This purpose of this article is to examine the various quotes we have been given regarding the size of the Federation throughout Star Trek. There are relatively few facts regarding this, and as usual some of those we have been given are wildly contradictory. I will list the evidence and suggest ways to reconcile the contradictions.
In the episode 'Balance of Terror', Kirk must battle a Romulan vessel which has invaded Federation territory. At one point he goes to his quarters, feeling glum about the responsibility which rests on his shoulders. McCoy goes to comfort him and says :
|McCoy : ||"In this galaxy there's a mathematical probability of three million Earth type planets. And in all of the universe, three million million galaxies like this. And in all of that... and perhaps more... only one of each of us. Don't destroy the one named Kirk."|
The importance of this quote is not immediately obvious, but we shall see in the conclusion how it applies to the number of worlds in the Federation.
The episode 'Metamorphosis' features Zefram Cochrane, the inventor of warp drive. Cochrane has been missing for over a hundred years, and it transpires that during this time he has been living on an asteroid with a non-corporeal alien entity that he calls 'The Companion'. Cochrane is curious about how things have been going whilst he has been separated from the rest of Humanity and Kirk gives him this description :
|Kirk : ||"We're on a thousand planets and spreading out. We cross fantastic distances. And everything's alive, Cochrane; life everywhere. We estimate that there are millions of planets with intellgient life. We haven't begun to map them. Interested?"|
Since Cochrane has been missing for longer than the Federation has existed, he is presumably asking specifically about the progress of Humanity. So it's possible that Kirk has given him the number of Human colonies here rather than the total for the Federation as a whole. If so then the total number of Federation worlds during TOS would be several thousand at least, perhaps even tens of thousands or more.
The Next Generation series does not give us any solid figures for the number of worlds in the Federation, but it does give us a couple of interesting quotes. The first comes in the first season episode 'Where No One Has Gone Before'; in this episode Starfleet warp expert Kozinski has come aboard the Enterprise-D with a mysterious alien assistant to help improve the ship's warp drive. It transpires that Kozinski is a fraud and that the assistant, known as the Traveller, has been doing all the work for him. During an experiment the ship is catapulted across several million light years when the Traveller becomes distracted. Unwilling to admit that anything is seriously wrong, Kozinski declares :
|Kozinski : ||"In three centuries of space travel we've charted just 11% of our galaxy. And then... we accomplish this!"|
A similar quote comes in the later episode 'The Dauphin', when Wesley is showing a young lady some of the prettier spots of the galaxy on the holodeck. Wesley declares to her :
|Wesley : ||"This is all just beginning; we've only charted 19% of our galaxy. The rest is out there, just waiting!"|
This implies an impressive feat of exploration during early TNG; 'The Dauphin' is set only about sixteen months after 'Where No One Has Gone Before', so the Federation has charted 8% of the entire galaxy during this time. This is almost as much territory as has been charted in the entire rest of history put together!
One possibility is that the Federation was just developing some method of charting large areas of space around the time of 'Where No One Has Gone Before'. Subspace telescopes would seem to fit the bill well; if facilities such as the Argus Array were first deployed just after Kozinsky made his statement, they might allow large areas of space to be charted in short order.
Star Trek : First Contact
In this movie Picard meets Lily, a Human from the year 2063. Whilst the two are on the run from the Borg on board the Enterprise-E, she talks to him about the Federation :
|Lily : ||"How many planets are in this Federation?"|
|Picard : ||"Over one hundred and fifty, spread across eight thousand light years."|
This flatly contradicts Kirk's statement in 'Metamorphosis' that the Federation is already on at least a thousand worlds as of the original series.
In the rather grim episode 'Battlelines', Sisko crashes on a habitable moon when a network of satellites orbiting it attack his Runabout. He finds two groups called the Ennis and the Nol-Ennis fighting a war on the surface. They have been deliberately stranded there and infected with a technology that gives them immortality, constantly bringing them back from the dead when they are killed in battle. The leader of one of the factions talks to Sisko about the Federation :
|Zlangco : ||"Federation?"|
|Shel-la : ||"What does it matter to us, Zlangco?"|
|Zlangco : ||"It matters to me!"|
|Sisko : ||"The Federation is made up of over a hundred planets who have allied themselves for mutual scientific cultural and defensive benefits."|
This again contradicts Kirk's 'Metamorphosis' quote, and is somewhat lower than Picard's First Contact quote of over one hundred and fifty worlds in the Federation, though it is in the same ballpark.
Insurrection has no quotes concerning the number of worlds in the Federation, but there is an interesting scene early on in the movie. Picard is hosting a reception for an alien delegation who have been accepted as a 'Federation Protectorate'. This is a term we have never heard before; previously we have only heard planets called 'members', 'colonies' or 'settlements'. The implication of the scene seems to be that a protectorate is something different from a full member, which implies the existence of different levels of Federation membership. As we shall see in the conclusion, this will offer a possible answer to one of the major problems concerning this issue.
The only serious problem here is reconciling Sisko and Picard's statements that the Federation has about 100 - 150 worlds in the TNG era with Kirk's statement that 'we' are already on more than a thousand worlds during TOS. The only way I can see that both numbers can be true is to go with the idea of different membership 'levels' within the Federation. If we assumed that only 'home worlds' such as Earth, Vulcan, Betazed and Andor count as full member planets, then 150 member worlds would indicate that there are approximately 150 species which are full Federation members, presuming that most planets have only a single intelligent species. Colony worlds such as Mars, Cygnia Minor and Galen IV would not count as Federation members, nor would protectorates such as that mentioned in 'First Contact'.
If we take Kirk's 'Metamorphosis' figure of one thousand worlds as referring to the total for the entire Federation, then, he could have been referring to, say, 100 full member worlds each with an average of about ten colonies, for one thousand worlds overall. If we assumed that he was referring to only Human worlds, then we can only make a guess about how large the Federation would have been at this time. Humans seem to dominate the Federation throughout Star Trek, so it seems unlikely that other members would have as many colonies as Humanity does. But even so, Humans surely cannot be expected to have more than 10 or 20% of the total Federation worlds. So we're looking at 5 - 10,000 total planets in the Federation during TOS.
If we have to make guesses at how many worlds the Federation contained in TOS, we have to compound our guesses to try and project that number into TNG. As a rough guide, the mid 2260s TOS era lies about halfway between the founding of the Federation in 2161 and the TNG era of 2364 onwards, so if the TOS Federation is composed of up to 10,000 worlds then the TNG Federation is unlikely to have less than two to three times this.
Another way to approach this problem is to look at the population of planets in the galaxy as a whole. McCoy states in 'Balance of Terror' that there are likely to be three million Earth-type worlds in the galaxy as a whole. We know that while class M planets are the most suitable for Human life, Humans are capable of living on at least two other classes of planet - class L and H. There are also at least some colonies located in domes or underground on otherwise uninhabitable planets - Janus IV is a good example of this type of colony. So the total population of Human-habitable planets in the galaxy is likely to be somewhere between three and nine million. Since Humanity has explored at least 11% of the galaxy as of TNG, then between 330,000 and one million habitable planets should lie in this explored zone.
Powers such as the Federation, the Klingons and the Romulans are referred to throughout Star Trek as being major powers in their part of the galaxy. It seems impossible that any of them could have much sway over the fate of a million worlds if they have only a hundred planets or so each. If the Federation comprised even 5% of the total planets in the 11% explored zone, then we would be looking at 15 - 50,000 worlds. And all of these numbers go up considerably if we use Crusher's 19% figure rather than Kozinsky's 11% one.
There is considerable leeway in most of these numbers, but it seems clear that the idea of a 150 world Federation is both impractical and at odds with established canon. Even looking at Kirk's 'Metamorphosis' quote in the most restrictive way possible gives us a thousand Federation worlds in TOS, and implies two or three thousand in TNG. And as we have seen, the true figure may be much greater than this.