Canadian actor William Shatner, best known for playing the role of Captain Kirk in the “Star Trek” series, received NASA’s highest civilian award this week for his work to inspire “a new generation of explorers.”
The 83-year-old Shatner, the grandson of European Jews who immigrated to Montreal, played the role of Captain James Tiberius Kirk, commander of the Federation starship USS Enterprise, from 1966 to 1969.
Between 1979 and 1994, Shatner starred in seven “Star Trek” feature films, cementing his position as a cultural icon.
Last weekend, NASA paid tribute to the longtime actor, awarding him the Distinguished Public Service medal — the agency’s highest award for civilians — for his “outstanding generosity and dedication to inspiring new generations of explorers around the world, and for unwavering support for NASA and its missions of discovery.”
Shatner accepted the award on April 26 in Los Angeles, at an annual charity event he organized to raise money for children’s causes.
According to The Scientific American, Shatner can take credit not only for commanding the sci-fi starship, but also for vocally promoting science education and space exploration — as well as being an informal spokesman for NASA, even trading tweets with senior Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield.
“William Shatner has been so generous with his time and energy in encouraging students to study science and math, and for inspiring generations of explorers, including many of the astronauts and engineers who are a part of NASA today,” David Weaver, the associate administrator for NASA’s Office of Communications, said in a statement announcing the decision to award Shatner the prize.
“He’s most deserving of this prestigious award,” Weaver said.
Aside from his role in the sci-fi series, Shatner is also a writer who has authored several autobiographical books, as well as novels set in the “Star Trek” universe.
Shatner, who trained as a classical Shakespearean actor, began performing on stage in the early 1950s. In 1958, he was cast in his first feature role as the youngest brother in MGM’s “The Brothers Karamazov.”