Project Genesis was the code name for a classified scientific research project within the United Federation of Planets whose goal was to develop a process whereby uninhabitable planets could be made suitable for humanoid life through a subatomic transformation. While the project was intended in part to combat overpopulation, the project became controversial when its destructive power became known. Ultimately, the project was deemed unfeasible.
The head scientist for the project was Dr. Carol Marcus who managed a large team including her son Dr. David Marcus on the station Regula I. There, they developed the Genesis Device, a torpedo-like technology which was the delivery mechanism that triggered the transformation dubbed the "Genesis effect" by the team. The process involved reducing the target space body to subatomic particles, then reassembling them, according to the pre-programmed Genesis matrix.
Dr. Marcus presented a proposal and demonstration of Project Genesis to the Federation on stardate 7130.4. The project was conducted in three stages. The first was conducted in the laboratory on Regula I, the second in the underground of a lifeless environment, the Regula planetoid, and the third planned on a planetary scale. The Federation approved, provided funding and ordered logistical support from Starfleet.
For the second stage of the project, the Starfleet Corps of Engineers spent ten months carving a cavern, base and tunnels deep under the surface of the Regula planetoid. In 2285, the project team successfully conducted the underground Genesis experiment in a single day.
For the third stage of the project, Starfleet sent the USS Reliant, commanded by Terrell, to search for a suitable planet. The planet had to be completely devoid of life and meet other factors, which made for a difficult search.
The Reliant had conducted several unsuccessful searches before arriving at the Ceti Alpha system. Terrell and first officer Pavel Chekov transported to the surface of what they thought was Ceti Alpha VI to investigate life signs that were detected, but was actually Ceti Alpha V where they were captured by Khan Noonien Singh, who had been marooned there by Admiral James T. Kirk 15 years before. Khan implanted mind-controlling Ceti eels into them, and used them to get revenge on Kirk. Upon learning of the Genesis Project, he used Chekov and Terrell to claim that Starfleet, under orders from Kirk, wanted to take custody of the Genesis data and potentially "militarize" the project.
The project team was understandably outraged at the apparent takeover. Dr. Marcus attempted to contact Kirk to confront him, but Khan disrupted communications while Carol and Kirk attempted to speak to each other. Starfleet then ordered the USS Enterprise to investigate. Kirk briefed Captain Spock and Dr. Leonard McCoy about the project, screening a recorded classified briefing featuring Carol Marcus and computer-generated simulation imagery of the Genesis effect.
Khan reached Regula I and killed several members of the research team while a few secretly beamed down to Regula to protect the Genesis Device. Not being able to find it, he left hurriedly to intercept the Enterprise. Following a brief battle, Reliant was driven off and the crippled Enterprise limped to Regula I, where they found Terrell and Chekov. After beaming down to Regula, they found the rest of the team and the device. Unfortunately, Terrell and Chekov were still under the influence and allowed Khan to beam out the device. Khan ordered Terrell to kill Kirk, a command which he found impossible to obey. Rather than follow that order, Terrell turned the phaser on himself and set it to vaporize, killing himself in the process. The eel inside Chekov came out and Kirk vaporized it and used Terrell's communicator to talk to Khan. Khan then gloated about his success and taunted Kirk as he left Regula. They were all left marooned.
The Enterprise, hiding on the other side of Regula, was able to beam up the whole group. They confronted the hijacked Reliant, but was severely damaged in its attempt to stop Khan from fully exploiting the device and the project. However, despite Khan's intellect, his lack of experience allowed the Enterprise crew to lure him into a trap in the Mutara Nebula. Khan attempted to detonate the stolen Genesis torpedo to destroy the Enterprise, but the ship's warp engines were repaired just in time. Incidentally, Khan himself completed the third stage of the project, as the explosion formed the Genesis Planet. (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan)
After the detonation of the Genesis device, the project had become publicly known, and became a controversial subject in the Federation. The Federation Council then ordered Starfleet to suppress information regarding the project. As the Enterprise returned to Earth, Starfleet would not respond to their questions about the project. On their return, Starfleet Admiral Morrow personally ordered the Enterprise crew to secrecy and had the crew monitored by Starfleet Intelligence and Federation Security. The Mutara sector was declared off-limits, and Starfleet sent the USS Grissom to investigate the newly-formed planet with David Marcus and Lieutenant Saavik.
They found that the planet was unstable; instead of life, it caused death and destruction. During the development of the Genesis matrix, Dr David Marcus, Carol Marcus' son, had used protomatter, a dangerous and unstable compound, to complete the process. As a result, animals were mutated, weather was bizarre, and earthquakes, fires, volcanic eruptions, and windstorms, along with the unstable core, tore the planet apart, blocked out the sun, and caused the planet to age rapidly to the point that it destabilized completely. However, exposure to the Genesis energies did have the unexpected side-effect of restoring the body of the deceased Spock to life, 'regenerating' him into a youthful state and then accelerating his aging until he was the same age he had been when he died. (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock)
The Klingon Empire had come to learn about the project and Genesis' destructive potential. A Klingon spy named Valkris had secretly managed to obtain Kirk's classified briefing of the Genesis Project and transmitted it to Commander Kruge. Kruge destroyed Valkris's transport vessel, the freighter Merchantman, after she admitted to Kruge having seen the contents of the briefing.
Kruge then went to the Genesis planet to capture scientists with knowledge of the project. His gunner accidentally destroyed the Grissom in their attempt to disable the vessel, however, they found the away team consisting of Saavik and Marcus. Kruge captured them and demanded that they help him understand the technology, and didn't believe Marcus when he explained that the process didn't work. The Enterprise arrived, pirated by Kirk and his crew, to find Spock whose body had been restored to life by the Genesis effect. Kruge demanded project information from the Enterprise' library, and had Marcus killed to show he was serious. Kirk and crew prevented Kruge from accessing the Genesis project files by destroying the Enterprise in the process, while appropriating Kruge's Bird-of-Prey for themselves. (Star Trek III: The Search for Spock)
After the Genesis planet destabilized, the Klingon Ambassador used Kirk's briefing of Project Genesis, along with images of the destruction of Enterprise, when he spoke before a session of the Federation Council. The ambassador demanded Kirk's extradition by the Federation to the Klingon Empire, to be punished by the Klingons for the deaths caused when he ordered the self-destruct of Enterprise. He vilified Project Genesis, characterizing it as a weapon created by the Federation in order to bring about the annihilation of the Klingon people. However, Ambassador Sarek, in an immediate rebuttal, added that the Klingon ship had destroyed the Grissom and killed Kirk's son, David, in an illegal attempt to possess the secret of Genesis. (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home)
The Genesis Project music was created by Craig Huxley and was released on CD (it is not on the original Star Trek II soundtrack release, but on the Film Score Monthly re-release.).
The Genesis simulation graphics sequence was created for Star Trek II by Lucasfilm's Graphics Group. The footage was later reused in Star Trek III and Star Trek IV.
The Project Genesis simulation or demonstration graphics sequence, has been invariably referred to ever since as the "Genesis Demo" by production staff and reference authors alike. (American Cinematographer, October 1982, pp. 1038)
The (non-canon) Star Trek III novelization further suggests that the planet and system may have been unstable due not only to the inclusion of protomatter in the matrix, but also to being formed entirely from the matter of the Mutara Nebula rather than having been detonated on a pre-existing world, as originally intended. The Genesis Wave series of novels (set in the 24th century and featuring the crew of the USS Enterprise-E) expand upon this premise, noting that the Genesis Cave continued to exist inside the Regula One planetoid (which contradicts the movie novel, which shows that the plants inside the cave had mutated into something completely different than what they had started out as), and features some insight as to what happened after the events of The Wrath of Khan, including the revelation that Carol Marcus survived into the twenty-fourth century, although kept in secret due to the danger of her knowledge of the Genesis Project.
According to the novel The Sorrows of Empire, the first two stages of Project Genesis were carried out in a similar manner in the mirror universe. However, funding for further research was denied by Emperor Spock in 2284, effectively ending the project.