Posts Tagged USS Enterprise

Five things that make Star Trek better than reality

Star Trek TOS castFor those of you who don’t live in an imaginary universe, today is First Contact Day. In the Star Trek mythos, Humans and Vulcans first met on April 5, 2063, after the inaugural warp flight of Zefram Cochrane’s Phoenix caught the attention of a Vulcan survey ship.

In honor of First Contact Day, I’d like to (try) to explain what I love about Star Trek the most. It’s not the aliens or the reliable sound effects, it’s that Star Trek depicts an ideal society that we should all work to make real. Here are five things that make living in the Star Trek universe better than living in reality.

Klingon replicator1) No Money

Obviously, this is a good thing. Money might make the world go ‘round in 2013, but it would be pretty sweet to live in a world without poverty in 2213. Also, because it will never have to worry about paying bills again, humanity can become more goal-oriented.  How many investors do you think would be interested in financing construction of a massive starship just so William Shatner can cruise around the galaxy in it?

Granted, this isn’t something that can be realistically achieved without a massive technological breakthrough. Star Trek’s money-less society relies on matter replicators, which can easily make all of the necessities of life like food, clothing, and even large machines. Since most commodities are infinitely replicable, there’s no point in charging money for them.

So far, we’re not even close to building replicators (3D printers don’t count).

USS Enterprise refit engineering2) Machines that help Humans instead of replacing them

I read a lot about how robots and computers will eventually replace the human worker, thanks to their efficiency and the fact that they never ask for raises. Star Trek shows us an ideal human-machine relationship and, while the machines do a lot of the heavy lifting, humans are still doing the work.

Every Trekkie recognizes the voice of Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, because she’s the audio talent behind every starship computer. These computers do plenty of things: they operate systems, run diagnostics, and conduct database searches. But they don’t do that on their own: Starfleet officers are always telling the computers what to do, and analyzing the information they provide.

If it were any other way, there would be no point in sending the Enterprise on a five-year mission of exploration; a robotic probe would be much cheaper. Starfleet even has an android officer, Data, but all he wants is to be human. That’s the right attitude.

The Federation doesn’t just explore space to gather data, it explores to give people the opportunity to see new things. That’s why the Enterprise’s helmsman puts the ship into Warp 9, even if a computer is actually firing up the engines.

Data playing guitar3) People who do what they love

The result of a money-less society and healthy amounts of automation is that people are able to do things because they want to. No one in Star Trek takes a job because they need health insurance, and they have plenty of free time to enrich themselves.

It’s amazing how many people on every incarnation of the Enterprise are musicians, artists, or actors. It’s also cool to think about how wonderful life would be if everyone had time to pursue things like that.

A hobby is a great way to take one’s mind of the drudgery of everyday life, and it’s even more enjoyable when there is time to devote to it. Today, it’s hard to conduct recreational pursuits for their own sake because our time is so valuable, but in a future where income and manual labor don’t exist, that won’t be the case.

USS Enterprise NCC-1701A4) Spaceships

Of course, people will need something more substantial to do. Humanity requires more substantial tasks than cottage industry (sorry, Etsy and Kickstarter) and space exploration is a very substantial task.

Spacecraft are cool in their own right, but their most important role in Star Trek is keeping people productive. If we no longer need to work for a living, and if we’re displaced from today’s jobs by machines, we can’t just sit around all day posting photos to Instagram.

Luckily, Starfleet is very labor-intensive. The original USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) had a crew of 432, while the Next Generation-era Enterprise (NCC-1701D) had about 1,000 souls aboard (including civilians). There’s also the armies of people needed to build these things, plus command staff, diplomats, designers, and other Starfleet personnel.

Most importantly, Starfleet gives people a chance to go to new places and experience new things, which brings us to the best thing about Star Trek

Starfleet5) Imagination

Something I find very annoying about life in 2013 is that we constantly talk about how high-tech our society is, but can never find any good uses for that technology. Facebook is fun, but whatever happened to going to the moon, or curing diseases? What we have is a lack of imagination.

Gene Roddenberry wasn’t lacking in imagination. He imagined how technology could solve humanity’s greatest problems, and enable its greatest achievements. It wasn’t a realistic vision, but at least it gave us something to shoot for.

Restricting ourselves to only thinking of new ways to use existing technology will never advance anything, because its doesn’t give people a reason to. That’s how technological advances happen: people think of something that doesn’t exist, and try to create it.

Constantly recycling today’s digital tech won’t do that. Yes, we could have “smart” toothbrushes that play our Pandora stations, but if our predecessors had the same attitude we’d still be riding stagecoaches.

No cleverly named app will unite the world, but a ship that can travel faster than the speed of light just might. Maybe we’ll find out in 50 years.

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Other People’s Starships: USS Excelsior (NX/NCC-2000)

USS Excelsior at space dockThe Enterprise gets most of the glory, but there are plenty of other ships in Starfleet. One of my favorites is the Excelsior, a ship that was meant to be the first evolution beyond the Constitution-class ships of the original Star Trek series.

Service History

The USS Excelsior (NCC-2000) was a prototype for a new class of starship. It entered service in the 2280s, toward the end of the Original Series era, in the movie Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. When Kirk brings the badly damaged Enterprise-A back to Earth Spacedock, he moors up next to the Excelsior. Kirk called the new ship Starfleet’s “great experiment.”

What made the Excelsior a “great experiment” was its transwarp drive. According to the Haynes Owners’ Workshop Manual for the USS Enterprise, transwarp drive “relied  on an extremely complicated set of equations that boosted the power of a conventional warp engine.” No canonical Star Trek work describes the system in any detail.

The transwarp was supposed to make the Excelsior the fastest ship in Starfleet, but the ship failed on its first trial run and was eventually rebuilt with a conventional warp engine.

After switching back to conventional warp drive, the Excelsior proved to be a capable starship design, spawning an entire class of identical vessels, including the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701-B) seen in Star Trek: Generations.USS Excelsior bridge

The Excelsior herself went on to be captained by Hikaru Sulu. After a three-year mission cataloging gaseous planetary anomalies in the Bet Quadrant, Sulu took the Excelsior into Klingon territory to rescue his former shipmates Kirk and McCoy, who had been framed for the assassination of Klingon Chancellor Gorkon. These events played out in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country.

Other Excelsior-class ships made brief appearances in Star Trek: The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager. By the 24th century, these ships were apparently the backbone of Starfleet and were only just being replaced by the larger Galaxy-class.

The Excelsior’s motto was “No matter where you go, there you are.”

Design

The Excelsior had 32 decks, and was capable of saucer separation. Armament included Type 8 phaser emitters and fore and aft photon torpedo launchers.

The script for Search for Spock called for a ship that would make the Constitution-class Enterprise look old fashioned. The Excelsior was described as a “super starship” with lines similar to the Enterprise, “but she is clearly bigger, sleeker, and very new. She sits at her mooring like the new Queen of Space.”

USS Excelsior in spaceIndustrial Light & Magic designer William George based the Excelsior’s look on what he thought the Enterprise would look like if it had been designed by the Japanese.

The result is one of the best looking ships in Starfleet. The Excelsior’s low profile and elongated lines make it look like it’s at warp even when it’s standing still.

I always liked that design; it’s much less bulky than other Star Trek ships. I also think the name is kind of funny. I picture the crew carrying a bust of Al Gore around, the same way the USS Ronald Reagan carries a bust of the Gipper. I also like to imagine the captain yelling “Excelsior!” as the ship warps off into the unknown.

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Space: Whose final frontier?

SpaceX Falcon 9 launchSpace may be the final frontier, but it’s already commercial. SpaceX’s privately launched capsule began its journey to the International Space Station on Tuesday, becoming the first of its kind. Space exploration started out as the mother of all public-private partnerships but, at least in the United States, the private sector seems to be leaving the government behind.

Seeing someone take an interest in space exploration is encouraging, but it’s just not the same without NASA taking the lead. Some might say that it doesn’t matter: if the private sector can do something better than the government, why waste taxpayers’ money? The ends should be the most important goal, so as long as someone is going into space, it should not matter whether they are a government agency or a private corporation.

SpaceX seems like a major change in the way we explore space, but private companies have been involved from the beginning. Who do you think built the rockets? NASA may have run all previous space missions but, like any other government project, the hardware was produced by the private sector. The Redstone booster that launched America’s first astronauts was built by Chrysler; the Mercury capsule was built by McDonnell.

So why not cut out the middleman? Couldn’t private interests use their own resources more effectively? Not really. SpaceX will continue doing what it does as long as Elon Musk and his small cadre of investors have money to pour into it, and are still interested in going into space.

That is why government involvement in space is so important. Where private companies only have their investors’ interests in mind, governments have an entire nation’s. SpaceX has shown what a small company full of dedicated techies can do, but imagine what several corporations, striving toward one goal, could do. At one time, such a collaboration was able to get men to the Moon.

There is also the matter of money. In the end, private corporations need to turn a profit in order to exist, and sometimes that takes precedent over everything else. The future depicted in Star Trek is very appealing, but what corporation would want to fund Starfleet? Will space travel be more like the universe of Alien, where the Weyland-Yutani Corporation only operates spaceships for the sake of harvesting otherworldly resources?

Launching privately-operated spacecraft is better than not launching any, but mankind should not settle. The United States should go into space on its on terms, not the terms of a handful of wealthy investors. Government leadership and private resources has worked so far, there is no reason why private interests need to go it alone now. A lack of conviction is no reason to trade the Enterprise for the Nostromo.

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How to name a spaceship

Milennium Falcon and Star DestroyersSo you’ve got a spaceship. You’re ready to go boldly where no one has gone before, or to let the computers figure it out while you hypersleep and wait for the facehuggers. Either way, your ship will need a name.

Naming ships has been an important tradition in in the maritime world since the first seafarers, and that tradition most likely continue with spacefaring vessels. Here are some spaceship naming tips.

Military

Naval vessels are named after almost everything, so we’ll start here. Several sci-fi series, like Star Trek, believe the military naming tradition will carry over to future space fleets, which is why Starfleet ships carry the prefix “USS” and a hull number. Military names add some gravitas, and could possibly reference seagoing vessels from centuries past.

Naval ships are assigned specific types of names depending on their class. Obviously, these don’t all apply to spacecraft, but they give a good indication of how a name matches up with a ship’s purpose:

Aircraft Carriers: presidents, battles, famous navy ships

Battleships: states

Cruisers: cities

Destroyers and escort ships: Navy and Marine personnel

Submarines: fish and marine life (more recently, states and cities)

Amphibious Assault Ships: same as aircraft carriers

Destroyer/Submarine Tenders: national parks

Patrol Craft: numbers only

Transports: various

Geography

Choosing a name based on an Earth landmark will be a good way to remind you of home as you cross the galaxy. They are also a good may to circumvent national boundaries; mountains and rivers are more politically neutral than historical figures or events from a country that may be part of a unified world government in the future.

Adjectives

These are always a good bet, since, by definition, they describe how awesome your ship is. Adjectives are a favorite of the Royal Navy; examples include HMS Invincible, HMS Indomitable, and HMS Illustrious. One of my personal favorites is Intrepid, first used on a U.S. Navy ketch during the Barbary Wars, then on a World War II aircraft carrier, and eventually on a class of Star Trek ships. You don’t have to choose a name that begins with “I,” but there are plenty of good ones out there.

People

Naming a ship after an important person says a lot about the ship’s creators. A ship can embody the qualities of its namesake, or honor their remarkable achievements. That’s why so many American ships are named after presidents, especially ones that led the country through wars. On the other hand, Sea Shepherd (of Whale Wars fame) named their ships Steve Irwin and Bob Barker. Conceivably, a future nerd society could have ships named George Lucas and Isaac Asimov.

References

A ship name is the perfect place to slip some allusion into a sci-fi story. In the Alien series, several ships, including the Nostromo and Sulaco, have names that refer to Joseph Conrad. Appealing to nerds isn’t the only option; references to mythology are also a good way to give your ship a cool, original, name with some meaning. These names aren’t as obvious as Mount Everest or George Washington, which makes them a little more realistic and a little more interesting. In a spacefaring civilization, all the “good” names will get taken; shipwrights will have to get creative, and so will you.

For the sake of concision, these are just five of the many possible types of names. These five are the most popular types of ship names, but the possibilities are almost infinite. You can even combine two cool-sounding words like Millennium Falcon. Just try to think as an actual ship captain or owner: would you really want a certain name if the ship was real?

Remember that, no matter what a ship’s name is, tradition dictates that it is female. Even if your ship’s name is the Sean Connery, you should refer to it as a “she.” They may just be machines, but ships have always had a romantic quality. That’s why naming them is so important.

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