Kirk to Enterprise: The Piece of Star Trek in Your Pocket


Friday, January 24, 2014

“By 2013, I literally envisioned that I would be retiring on the moon,” says Candy Torres, a former software engineer for the International Space Station. Like so many scientists of her generation, Torres grew up watching Star Trek in the late 1960s. On the Enterprise, “science officers” were trusted senior members of the crew, going boldly into unknown universes in the pursuit of knowledge and peace. “Technology and the future were positive,” Torres says. “The world would be better because we had science and technology to make things better and solve problems.”

So it’s probably not a surprise that America's first Space Shuttle Orbiter, from 1977, was named Enterprise. And the technologies inside the ship inspired real-world development as well. “We actually knew that the communicator of Star Trek was possible from the moment that we saw it,” says Martin Cooper, a pioneer in cell phone technology. And developers from around the world are competing for a $10 million prize to create a working tricorder, the handheld device used by Starfleet doctors to scan patients’ bodies. Considering how many sensors are already embedded in our smartphones, the future may be closer than we think.

For K. E. Saavik Ford, an astrophysicist at New York’s American Museum of Natural History (who took the name of the Vulcan played by Kirstie Alley in The Wrath of Khan), Star Trek is about a diverse crew coming together to solve problems: Spock the rationalist, Bones the pessimist, Kirk the idealist. It’s the human (and Vulcan and Klingon, and Betazoid) elements that make scientific discovery possible. “People who view science as strictly a rational enterprise,” Ford says, “don’t know what science is really like.” 


→ What's the Star Trek technology you hope to see in real life? Tell us in a Comment below.

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  1. Theme from Star Trek
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  2. Ilia's Theme
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  3. The Enterprise
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    Album: Star Trek: The Motion Picture - 20th Anniversary Collector's Edition
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Julia Wetherell

Comments [5]

Scott from Charlotte

I'm in love with the starship Enterprise in Star Trek. An incredible ship, want to see it exist in real life. I saw the movie "Gravity". They were just floating around in a modified aircraft, known as the space shuttle, and went from stations that couldn't go anywhere.

Shields, phasers, impulse and warp drive is what I want to see. How incredible wouls that be ?

Jan. 26 2014 03:09 PM
Jenny from Studio 360

Hi Packy --

Thanks for the catch. You're right, the Space Shuttle Enterprise was used in ground and flight tests, but didn't make it to space. Yet it's still commonly called the US's first space shuttle, including by NASA. Julia referred to it correctly in her piece, but the text above was incorrect. That's fixed now -- and I've added a link so folks can learn more about the vehicle. (Apparently, it was originally called The Constitution, in honor of the US Constitution's Bicentennial. Then Star Trek fans started a write-in campaign to the White House...)

Thanks again.

Jan. 26 2014 01:28 PM
Robert Thomas from Santa Clara

_Star Trek_ characters could use a small handset to talk with a ship anywhere in planetary orbit without a communications satellite web deployed. Not even present day satellite phones can do that, and certainly conventional cell phones can't. What cell phones CAN do is manage a vast amount of traffic - in the presence of a lot of deployed terrestrial radio cell stations. That's a completely different achievement.

Jan. 26 2014 04:34 AM
Packy Anderson from New Jersey

Small correction: the Enterprise wasn't the first Space Shuttle launched. It was a prototype used in aerodynamic tests on the back of a 747. The Enterprise never attempted to go into space.

Jan. 25 2014 08:50 PM
M de Bethune

Great job as always Julia!

Jan. 25 2014 12:07 PM

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