of Sputnik I. Although that event was a political defeat for the United States, many regard it as the dawn of the space age, and it seemed keeping in the spirit of Gene’s new show.
Thus, the dedication plaque on the Enterprise-D bridge proclaims that the ship was commissioned on stardate 40759.5, which corresponds to the 406th anniversary of the October 4, 1957 launch of the first artificial Earth satellite. Happy Sputnik Day!
(ADDENDUM: There were actually two different dedication plaques on the bridge over the course of the series. The first was made by Jeff Clark of the Paramount Sign Department. The second was made by the good people at the Franklin Mint. The plaques had different designs, but both indicated the same stardate for the ship’s launch. The photo below shows the second version of the plaque, which features the names of numerous Starfleet personnel who presumably built the ship, but are actually production personnel responsible for Star Trek: The Next Generation, including series creator Gene Roddenberry and legendary modelmaker Gregory Jein.)