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Imagination Connoisseur, Julian Mushkin, boldly goes where only fans of Star Trek are willing to go. Here’s an in-depth look at the “technology” of the 23 and 24th Centuries.
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Hearty greetings to you Rob, and everyone else in the PGS!
I think today I need to express some of my thoughts about, wait for it…… Star Trek. Specifically I want to address some of the technology particular to this Franchise and its current state in the most recent iterations of the show.
As a bona fide Libra I am always looking to maintain a certain amount of balance in my life. This has often led me to play Devils Advocate when I see some view points not being adequately defended in a discussion. As such I don’t normally like to jump on the Bandwagon and beat a dead horse but this Third Season of Star Trek: Discovery is ridiculous. Nor do I see any way to adequately defend it.
As has been mentioned by you and others on the show before, Sci-Fi properties, whether they be Literature, Motion Picture, or TV often include elements of the story which ‘Ask’ that we accept something currently impossible, as possible. With Star Trek we are presented with two big ‘Asks’. First, that Warp Drive enables ships to travel at faster then light speeds to reach distant star systems and that our protagonists do not have to deal with the effects of Einsteinian Relativity when they do so. The second ‘Ask’ is that the Transporter Device can safely disassemble our protagonists bodies to subatomic particles, pass that stream of energy through the circuitry of a starship and beam it off the ship by means of sensor arrays and emitters to another ship or a planetary surface. And that once that beam has reached its destination our protagonists are securely reassembled into the same character they were before they stepped into the Transporter.
Each of these ‘Asks’ is a huge one in and of itself. Star Trek confidently presented both of these propositions to its audience with out looking back and for the better part of fifty four years fans of the show have accepted that the technology works. For the purposes of this letter we will confine ourselves to a discussion of Transporter Technology. Let me stress the word Technology because that is how it has been used in the framework of the franchise through five live action TV Series’, one animated Series, and nine live action movies. We will deal with its use since 2009 later in the letter.
In its simplest terms, the Transporter is a Plot Device that allows our protagonists to get to a location off of the ship with out the hassle of having to interrupt the story to include the cumbersome embarking and debarking of a smaller shuttlecraft. In practical terms, TOS did not have the budget to build a shuttlecraft interior set, or extra model for effects shots in that First Season. Its use has varied through out the many Series’ as simple background tech to becoming an integral part of a story. Sometimes this has been to its detriment when it has been used as a form of Deus Ex Machina when the plotline has driven our protagonists into a dead end. Even the Next Generation Technical Manual makes note of this in the section specific to Transporter Operations, stating in the notes the “occasions where the transporter has been improperly used to save the day, but our writers have become more careful about such things.”
The discussion of whether use of a Transporter actually kills you and creates an exact copy of you or directly reassembles the same material we started with has gone on for ages. This has been fodder for healthy and spirited debate among many fans. We will not delve into that aspect and as I am in no way scientifically versed enough to get into the specifics of what actually is being done to ones body we will leave that to other authors who have specifically addressed it. I will attempt to explain in laymen terms what is needed for Transporters to work according to the Next Generation Technical Manual.
Star Ships operating in the United Federation of Planets Star Fleet generate their main power through the controlled intermix of Matter and Anti-Matter. Auxiliary power is generated by use of Fusion Generator Plants. The energy generated by these systems is used by the EPS, or Electro Plasma System, which shunts power to all the systems in the ship. The Transporter Systems do not require the immense power directly produced by the Matter/Antimatter reaction and can operate on emergency backup power if needed.
I don’t like to generalize too often but I suspect that most members of the PGS have seen the operation of Transporters in the Trek universe. We have seen it happen, and even heard the characters discuss what is going on when problems arise. Simply put, the subject of Transport is placed in an Annular Confinement Beam (ACB), which creates a spatial matrix within which the materialize/dematerialize process occurs. Molecular imaging scanners derive a real time quantum-resolution pattern image of the transport subject while the primary energizing coils and the phase transition coils convert the subject into a sub-atomically de-bonded matter stream. This matter stream is briefly held in a pattern buffer which helps compensate for any Doppler shift between the ship and the transport destination.
The Galaxy Class Enterprise was equipped with seventeen emitter pad arrays that could transmit the matter stream up to 40,000 kilometers, or 24,854 miles. For comparison, our Moon is roughly 404,212 kilometers distant. The Enterprise in orbit around Earth would be unable to transport someone there.
The matter stream is directed to one of those emitter arrays and beamed towards the target destination of the transport while till held with-in the ACB. At the transport site re-materialization occurs. Beam up from a site where no Transporter Pads existed would require the same process but with the beam originating from the ship first. I boggle at the amount of computing power and memory that would be required to successfully rematerialize someone, let alone the energies required to hold all the constituent matter and beam it up to 40,000 kilometers distance.
I have often wondered how characters could be beamed up if they were on the far side of a planet relative to the position of the ship. We never hear of them deploying satellites to aid in beam directing so we must make the assumption that a ships transporter system works on direct line of sight from the ship but that the beams used to enable transport are also able to beam directly through a planetary body. Never once have I heard a Landing Party’s request to be beamed up met with the Transporter Operator replying back that they’ll have to wait until the ship completes its orbit to be in position again.
There are several conditions that are known to interfere with successful transporting beyond the limitations placed on its use by range. These are use of Deflector Shields and travel while at warp. In special situations during the run of the shows it was shown that if one possessed the correct operating frequency of an enemies shields then one could beam through them. An exception was made for the warp limitation as well by making it possible if both ships were traveling at the same integral warp velocity.
By the time Next Generation was in production it was realized that transporter technology could be used in conjunction with the advent of the Holo-Decks for creation of objects with-in the Holo-Deck and for food with the Replicator Technology as well. It was soon realized that this interaction of technologies might eventually lead to a writer postulating the replication of living beings or bringing people back from the dead, which would be detrimental to dramatic storytelling. It was determined that living beings were to be treated as requiring a ‘quantum resolution’ for transport where as objects such as food and hardware would employ a lower level ‘molecular resolution’ which could then be stored in memory for replicating at a later time. Only twice to my knowledge were these limitations bypassed for the story. The first occurred when a duplicate of William Riker was created during transporter issues arising due to planetary atmospheric anomalies. The other occurred when Montgomery Scott placed himself and another crewmember in to a repeating transporter sub routine to continually refresh the pattern buffers until they were eventually rescued decades later. A cautionary side note must be attached to that last exception, as only Scotty was able to survive the process when a power failure resulted in the other crewmembers pattern degrading beyond retrieval. Mention should perhaps also be made of the temporary creation of two Captain Kirks due to a malfunction and the transporter accident that resulted in the Hybrid being Tuvix.
For almost fifty years the various Series’ and Movies worked with-in the established rules set up in the Trek Universe with regard to Transporter use.
Then we are subjected to ‘Star Trek 2009’ and everything that would follow it. The amount of disregard paid to well established Trek Canon in that movie can not be overstated. For the purposes of this discussion, (as well as an attempt to avoid my ranting about everything I detest about J.J. Abrams’ Trek movies) we will remain concentrated on the Transporters. Trying hard to ignore the fact that Spock, in a fit of emotion, ejects Kirk from the Enterprise to land on the ‘nearby’ planet of Delta Vega, (which should actually be nowhere ‘nearby’ since it was established in TOS that it is near the edge of the galaxy). ‘Prime’ Spock convinces Kirk and Scotty (Conveniently assigned to said outpost.), that they need to get back on to the Enterprise by way of a hopped up transporter reconfigured by ‘Prime’ Spock with his future tech knowledge. Not only is said ship traveling at Warp speed and how would they know the co-ordinates anyway, but it is clearly past the 40,000 kilometer limit of transport. But as in most J.J. movies, things have to happen because, ‘Reasons.’
By the next movie, Star Trek Into Darkness, the transporter is seemly so great that our Antagonist is able to beam himself from a small, one person fighter, all the way from Earth to the Klingon Homeworld of Kronos. Such power now in our transporters and by this revised timeline we have not even reached the 24th Century of Next Generation. By changing the rules of usage to suit their needs whenever they want, the producers of these Trek movies have turned a piece of technology into magic.
I am sorry but I have to take this moment to just express a small rant about the disregard the producers of Into Darkness have for actual physics. Near the end of the movie, the Enterprise and the Vengeance engage in battle in near orbit of the moon. Both ships are heavily damaged and powerless. For some inextricable reason the gravity of the Earth exerts so much force on the two ships that they only have 30 minutes before they enter the Earths atmosphere! From near lunar orbit with no forces other than Newtonian physics to influence their motion they are pulled towards Earth in the time span of 30 minutes? For Eff Sake where did these idiots go to school?
Sorry for the digression.
So now we are in the era of Star Trek Discovery and Star Trek Picard. Of course there is no surprise that Alex Kurtzman is not only producing these shows but, what’s this, yes he was involved in the production of ST 2009 and Into Darkness as well. I do not recall anything too egregious regarding the use of the Transporters in the first two seasons of Discovery but Picard piqued my interest with the use of some sort of uber Transporter Hub. We see Picard exit from an empty gate way in a flash of light. There is a whole row of such gateways, with people entering and exiting them at will. I find the notion of such Transporter Hubs a logical extension of commuting. I like the idea in principal but I really want to know about that technology. How do the gateways cycle so quickly for each user? How do the gateways know the destination of each user? How many Pattern Buffers are linked to each gateway? In truth, I fear that the producers of Picard probably don’t know that either because for them it’s just a cool looking bit of ‘Trek Tech.’
And so now we find ourselves in Season Three of Discovery with our stalwart crew thrown into the future of the 32nd Century. Of course there should be all sorts of updated technology and sure enough, upon rejoining a denuded Star Fleet, Discovery’s crew are given new Delta Badges for their uniforms. These badges are really special. We are informed that they are a combination Communicator/Translator, Tricorder, Holo-PADD Interface, and, this is the really good part, Personal Transporter. I am astounded. And of course, without even any training our crew is using the Holo-PADD function and transporting hither and yon at will, except for poor Linus, a Saurian member of Discovery’s crew who can’t seem to get the Personal Transporter to deliver him to his desired location.
How the hell does this badge work? No one seems to voice any commands for it to operate so we must surmise some sort of mental interface. Are we supposed to take at face value the statement that the badge itself is operating as a Personal Transporter and all that that function entails? If so, given that we know what is necessary for Transporters to operate in the Trek Universe, how would that work? What kind of power source is that little badge containing? Where does the Annular Confinement Beam originate from? How does the beam of energy with our protagonists’ sub-atomic particles now travel? If that badge can contain so much power safely in its little body then why are they still concerned about needing Dilithium? Seems to me that the amount of power in one of those badges eliminates the need for safe Mater/Anti-Mater reactions.
My biggest question about this wonder badge is this; if those badges actually contain the power to transport someone wherever they want to go, what do they need Star Ships for?
Five will get you Ten that the writers for this show don’t know the answers to those questions either. They probably haven’t even asked them. They only thought to introduce some ‘cool future tech’ but what they created is too big an ‘Ask’ for me to accept.
Just some more thoughts I needed to share with you all, my fellow Imagination Connoisseurs. Cheers! And live long, and prosper.