What “Ad Astra Per Aspera” Means In Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Warning: SPOILERS for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2, Episode 2 – “Ad Astra Per Aspera”Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2, episode 2 takes its name from the Latin phrase “Ad Astra per Aspera”, and it’s a phrase that means a lot to Commander Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn). The episode places Una on trial for concealing her Illyrian heritage from Starfleet, in fear of the Federation’s ban on genetic enhancements. The lack of cultural nuance in the Federation’s ban is at the heart of a legal battle for both Una’s freedom and her Starfleet career. Accusations even begin flying in the direction of Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) as Vice Admiral Pasalk (Graeme Somerville) wants to bring down the whole command structure of the USS Enterprise.

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“Ad Astra per Aspera” is a classic Star Trek courtroom episode that places Una’s struggle in the context of historic laws that persecuted people on the grounds of their gender, religious beliefs, or sexual orientation. Una’s lawyer and childhood best friend, Neera (Yetide Badaki) is also an Illyrian and has dedicated her life to fighting for her people’s civil rights. It’s appropriate then that Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2, episode 2 takes its name from “Ad Astra per Aspera”, the Latin phrase that is also uttered during the classic civil rights courtroom drama To Kill a Mockingbird. The phrase also happens to be a source of inspiration for Una and for Starfleet itself.

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The Meaning of “Ad Astra Per Aspera” In Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Una Chin-Riley and Jonathan Archer

The original definition of “Ad astra per aspera” is “To the stars through difficulty”, although Star Trek: Strange New Worlds opts for the more emotive definition of “difficulty” as “hardship.” Una talks movingly about how she learned about the original Starfleet in school, and took inspiration from the phrase which was the organization’s original motto. “Ad astra per aspera” can be seen stitched onto the new Starfleet uniforms in the Star Trek: Enterprise finale. It’s fitting that Una has taken inspiration from this period of Starfleet history, as Enterprise introduced the Illyrians to Star Trek.

For Una, the phrase was an acknowledgment of the hard work that sent humanity to the stars, but it was also a message of hope. As a persecuted Illyrian child, Una believed that if she could make her way through the hardship of life in the divided Federation colony she grew up in, she could one day visit the stars. Una took Starfleet’s original motto to heart and dreamed of one day escaping the hardship and division of life on the ground to a more equal and united society within Starfleet. Something which could be taken away from her at the end of her trial.

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Rebecca Romijn and Yetide Badaki in Star Trek: Strange New Worlds

Una’s belief in Starfleet as an institution is well-placed, as it ultimately finds in her favor at the end of the trial. Neera uses Una’s story of the persecution she endured as a child to paint a picture of someone fleeing life-threatening persecution based on her cultural and religious beliefs. It is written in the Starfleet Charter that anyone who experiences such persecution can be granted asylum within the Federation, regardless of the ban on genetic enhancements.

Neera frames the events of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 1 – Una revealing her Illyrian heritage to Pike and then turning herself in – as an application for asylum. The Judge Advocate General accepts this verdict and grants Una safety inside the Federation and Starfleet. For now, Una’s hardship is over, and Neera observes that the victory is a positive first step to other Illyrians one day following in her footsteps to the stars.

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season 2 streams Thursdays on Paramount+.

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