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Star Trekking Today

13 Dec

For many Star Trek fans, one of the main attractions of the show is the futuristic technology. For some it’s the battle scenes where we watch bursts from the phaser banks and hear “Shields down to 60%” while others are excited by the concept of exploring the galaxy for the sake of scientific research, seeking out new life and colonising new planets.

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One Star Trek enthusiast (who admittedly is a genuine engineer) has started a campaign to build a full scale replica of the Enterprise over the next 20 years which can travel to Mars in under 90 days using Ion Propulsion Engines. The Build The Enterprise campaign has been turning heads of Trekkies (or Trekkers for the die-hards) around the world.

Obviously, the plan has received mixed reviews. There has been much admiration of the boldness and detail of the plan but equally there has been criticism, particularly at the cost – $40 billion per year for 20 years.

Anyway, the Enterprise is a 24th century ship. Even if we did have the money to build it, we don’t have the technology to kit it out. Or do we…

A lot of the technology we use in our everyday lives today featured prominently in the Star Trek arsenal of high tech gadgets. For example, the iPad is credited with being a revolutionary new technology developed by Steve Jobs. Please, Jean Luc was rocking that shit years ago.

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Surprisingly, some of the technology, particularly from the original series, seems somewhat archaic compared to our devices. Look at Kirk’s communicator, it looks more like a phone that’s ten years out of date by todays standards than a 24th century technology. Especially when you consider that our phones are now looking more like tricorders, with all the tricks they can do. It was particularly surprising to see Spock show Captain Pike a paper printout in the episode ‘The Menagerie’. Although this can be forgiven considering it was a rehash of the pilot episode.

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While we can pat ourselves on the back for surpassing the series in these respects, they won’t be much use in getting an Enterprise through space. For the full experience you need warp drive, tractor beams, phasers, transporters, shields, replicators, etc. You may be surprised to learn that we have already taken the first steps to these technologies too. Some of the most significant developments will leave you very impressed.

Replicators

These seemed like one of the most fictitious and unlikely pieces of kit. All the other elements of the ship seemed possible given enough time and research, but to make stuff appear out of thin air always seemed to be truly science fiction. Surprisingly, of all the elements of the Enterprise, this is the one we have made the most progress with. Everyone with even a passing interest in technology has heard of 3D printers, which can literally print complex objects with moving parts. Have a look at this video to see how invaluable 3D printers will probably become in the coming years.

Still a long way to go until we can say “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” Another Picardism.

Tractor Beams

These beams were regularly used to apply forces to objects/ships to either pull them in or push them away. The Borg were fond of tractor beams to capture ships undamaged so that they could be harvested for new technologies. Scientists have made a small but significant breakthrough by using light beams to draw particles towards its source. Applications include possibly collecting particles from the tails of comets from a distance rather than risking entering the debris trail. This video explains it excellently (by the way, that youtube channel looks to be very good for science news based on first glance).

Warp Speed

Arguably the most important system on an interstellar spaceship, faster than light speed is essential to make manned journeys to planets outside our solar system viable. Consider Proxima Centauri, the nearest star to or own Sun. Even if we could travel at near the speed of light, it would take at least 4.24 years to reach the star and a similar time to make the return journey. Adding to this the time needed to carry out tasks such as research etc. It is clear these time scales dictate that a ship must carry vast stores of supplies and energy.

While travelling faster than the speed of light is well known to be impossible, scientists (including NASA) believe it may be possible to manipulate the fabric of space-time itself to ‘push’ the ship across the cosmos. By expanding the empty space behind the ship and contracting the space in front of it the ship slips through space-time at speeds high enough to shorten the journey to Proxima Centauri to just two weeks.

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Note the bubble around the ship in this picture showing no change in the immediate vicinity, so the crew would not perceive anything unusual from their point of view. Unfortunately, the energy required to manipulate space-time like this is far too high but NASA actually have people working on how to make it a reality. Physicist Harold White has published work on this for them, exploring means of reducing the energy needed and proposing possible ship designs.

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Phasers

The concept of firing energy beams has been the dominant choice of weapon by science fiction writers for some time now. The development of this technology is probably just a matter of time now. High power lasers already exist, in fact the Curiosity rover is currently blasting rocks on Mars by delivering a million watts of power for a few billionths of a second in order to analyse the glow from resulting plasma. See the before and after images of Curiosity’s wrath below. A high power beam like this would most likely be lethal if fired at a person considering the body doesn’t cope well with being turned into plasma.

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Considering the level of knowledge on star trek technology already discovered today, it may not be unreasonable to say that humans will be leaving our solar system and exploring the cosmic neighbourhood by the end of this century. Gene Roddenberry may have been bang on with his predictions on the timetable of space exploration. After all, it’s only about 50 years until ‘First Contact’. Then, we boldly go where no man has gone before.

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38 Comments

Posted by on December 13, 2012 in Future, Science Fiction, Technology

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

38 responses to “Star Trekking Today

  1. albaoliveres

    December 18, 2012 at 2:16 pm

    Reblogged this on Curiositats Industrials and commented:
    Video donde podemos ver todo el poreceso de cópia de un objeto 3D en 3D!! Magnifico!

     
  2. S.C.

    December 18, 2012 at 2:47 pm

    The rest of it sounds pretty feasible, but warping space to move faster than light? That’s nuts. It would be amazing if we could manage it.

    The biggest problem, as always, is funding. Where’s all the money going to come from? Governments today are more interested in spending money on military tech than they are in exploring space. Back in the 50s and 60s, military tech and space exploration went hand in hand (the Mercury and Gemini capsules sat on top of modified ICBMs after al) but what’s the military use of a base on the Moon or Mars?

    Many people say we shouldn’t care about space exploration because we have too many problems to solve on Earth first. I understand that argument, but I believe space exploration is the most important long-term way to solve our problems here on Earth. If we put our efforts towards technological advancement for peaceful purposes, what could be better for Earth as a whole?

     
  3. Tilly Bud - The Laughing Housewife

    December 18, 2012 at 3:01 pm

    If they build a replicator in my life time, I’ll sell my kids to buy one. I’ve always dreamed of owning one.

     
    • The Gazebo Effect

      December 18, 2012 at 4:05 pm

      Completely understandable. You can replicate yourself nice new things to fill the gap.

       
    • jrlambert

      December 18, 2012 at 8:11 pm

      You could just replicate some new kids. ;)

       
  4. Mercy Langille

    December 18, 2012 at 3:12 pm

    I’ve heard of 3D printers but had no idea they actually worked. And if a real functioning Enterprise is ever built, and it is every bit as good as the one in the movies, I’ll be the first to ride on it. :)

     
  5. Patrons of the Pit

    December 18, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Well, if Star trek ever does come true, which indeed, some of it has already, then I think it would be probably best, and more poetic to boot, that the Captain of this proposed Enterprise not have any hair. I’d feel better any way.

    Liked your article. Intriguing read!

     
  6. mikeladano

    December 18, 2012 at 4:52 pm

    Very enjoyable. Roddenberry would be delighted to see the 3D printers of today!

     
  7. Genealogy Lady

    December 18, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    Great article, I love it all, but I fear I might be as nervous as Bones in a transporter. :)

     
  8. keiththegreen

    December 18, 2012 at 5:10 pm

    As long as with all these advances in tech come the advances in how people behave towards each other we will do just fine. Star Trek was also about the interactions of people to each other, as well as how we interact with aliens. Sometimes I think that we won’t get opur act together as a spieces until we find out we are not alone out there.

     
    • The Gazebo Effect

      December 19, 2012 at 4:08 pm

      Agreed. The respect shown by Star Trek crews both for each other and alien races was always a huge part of the show. Nations today barely tolerate each other but if we were to come into contact with a race with superior technology, Earth governments who think in military terms will feel threatened and will most likely end up starting a war. Which we would probably lose.

       
  9. denmother

    December 18, 2012 at 5:43 pm

    Very cool. As a captain is an integral part of the mission success, do I see a woman in that futuristic chair?

     
    • thegeekanthropologist

      December 19, 2012 at 6:02 am

      Indeed. “Where no one has gone before” is a nicer turn than “where no man has gone before”. There’s been women captains and admiral in various episodes and series, but it’s still not a norm. Parity has yet to be reached there as well.

       
      • The Gazebo Effect

        December 19, 2012 at 4:14 pm

        You caught me on that one. I was aware of the two different variations of the phrase and decided to go for the term which sounded better to the ear but you are right. Some of my favourite characters were women, not least of which was Janeway. Mulgrew was the perfect actress for the role as she showed real leadership and respect without acting masculine.

         
  10. jrlambert

    December 18, 2012 at 8:14 pm

    Very cool post! I have been reading about the 3-d printers, it was cool to see the video.

     
  11. bluedeckshoe

    December 18, 2012 at 10:27 pm

    Great post! I love Star Trek. The one I still have my doubts about is the transporter;

    http://bluedeckshoe.com/?s=transporter

     
  12. cmjhawk86

    December 18, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    Reblogged this on Striding Through and commented:
    Who says I only post about running? Then again, it’s time to get out there and move some space-time fabric. ;)

     
  13. My Camera, My Friend

    December 18, 2012 at 11:42 pm

    3D printers are cool, but they’re actually a far cry from replicators. Replicators can produce food and water and are based on transporter technology.

     
  14. rs4life985

    December 19, 2012 at 1:24 am

    I had no idea how effective the 3D printer was. I wonder how long it would take before that became something everyone would have in their homes. And a real-life replica Enterprise? As a Trek fan…holy crap that would be awesome.

     
  15. shunpwrites

    December 19, 2012 at 4:36 am

    This Trekkie loved this!

     
  16. betunada

    December 19, 2012 at 5:00 am

    i’ve been trying most of my (spanning parts of eight decadent decades) life thinkinuv as weird pschidt azz-eye can, but the ‘warp drive’ proposed here (expanding space/time behind the conveyance device/compressing “in front of”) well, that’s something definitely worth considering. hmm….

     
  17. bigblue45

    December 19, 2012 at 5:57 am

    Reblogged this on The Blue Notebook and commented:
    This is amazing. It gets the nerd in me excited.

     
  18. thegeekanthropologist

    December 19, 2012 at 6:03 am

    Interesting post! I know Roddenberry would be sicked to see all the new tech that developed in the last few years, especially quantum teleportation. Well, if that guy does build his ship, I’ll be grateful! Congrats on being FP!

     
  19. Sword of Apollo

    December 19, 2012 at 6:30 am

    That “Build the Enterprise” campaign is insane. I vote for a slightly more feasible, but still awesome project: a Star Trek theme park whose centerpiece is a full scale (hollow) model of the USS Enterprise D sitting above it. That’s a model 642.5 meters–or 2108 ft–long. :D

     
  20. Francis Kitten

    December 19, 2012 at 5:26 pm

    Very cool, too cool. Make it so.

     
  21. Jackson Williams

    December 20, 2012 at 12:52 am

    Reblogged this on Bored American Tribune. and commented:
    — J.W.

     
  22. megancheetah

    December 23, 2012 at 3:00 pm

    Cool website. I love how everything matches the background theme. Nice.
    Megan

     
  23. Alex Autin

    December 25, 2012 at 1:59 pm

    Very cool technologies, especially the tractor beams. And a very well written post. By the way, I think the phrase ‘where no man has gone before’ to be much more accurate than ‘where no one has gone before’. We don’t know if no ‘one’ has gone there before.

     
  24. coffeeaddict83

    January 2, 2013 at 2:34 am

    Actually, the power required to warp space is no longer prohibitively large. The design of the ring was altered to be rounded rather than flat, tremendously reducing the power needed. It can also be run in an oscillating manner…so there’s hope for a practical warp drive system yet!

     
  25. Chyina

    January 6, 2013 at 2:00 pm

    Loved this post! I have been a Trekker for, well most my life. I always love comparing what ST had that we now have. The genius behind the show can’t be denied.

    A thought though? What about the Hutchinson Effect for tractor beams?

    Anyhoot, great read, instant follow!

     
  26. TheAwkwardArtist

    January 17, 2013 at 11:47 am

    Reblogged this on Pains And Laughs.

     
  27. kronquillo

    January 21, 2013 at 7:10 am

    this is giving me goosebumps :)

     
  28. Simon

    February 2, 2013 at 7:01 pm

    I Freeking love science! The possibilities are just mind blowing

     
  29. JJimbo

    February 5, 2013 at 10:48 pm

    Reblogged this on Hagakurex.

     

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