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Star Trek fans say: Beam me to Vegas

Some 20,000 Star Trek fans went on a mission to boldly celebrate like no man or alien has ever celebrated before. — By NBC's Donna Gregory
/ Source: CNBC

The annual Star Trek convention in Las Vegas this year is expected to be the biggest ever. It seems forty years of pointy ears, grumpy Klingons and aliens of every hue have taken the Enterprise way beyond its five-year mission, and into the record books.

"Star Trek is certainly more than a show, more than a movie. It is more than an auction, it’s more than a theme park, collectively it is just the most successful franchise I’ve ever seen in entertainment," said John Wentworth, CBS Paramount Television.

The numbers are out of this world. It’s considered a $4 billion franchise, with five TV shows in syndication, ten movies with another on the way, countless DVDs, books, action figures and video games.

At the Las Vegas Hilton, there’s even a $70 million dollar Star Trek theme park that rivals the casino for tourist dollars. It’s hard to believe all of this is triggered by a 1966 series that got cancelled after only three seasons. One of the stars of the show’s second incarnation, Commander Riker, his real name is Jonathan Frakes, said he knows why fans are so loyal to the brand.

"Doubtless it is Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future, which was one of compassion, of a world of the 24th century in which there was no racism and there was no sexism," said Frankes.

Ultimate fans Gary Berman and Adam Malin put together the first Star Trek convention in New York, when they were just fourteen. Now thirty-five years later, their idea lives long and prospers.

"I think it’s pretty unusual that we were able to discover something that we enjoyed doing at an early age and are still with it all these years later," said Berman.

And did we mention, prosper?

"It’s a multi-million dollar enterprise in terms of producing it, but we certainly get the return on it. It’s a profitable venture, and the main goal is to bring people the best value for the dollars they spend," said Malin.

And spend they do. Admission for the entire weekend ranges from $300 to $1,000, or beam up for just one day for $35. For another $300 fans can have their likeness turned into a sculpture.  And on sale at every convention: The coveted autograph.

Every one of the shows has been a gold mine for the star cluster of actors who’ve appeared in the series. Autographs at the convention are by appointment, and they don’t come cheap. A Starfleet Captain’s signature can fetch as much as $60 dollars. Stars know, it’s all part of the gig.

“This idea of merchandising and video games, it’s never ending. I will bet you that the business of Star Trek will be going on long after we have left”, said Avery Brooks, of Star Trek Deep Space Nine.

Commander Data, also known as Brent Spiner, agrees.

"It’s unbelievable, it’s a huge business. Look around, people are selling body parts. You can sell anything here and it’s enormous," said Spiner.

Fans have their own reasons for boarding the Enterprise year after year.

"It’s Halloween for the Star Trek people. You only get to dress up and have a lot of fun," said a Trekkie from New Hampshire.

But it’s much more than a costume party for big companies like Google — a first time sponsor attracted to the techno-savvy fans.

"We’re always looking for ways to connect with people interested in technology, and so long-term we’re hoping these guys will spread the word for us," said Google product manager, Tom Stocky.

And the mission continues. Movie number eleven is in the works, with Director J.J. Abrams of “Lost” and “Mission Impossible” fame at the helm.

"It’s going to be a completely different sort of take on it, respectful of the show’s roots and reinvented in a way that hasn’t been seen before. That could bring the phenomenon back, big-time," said Entertainment Weekly’s Ben Syetkey.

Big enough to last another forty years?

“I would take that bet, now that we’re in Vegas, I would definitely. I would double down on that forty," said Syetkey.