Noted scientist Stephen Hawking was something of a pop culture icon in his lifetime, and he even had a small role on Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Besides being a powerhouse in the field of science, Stephen Hawking was actually something of a pop culture figure and even appeared in an episode of Star Trek. The English-born theoretical physicist rose to prominence with the publication of his book A Brief History of Time, which was a worldwide bestseller for years. Through his publications, Hawking made the very complicated world of theoretical science more accessible to the masses. Because of his scientific prominence, Hawking became a household name and his reach extended far beyond the walls of Oxford and into the sphere of popular culture as well.


Besides the 2014 film The Theory of Everything, which dramatized the events of his life, Hawking himself actually made several appearances in media, especially through the use of his synthesized voice. He was one of many scientists who appeared on The Big Bang Theory, but his appeal in popular culture stretched beyond the scientific. Noted for his wit and sense of humor, the late physicist appeared in a range of projects from The Simpsons and even collaborated with the rock band Pink Floyd on their song “Keep Talking”. Like his fellow pop scientists Bill Nye and Carl Sagan, Hawking opened up many minds to the wonders of science.

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Stephen Hawking Played Himself On Star Trek TNG

Stephen Hawking looks on in Star Trek TNG

Hawking’s appearance in Star Trek: The Next Generation was rather unassuming, but it actually said a lot about his position in the real-life realm of science. Hawking portrayed a hologram version of himself and was playing poker with Data on the holodeck in TNG, season 6, episode 26, “Descent Part 1”. Although many historical figures appeared in Star Trek, Hawking was the only person to cameo as themselves, and he starred alongside holograms of Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton. Data explained his reasoning for the game when saying that he wanted to see how the three brightest scientific minds would interact.

Hawking’s Appearance Made Him Part Of Star Trek Canon

Data, Isaac Newton, and Einstein watch as Stephen Hawking speaks in Star Trek TNG

References to real-life historical events in Star Trek have often been scant, and it was never made clear what parts of human history exist within the universe of the franchise. Although figures like Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain were obviously known, late-20th century icons were usually absent because of the complicated timeline of Star Trek‘s past. Besides being a wonderful piece of fan service, Hawking’s appearance in TNG also firmly established him in the canon of the franchise. The entire Star Trek timeline was filled with opportunities to introduce “historical” figures into the canon, and “Descent” was Hawking’s official entrance.

Placing him alongside Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein was no coincidence, and the writers of the series used his cameo as a way to reaffirm the importance of his life’s work. Hawking had been mentioned in passing in TNG, season 4, episode 23, “The Host”, when it was revealed that one of the Enterprise‘s shuttlecrafts was named Hawking, but his physical appearance finally sealed it. The entire purpose of Star Trek was to predict what the future of humankind would be like, and the writers obviously thought that Stephen Hawking’s work would live on well into the 24th century.

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