Monday, May 14, 2012

Website created to foster building of 'Star Trek' style Enterprise

The first starship Enterprise (NX-01) from the Star Trek series (or rather, multi-series and movies) was not commissioned until 2151, but if the curator of the Build The Enterprise website has his way, it will be commissioned in 2032, instead.

The curator, who goes by the name of BTE Dan (Twitter account BTE-Dan) says that thia "Gen1" Enterprise could reach the moon in three days, Mars in 90 days, and "could hop from planet to planet dropping off robotic probes of all sorts en masse - rovers, special-built planes and satellites."

If it sounds like the stuff of science fiction - in reality, it is, since Star Trek is just that, science fiction - BTE Dan doesn't believe it is. The site contains images, detailed ship specs, and even a funding schedule. It is, however, hampered by current technology in one way: the site can be unbearably slow, as BTE Dan admits, due to its seeming overpopularity.

The site was launched just a few days ago. This Enterprise would be built entirely in space, as original Star Trek canon (not the 2009 film) stated. BTE Dan expects this Enterprise to be similar in size to the Enterprise from the Star Trek: TOS series, NCC-1701 (notably, the Enterprise from Picard's time is much larger).

It will have gravity, but not because of some super-scientific gravity generators, but instead by rotating a "gravity wheel" in the saucer section, which is where the bridge will reside. Don't expect warp drive  (or transporters). However, rather than the rocket engines we are familiar with, it will use three ion propulsion engines powered by a 1.5GW nuclear reactor. Three additional nuclear reactors would be used for the electricity needed for ship operations.

It's unclear, however, why the Enterprise as visualized by BTE Dan would need nacelles of the type used for the warp drive in Star Trek. Those nacelles are used to generate the warp field necessary for fast-than-light travel and warp space around the vessel (this is, of course, all extremely simplified from how one of the Star Trek writers might describe it).

Who's going to pay for this? We are, taxpayers. What's interesting is that BTE Dan feels that tax increases and cuts to defense and other services can be used for the money necessary to build the Enterprise. BTE Dan apparently hasn't been watching politics in D.C. very much lately; with so many in the GOP signing the "Grover Norquist pledge" against tax increases, unless there are some serious Star Trek fans in the GOP it's not going to happen, despite the fact that BTE Dan thinks the increases could be small.

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He said, "These changes to spending and taxes will not sink the republic. In fact, these will barely be noticed. It’s amazing that a program as fantastic as the building a fleet of USS Enterprise spaceships can be done with so little impact."

He also proposes a series of ships, each one of which could be more advanced than the prior, built one every 33 years, once per generation. "Each will be more advanced than the prior one. Older ships can be continually upgraded over several generations until they are eventually decommissioned."

BTE Dan describes himself as a systems engineer and electrical engineer who has worked at a Fortune 500 company for the past 30 years. The website says the response has been overwhelming, which is clear from the sluggishness of the site.

In a Q&A section BTE Dan says he is convinced the Enterprise can be built with current technology, and challenges anyone to prove him wrong.

He says, "If someone can convince me that it is not technically possible (ignoring political and funding issues), then I will state on the BuildTheEnterprise site that I have been found to be wrong. In that case, building the first Enterprise will have to wait for, say, another half century. But I don’t think that anyone will be able to convince me it can’t be done. My position is that we can - and should - immediately start working on it.”

Notice the caveats about political and funding issues. Dan, it might be feasible - might - technically. It will never be feasible politically. The only way this could be done is privately, and not because private enterprise is the only way to do anything, as the GOP believes, but because those same politicians would never let this sort of this pass into reality.

Despite that - if we can build a lightsaber - why not try to build an Enterprise?

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