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Rules That Everyone Has To Follow In The Star Trek Universe

In many ways, "Star Trek" has always been about following rules. If you go back to watch the franchise's earliest episodes and compare them to content produced today, you'll find that there's very little difference in how members of Starfleet follow rules and orders. This makes sense, seeing as Starfleet is modeled after the U.S. Navy, but there's more to it than that.

Rules apply to members of Starfleet and the Federation, but they're not the only governing bodies in the franchise. Every spacefaring civilization has rules they must follow, and while each species is different in many ways, this is something that applies to everyone. (Granted, there's a lot more killing when it comes to following the rules in Klingon society than elsewhere.)

"Star Trek" is about space exploration, diplomacy, occasional combat, and, above all else, the rules. Of course, it's also true that nearly every captain has broken one or all of the basic rules of the "Star Trek" franchise, but that's another aspect of the franchise's charm. Whether they smash right through them or follow them to a T, these are some of the most important rules everyone has to follow in the "Star Trek" universe.

Officers aren't allowed to fraternize

Like any professional quasi-military organization, some of Starfleet's rules deal with fraternization between its officers. This is as true in "Star Trek" as it is in the U.S. military, but if you're wondering about the many on-screen relationships in the franchise, there's a simple reason for this: few people follow this rule.

That's not far-fetched, seeing as it's a problem in the U.S. military, just as it's a problem within Starfleet. This particular rule is covered under Regulation 1138, which restricts Starfleet officers from entering into business and romantic relationships with their superiors or subordinates in their direct chain of command. A separate clause, Beta, restricts officer and enlisted relationships. The idea is to maintain good order and discipline, but the rule is rarely enforced.

One aspect of the regulation that is almost always enforced is the restriction placed on ship captains, as they're not allowed to engage in a relationship with anyone beneath them. Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) maintained feelings for Dr. Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden), but they didn't act on their feelings until after the events of "Star Trek: Nemesis," which resulted in the birth of their son, Jack Crusher (Ed Speleers).

Starfleet's rules of engagement are constraining

Starfleet may look and operate much like the U.S. Navy, but it's technically an exploratory and defensive service run by the United Federation of Planets. While that's its core function, combat is never too far from a captain's mind, as many species throughout the galaxy are aggressive. Regardless of its mission, starships often engage in combat, but such actions can be very limited.

Starfleet operates under a complex rulebook governing the rules of engagement, and they place several restrictions on captains in potentially deadly situations. First and foremost, Starfleet maintains a no-first-strike policy, so a starship can only fire if fired upon, which somewhat mirrors U.S. Navy policy. This rule can be broken if a ship's survival is at stake, but such actions are rare and highly scrutinized.

The rules of engagement are covered under General Order 12. This requires that a starship must attempt communications before taking any action. That's why a captain will order a red alert instead of immediately engaging when a ship's weapon systems are fired up. This rule applies in most situations, but when facing an enemy vessel like the Borg, such general orders are chucked out of the nearest airlock.

Starfleet must abide by the Treaty of Algeron

Despite being an exploratory service, Starfleet has engaged in numerous conflicts throughout the galaxy. Because of this, Starfleet has signed several treaties with other species. One of the most limiting was the Treaty of Algeron, a peace accord signed between the United Federation of Planets and the Romulan Star Empire. It was signed in 2311, which was around 160 years after the Earth-Romulan War ended.

The Treaty of Algeron covered several areas of the peace deal, but it included several restrictions that severely limited Starfleet's operations in the galaxy. First and foremost, the treaty redefined and reinforced the Romulan Neutral Zone. Entering the Neutral Zone without prior notice was an act of war on either side of the conflict, but it wasn't the most limiting aspect of the treaty.

Most significantly, the Treaty of Algeron prohibited the Federation from researching, inventing, or utilizing cloaking technology. This hampered Federation efforts for decades, causing problems when engaging with the Romulans, Klingons, and other species that freely exploited this technology. The Federation was allowed to break this rule once before the 31st century, during its conflict with the Dominion in the Gamma Quadrant.

Interspecies relationships require permission

If you've ever watched an episode of "Star Trek," you know that the many sentient humanoid species in the galaxy can interbreed. This is a common occurrence, and it isn't a big deal, but it technically violates Starfleet's Interspecies Protocol, which regulates the interactions between alien species and members of Starfleet. While relationships aren't prohibited, there are rules limiting them.

All students at Starfleet Academy have to take the semester-long Interspecies Protocol course as a requirement to graduate, so Starfleet takes the rule seriously. If a member of Starfleet wants to engage in an interspecies relationship with someone else, whether they are also members of Starfleet or not, they must get approval from their commanding officer first. This was explained in the "Voyager" episode "The Disease," which covered the concept in detail. 

Starfleet's Handbook on Personal Relationships states that "All Starfleet personnel must obtain authorization from their C.O. as well as clearance from their medical officer before initiating an intimate relationship with an alien species." This rule is another that's rarely enforced, and if you've ever watched Captain Kirk (William Shatner) or Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) become involved with an alien, you know the rules were the last thing on their minds.

If everyone dies, the ship must be destroyed

Every Federation starship has the ability to self-destruct should the need arise, and it's been engaged or nearly engaged several times over the years. In most cases, a captain initiates a self-destruct to keep the ship from falling into enemy hands, or they might turn it on as a bluff to compel invaders to leave the ship. Whatever the reason, the self-destruct is an oft-used plot device that sometimes actually results in the destruction of the vessel.

There is a rule that requires a ship to destroy itself, though it's rarely used or implemented. If all sentient life aboard a Federation starship dies, General Order 6 requires that after 24 hours pass, the vessel will self-destruct. The reason for doing this isn't to keep the ship from falling into enemy hands, though it is done for a practical purpose.

If everyone dies aboard a starship, odds are that a deadly disease has broken out and killed everyone. The ship is programmed to destroy itself after 24 hours of detecting no life onboard to prevent the disease from spreading to anyone finding or investigating the vessel. The explanation for this was covered in the Animated Series episode "Albatross," when a deadly disease infects the Enterprise.

A Starfleet captain can destroy an entire planet

Starfleet is all about peaceful exploration, and while combat breaks out from time to time, it largely maintains this policy. Of course, there are always exceptions, and one of Starfleet's rules is entirely antithetical to its stated goals. General Order 24 allows for a Starfleet captain to destroy all life on a targeted planet, and believe it or not, the order has been given — twice.

On one occasion, Captain Garth (Steve Ihnat) orders the destruction of all life on Antos IV (as recounted in "Whom Gods Destroy"), while Captain Kirk gives the same order regarding Eminiar VII in "A Taste of Armageddon." In both instances, the orders are not carried out, but in Kirk's case, he appears fully committed to destroying all life on Eminiar VII.

Kirk gives the order when he's put between two potentially warring civilizations intent on destroying one another and the Enterprise. He gives Chief Engineer Scott (James Doohan) two hours to implement General Order 24 and does so to force his captors to make peace with their enemies. Kirk threatens to kill everyone, including himself, and effectively uses the order to force two warring planets to make peace.

Captains and First Officers cannot go on away missions

If there's one thing fans know about "Star Trek," it's that captains go on away missions. This was as true in "Star Trek: The Original Series" as it is in "Star Trek: Discovery," and it's unlikely to change. As it happens, the captain isn't allowed to go on away missions outside of specific diplomatic occasions requiring someone of high rank and position. This was addressed in the pilot episode of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" by Commander Riker.

Riker told his new captain, Jean-Luc Picard, that he planned to enforce Starfleet's rules under Section 12 Paragraph 4, which prohibited the captain from going on away missions. This was an important conversation because in "The Original Series," Captain Kirk went on nearly every away mission the Enterprise launched, and he often found himself compromised or put into dangerous situations.

This comes up several times over the years, including in "Star Trek: Nemesis." When Data (Brent Spiner) is introduced as his new First Officer, Picard mentions that Riker has never allowed him to go on away missions. Data agrees and begins to cite the regulation before the captain tells him to "shut up," adding that he'd wanted to say that for 15 years.

Emotionally compromised officers must resign

Starfleet has a plethora of rules related to command, with several describing situations in which a captain can be removed. In certain circumstances, a ship's chief medical officer can supersede a captain's orders and take command if a medical situation demands it. This is covered under Starfleet Medical Protocol Regulation 121, Section A.

Similarly, Regulation 619 stipulates that a commanding officer is required to relieve themselves of command if they are emotionally compromised and thus incapable of making uncompromised command decisions. In the Kelvin Timeline established in 2009's "Star Trek," Spock (Zachary Quinto) takes command of the Enterprise after Captain Pike (Bruce Greenwood) is captured, but the destruction of Vulcan leaves him emotionally compromised.

This is an uncommon situation for a Vulcan, but as the older Spock (Leonard Nimoy) explains, he is indeed emotionally compromised. Lieutenant Kirk (Chris Pine) is able to goad Spock into a fight, forcing him to confront the reality of his situation, and in accordance with Regulation 619, he relieves himself of command, leaving the captaincy of the Enterprise in Kirk's capable hands.

Travel outside the galaxy is impossible

"Star Trek" has plenty of rules governing people's actions, but there are also immutable laws of physics within the universe that limit what's possible to do with a starship. Some of these rules limit a vessel's potential speed, while others deal with the difficulty of getting to the galactic core. Another rule deals with the galactic barrier, which is an energy field composed of negative energy surrounding the galactic rim.

This energy barrier is nearly impassable, making it difficult for ships to cross the boundary of the Milky Way galaxy. Of course, there have been exceptions: the Kelvans commandeer the Enterprise and steer it through the barrier in the "Original Series" episode "By Any Other Name," while an insane Larry Marvick pilots the ship beyond the galaxy's edge in another "Original Series" segment, "Is There in Truth No Beauty?"

"Star Trek: Discovery" spent a good chunk of its fourth season dealing with a threat located outside the galactic barrier. The USS Discovery is able to approach the barrier using its unique Spore Drive but is able to navigate through it using its Warp Drive. It accomplishes this by carefully navigating through spacial cells, which are protective bubbles within the barrier.

You can't violate the Prime Directive

Of the many important laws and regulations all members of Starfleet must follow, the Prime Directive is easily the most crucial. General Order 1 states, "No starship may interfere with the normal development of any alien life or society." Over the years, General Order 1 was renamed the Prime Directive and was expanded upon to also limit contact with pre-warp societies.

Once a planet achieves warp technology, Starfleet allows for contact. The Prime Directive is meant to stop an advanced organization (Starfleet) from distorting the natural evolution of a pre-warp civilization by introducing them to concepts and technology that could destroy their worlds. Furthermore, the Prime Directive dictates how Starfleet can contact a planet, and it's strictly limited and enforced.

Starfleet members must obey the local laws and customs of a society without imparting its own values upon them. Every so often, a Starfleet captain violates the Prime Directive, and it's almost always done to save the crew or the ship itself. The Prime Directive is one of Starfleet's highest laws, so it's taken very seriously. Despite this, almost every captain in the franchise has violated the Prime Directive in one way or another.

Never violate the Temporal Prime Directive

While violations of the Prime Directive are no laughing matter, there's an even more important rule related to time travel. Throughout the franchise, captains and their crews have traveled back and forth through time, leading to a Temporal Cold War. As a result, to prevent anyone from seriously messing up the timeline, Starfleet enacted the Temporal Prime Directive, which strictly limits a person's actions in the past.

Starfleet personnel cannot perform any actions or provide any information about the future that might change the past, thus altering the course of history. While it's one of Starfleet's most restrictive laws, the Temporal Prime Directive has been violated scores of times. Captain Kirk and other members of his Enterprise crew were among the worst violators, tampering with time on at least 17 different occasions.

Time travel is a plot device used throughout the franchise: when the USS Enterprise follows the Borg into the past in "First Contact," they nearly have to destroy the ship to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. In doing so, the crew plans to relocate to a remote island on Earth, where they can stay away from the rest of humanity so as not to impact history after saving the timeline from the Borg.

The Omega Directive supersedes all Starfleet orders and regulations

In most cases, regulations and general orders are published for everyone to see and follow, but that's not always the case. Several classified general orders exist, and these are often limited to those in high positions of command, like starship captains and admirals. Of these classified general orders, the Omega Directive reigns supreme as Starfleet's most important and crucial directive.

The Omega Directive centers around the Omega molecule, a substance so powerful that a single molecule holds the same amount of energy as a warp core. The Omega molecule is one of the most powerful objects in the universe, and its existence is so dangerous that the Omega Directive gives flag officers the right to use any means whatsoever to destroy an Omega molecule whenever they're detected.

This regulation supersedes all other Starfleet orders and regulations, so if it's necessary to violate the Prime Directive or Temporal Prime Directive to destroy an Omega molecule, it's allowed. This proves problematic, as discussing the Omega Directive with anyone lower than a captain is strictly prohibited, making the commander's destructive decisions suspect to the rest of the crew.

No one can visit Talos IV

Starfleet isn't a military organization but it's run like one, and it follows a code of justice with various penalties for breaking the law. When necessary, a person can be imprisoned in a ship's brig for things like murder or other high crimes. Normally, Starfleet and the Federation don't have a death penalty, but there was at one point a single law that allegedly required it if that law was broken.

This was General Order 7, which stated, "No vessel under any condition, emergency or otherwise, is to visit Talos IV." Should any member of Starfleet travel to, land upon, or visit with the inhabitants of Talos IV, that person was potentially subject to execution. The threat posed to Starfleet stemmed from the Talosians' psychic abilities, which enabled total mind control, implanted hallucinations, and more. 

Much of the regulation was classified and known only to senior staff, while everyone in Starfleet was aware that travel to the planet was prohibited. The USS Enterprise, commanded by Captain Pike, visited Talos IV in 2254, and several ships, including the USS Discovery, visited the planet in later years, though there's no record of anyone being executed for violating General Order 7. Since the capital punishment element of it was mentioned by a Starfleet officer who turned out to be a Talosian illusion, it's possible that no one ever has or will.

There's a forbidden three-letter word

"Star Trek" creator Gene Roddenberry reportedly had several rules and limitations he placed on the original series that continue to impact the franchise decades later. One of these rules limited what people could say, and a particular three-letter word was on the permanent banned list as far as Roddenberry was concerned. That three-letter word was "God," and Roddenberry allegedly prohibited its utterance in almost every situation.

"Star Trek: Discovery" writer Kristen Beyer explained this to Entertainment Weekly, where she recounted a moment in an episode where Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) ad-libbed, "For God's sakes." The director called cut, and Beyer approached Isaacs to explain he couldn't say that word. He replied that he thought he could say "God" but wasn't allowed to add "damn" or other modifying words. Beyer corrected the actor, explaining he could drop an F-bomb before he'd be allowed to utter that prohibited three-letter word. 

Beyer told Entertainment Weekly that Roddenberry's original concept for "Star Trek" was a future in which the 23rd century was driven by science, and religion basically doesn't exist — at least, not in the manner it exists today, so saying "God" was against the rules. But it seems that rule was not necessarily a commandment carved in stone: God was mentioned at least once on the original series, in the episode "Bread and Circuses" (co-written by Roddenberry), and famously in "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier," when Kirk asked, "What does God need with a starship?"