To Boldly Go Where TV Has Gone Before
The late 60′s were the dawn of the space age – the first satellite went into orbit a decade earlier, and by the end of 1969 a human being was walking on the moon. The original Star Trek series captured the imagination of people all over the world, and we began to realistically dreaming of visiting other worlds.
Now, almost 40 years after the series first aired, an engineer has stepped forward with a proposal to build the first generation Starship Enterprise. While there are many differences between his proposal and the fictional ship from the TV show (we don’t yet have warp drive technology, for example), the exterior will look similar and the purpose will be the same.
At buildtheenterprise.org, the founder of the site, who calls himself “BTE Dan,” claims that we could build his stars ship concept in as little as 20 years for the price of $40 billion per year. While that sounds like a significant investment, BTE Dan assures us it is well within our price range, only 0.27% of the US government’s yearly GDP. For comparison, between 1963 and 1972 – the heyday of the Apollo program – the US government diverted 0.50% of it’s annual GDP to NASA.
If we were to start building now and complete the ship in 20 years as per BTE Dan’s schedule, we would be ahead of the fictional Enterprise by nearly 2 centuries. However, BTE Dan’s Enterprise lacks a few of the bells and whistles of the fictional Enterprise, like a warp drive and artificial gravity. Instead, BTE Dan’s Enterprise will be powered by 2 nuclear reactors and three ion propulsion engines. This will allow the ship to reach Mars in 90 days. The saucer section of the ship will be a magnetically suspended wheel spinning at 2 RPMs to simulate Earth’s gravity. The ship will also feature a high-powered laser for research purposes, and of course to defend the ship from any hostile Klingons or Romulans.
Some people have pointed out that this configuration may not be the best layout for a space ship. For instance, if the gravity wheel were turned 90 degrees so that it was perpendicular to it’s plane of motion, there would be no need to magnetically suspend it – the entire ship could be a giant gravity wheel that spins as a single unit. However, BTE Dan points out there is a problem with this idea: “it’s not the Enterprise.” The entire premise behind the BTE website is to get people excited about space travel by having them rally around a cultural icon. More practical space ship designs don’t have the same impact and will have a much harder time getting public support.
The Enterprise would be the largest artificial structure humankind has ever created. It would be a feat of engineering that outshone all others – and it’s entirely possibly. It’s unlikely that the funding for this project will materialize, but it’s nice to know that if we really wanted to, we could build something like this.