Stephen Hawking Made Star Trek History With This Moment

Stephen Hawking's intellect was almost beyond parallel, but he is beloved for so much more than that. It's impossible to admire Hawking the scientist without an equal appreciation for Hawking the person. As Scientific American reports, he received his amyotrophic lateral sclerosis diagnosis as a young man of just 21, "and he was not expected to see his 25th birthday." Even as his ALS progressed, though, he maintained demanding posts at Cambridge University for decades, continuing both to innovate and to communicate, until his tragic death in March 2018 at 76 years old.

Brilliant as he was, Hawking never stopped expressing his silly side. He famously punched Homer Simpson with an absurd boxing glove attachment on "The Simpsons," — a show he truly loved (via Simpsons Best Moments on YouTube). Showrunner Al Jean told The Hollywood Reporter on the sad occasion of Hawking's death, "he had a tremendous sense of humor ... he would tell jokes when he came to our table reads, which he did several times." The fun-loving physicist made numerous television appearances, but there was something especially notable about a "Star Trek" cameo of his.

A historic poker game on the Holodeck

As any "Star Trek" fan will tell you, Data is one of the most beloved and iconic characters in the franchise. The brilliant android was the USS Enterprise's operating officer and second officer. He also had quite the intellect of his own.

To hone this, as the official Star Trek website reports, Data sought to meet and spend time with some human geniuses. Through the magic of hologram technology, the Enterprise was a temporary home to a truly formidable trio: Sir Isaac Newton, Albert Einstein, and, naturally, Stephen Hawking. In "Star Trek: The Next Generation" Season 6, Episode 26, "The Descent (Part One)" (via Vlad Paunescu on YouTube), Data is seen playing poker with the three, explaining that he was "curious to see how three of history's greatest minds would interact in this setting."

The answer? Quite antagonistically. Hawking makes a long and very scientific joke, which Data begins to explain to Newton. The brainy Brit spits back (via Vlad Paunescu on YouTube), "do not patronize me, sir! I invented physics!" The scene ends with Einstein calling out Hawking, accusing him of bluffing, before the other brainy Brit reveals his (robotic) hand and wins. Hawking smiles delightedly before an alert causes Data to shut down the holograms. The scene isn't very significant in terms of the overarching plot, but Hawking made "Star Trek" history with this brief cameo.

Another episode in Stephen Hawking's remarkable legacy

Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein sadly died in 1727 and 1955 respectively. As such, it's entirely understandable that they were a little indisposed when it came to appearing in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" themselves. Isaac Newton probably would have been far too serious to consider it anyway, even if he hadn't been dead for almost three centuries at the time.

Actors were obviously used for the prominent pair, but Stephen Hawking played himself in the scene. By so doing, he earned himself another very special personal distinction (in a life full of them), as Vanity Fair reported in 2018: He was the only person ever to appear as themselves in the "Star Trek" world. Given how expansive and varied this universe is, that's quite a claim to fame. This was his first guest appearance on such a show, Vanity Fair goes on, and it really couldn't have been a more apt one from a man who was reportedly quite a fan.

Hawking brushed off worries about ostensible scientific impossibilities presented by a franchise like "Star Trek." As he put it at the time, via TrekCore on YouTube, "whenever anyone makes a major advance in physics, it breaks the previously accepted rules. So I don't mind being associated with violations of the presently-known laws."