from star trek chronology, the history of the future
michael and denise okuda
appendix d: regarding stardates
Gene Roddenberry said he invented stardates primarily as a means to remind us that the show was set in the future. We thought about trying to derive a formula to convert stardates to our present Gregorian calendar, but we quickly discovered that several different methods were apparently used to determine stardates over the history of the show. It became clear that stardates were never intended to be examined too closely, and that many errors have crept into the system over the years. (Naturally, we did examine them too closely, but at least now you've been warned.)
Much of the first Star Trek series seemed to advance the stardate an average of about 57 units each episode, from 1512 in "The Corbomite Maneuver" to 5928 in "Turnabout Intruder." Within a given episode, an increase of about one unit (i.e., 1312 to 1313) seemed to correspond to about 24 hours. Additionally, there were a few episodes in which stardates apparently went backward from the previous week's show. The real reason for this is that the Star Trek production staff didn't always know which order the network would air the episodes. Dorothy Fontana also notes that some episodes were filmed out of intended order when writers were late in completing their scripts. (Ms. Fontana was diplomatic enough to avoid naming any names.)
Nevertheless, enough people asked about this so Gene Roddenberry came up with an explanation in Stephen Whitfield's The Making of Star Trek, which explains that stardates "adjust for shifts in relative time which occur due to the vessel's speed and space warp capability." Roddenberry added that "the stardate specified in the log entry must be computed against the speed of the vessel, the space warp, and its position within our galaxy in order to get a meaningful reading." (Gene also admitted that he wasn't quite sure what that explanation meant, and that he was glad that a lot of people seemed to think it made sense.)
The Star Trek feature films also tried to show a gradual increase in stardates in each succeeding film. The numbers seem to have been arbitrarily determined, since the apparent value of each stardate unit seemed to vary widely in the gaps between movies. Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country was an even stranger case. This picture was set about four years after Star Trek V (stardate 8454). We've seen from the original Star Trek series that a span of three years can correspond to an increase of 4416 units, which could easily have put Star Trek VI into the five-digit range. A five-digit stardate seemed inappropriate for a Star Trek movie with the original enterprise crew, since the longer stardates have been the province of the Next Generation. For this reason, the stardate for Star Trek VI was arbitrarily set at 9523, since this was near the upper limit of four-digit numbers. (We have a bit of insight into this selection process as Star Trek VI cowriter Denny Martin Flinn consulted with chronology coauthor Mike Okuda on this matter.)
Yet another method for stardate computation is employed for episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Gene Roddenberry made Next Generation stardates five-digit numbers, apparently to underscore the years that theoretically elapsed since the first Star Trek series. He arbitrarily chose 4 as the first digit (supposedly because this show is set in the 24th century), and designated the second digit as the number of the show's current season. The last three digits increase unevenly from 000 at the beginning of a season, to 999 at the end. This means that a stardate of 43999 would be the last day of the third season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. (Of course, given this setup, the last four digits of a stardate would not contain enough information to account for an entire century.) As with the original series, an increase of a single unit within each episode corresponds to about 24 hours, even though this is inconsistent with a 365-day year. (We rationalize that relativistic time dilation makes up the difference.) Star Trek: The Next Generation script coordinator Eric Stillwell served as the show's keeper of stardates during the first five seasons. Every year, Eric issued a memo listing suggested stardate ranges for each upcoming episode. This memo served as a guide to help our writers keep their stardates in order. Still, as we noted earlier, stardates were never intended to stand up under close scrutiny.
Several methods of deriving stardates from calendar dates have been developed by Star Trek fans. One of the most popular systems arranges the year, month, and date so that a calendar date of July 20, 1969, corresponds to a stardate of 6907.20. Although this does not correspond to the stardates used on the show, many fans enjoy using them anyway.
Another conjectural theory espoused by some fans theorizes that stardates relate only to the length of the ship's current voyage. For example, a stardate of 1312 (as in "Where No Man Has Gone Before") would indicate that the log entry was made thirteen months, twelve days since the ship left port. By coincidence or design, stardate 5928, given in "Turnabout Intruder," the last episode of the original series, would correspond under this system to the sixtieth month or the end of the fifth year of the Enterprise's mission.