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Starship Musings: Warping to the Stars

by Kelvin F.Long

The executive director of the Institute for Interstellar Studies here gives us his thoughts on Star Trek and the designing of starships, with special reference to Enrico Fermi. Kelvin is also Chief Editor for the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, whose latest conference is coming up. You’ll find a poster for the Philosophy of the Starship conference at the end of this post.


Like many, I have been inspired and thrilled by the stories of Star Trek. The creation of Gene Roddenberry was a wonderful contribution to our society and culture. I recently came across an old book in the shop window of a store and purchased it straight away. The book was titled The Making of Star Trek, The book on how to write for TV!, by Stephen E.Whitfield and Gene Roddenberry. It was published by Ballantine books in 1968 – the same year that the Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C Clarke 2001: A Space Odyssey came out. What with all this and Project Apollo happening, the late 1960s was a time to have witnessed history. Pity I wasn’t born until the early 1970s when the lunar program was winding down. I digress…

In this book, one finds the story of how Roddenberry tried to market his idea for a new type of television science fiction show. It is clear from reading it that Roddenberry was very much concerned for humankind and in the spirit of Clarke’s positive optimism, he was trying to steer us down a different path. In this book we find out many wonderful things about the origins of Star Trek, including that the U.S.S Enterprise was originally called the U.S.S Yorktown and that Captain James T.Kirk was originally Captain Robert T. April. He was described as being “mid-thirties, an unusually strong and colourful personality, the commander of the cruiser”.

The time period that Star Trek was said to be set was sometime between 1995 and 2995, close enough to our times for our continuing cast to be people like us, but far enough into the future for galaxy travel to be fully established. The Starship specifications were given as cruiser class, gross mass 190,000 tons, crew department 203 persons, propulsion drive space warp, range 18 years at light-year velocity, registry Earth United Spaceship. The nature of the mission was galactic exploration and investigation and the mission duration was around 5 years. Reading these words today, we see that what Roddenberry was doing was laying the foundations for many future visions of what starships would be like.

To Craft a Starship

What I found absolutely fascinating about reading this book however, was the process by which Roddenberry and team actually came up with the U.S.S Enterprise design. Roddenberry met with the art department and in the summer of 1964 the design of the starship was finalised. The art directors included Pato Guzman and Matt Jefferies. Roddenberry’s instructions to the team on how to design the U.S.S Enterprise were clear:

“We’re a hundred and fifty or maybe two hundred years from now. Out in deep space, on the equivalent of a cruise-size spaceship. We don’t know what the motive power is, but I don’t want to see any trails or fire. No streaks of smoke, no jet intakes, rocket exhaust, or anything like that. We’re not going to Mars, or any of that sort of limited thing. It will be like a deep-space exploration vessel, operating throughout our galaxy. We’ll be going to stars and planets that nobody has named yet”. He then got up and, as he started for the door, turned and said, “I don’t care how you do it, but make it look like it’s got power”.

According to Jefferies, the Enterprise design was arrived at by a process of elimination and the design even involved the sales department, production office and Harvey Lynn from the Rand Corporation. The various iterations produced many sheets of drawings – I wonder what happened to those treasures? The book shows some of the earlier concepts the team came up with.

Today, many in the general public take interstellar travel for granted, because Star Trek makes it look so easy with its warp drives and antimatter powered reactions. But for those of us who try to compute the problem of real starship design, we know the truth – that it is in fact extremely difficult. Whether you are sending a probe via fusion propulsion, laser driven sails or other means, the velocities, powers, energies are unreasonably high from the standpoint of today’s technology. But it is the dream of travelling to other stars through programs like Star Trek that keeps our candles burning late into the night as we calculate away at the problems. In time, I am sure we will prevail.

Fermi’s Enterprise?

There is an element of developing warp drive theory however that is usually neglected and I think it is now time to raise it – the implications to the Fermi Paradox. This is the calculation performed by the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi around 1950 that given the number of stars in the galaxy, their average distance, spectral type, age and how long it takes for a civilization to grow – intelligent extraterrestrials should be here by now, yet we don’t see any. Over the years there have been many proposed solutions to the Fermi paradox. In 2002 Stephen Webb published a collection of them in his book If the Universe is Teeming with Aliens…Where is Everybody? Fifty Solutions to the Fermi Paradox and the Problem of Extraterrestrial Life, published by Paxis.

One of the ways to address this is to ask if interstellar travel was even feasible in theory, and as discussed in my recent Centauri Dreams post on the British Interplanetary Society, Project Daedalus proved that it was. If you can design on paper a machine like Daedalus at the outset of the space age, what could you do in two or three centuries from now?

But even then travel times across the galaxy would be quite slow. The average distance between stars is around 5 light years, the Milky Way is 1,000 light years thick and 100,000 light years in diameter. Travelling at around ten percent of the speed of light the transit times for these distances would be 50 years, 10,000 years and 1 million years respectively. These are still quite long journeys and the probability of encountering another intelligent species from one of the 100-400 billion stars in our galaxy may be low. But what if you have a warp drive?

The warp drive would permit arbitrarily large multiple equivalents of the speed of light to be surpassed, so that you could reach distances in the galaxy fairly quickly. Just like Project Daedalus had to address whether interstellar travel was feasible as an attack on the Fermi Paradox problem, so the warp drive is yet another question – are arbitrarily large speeds possible, exceeding even the speed of light?

If so, then our neighbourhood should be crowded by alien equivalents of the first Vulcan mission that landed on Earth in the Star Trek universe. To my mind, if we can show in the laboratory that warp drive is feasible in theory as a proof of principle, and yet we don’t discover intelligent species outside of the Earth’s biosphere, then of the many solutions to the Fermi paradox, perhaps there are only two remaining. The first would be some variation on the Zoo hypothesis, and the second is that we are indeed alone on this pale blue dot called Earth. Take your pick what sort of a Universe you would rather exist in.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Abelard Lindsey May 2, 2013, 22:31

    StarTrek is good entertainment. I’ve always enjoyed the movies.

    But I have never associated the show, the creation of the Hollywood producer Gene Roddenberry, with any prognostication of the future whatsoever.

  • GaryChurch May 3, 2013, 2:04

    Hello Kelvin,

    I understand what people expect space travel to be after decades of pandering to the lowest denominators craving for fantasy. Being an American and having grown up with cowboy movies, hunting, and all that strangeness that characterizes our cultureless society here, I have this to say:

    We think we are cowboys but they were not what we think they were and so we are not what we think we are. They were dirt poor illiterate farm boys with no other option than to leave home and live a miserable life mostly outdoors for very little except a bunk and a couple meals a day. They all died young usually of pneumonia or an infection from some injury. There were no epic battles with indians or daily gunfights. There was no fast draw or riding off into the sunset alone on a horse. It is all made up. People did not travel alone and always had a string of ponies and did not leave when it was getting dark.

    Star Trek is essentially a lie. And like all lies, it does nothing except stop people from understanding the truth. Star Travel is possible but trying to excite people by lying to them is not going to accomplish anything.

  • henk May 3, 2013, 3:03

    I would like the option that we are alone. It means we will have no competition to colonoze this galaxie. every planet will be ours. We will have no interstellar wars agains any alien civilization.

    The warp drive really help by that. If the warp drive really is this easy to create like Dr. Harold White say. It means that every alien species could do the same thing in 100 thouzend years. So yes the warp drive will destroy almost any type of argument that inteligent life is commen.

  • David Cummings May 3, 2013, 3:34

    “To my mind, if we can show in the laboratory that warp drive is feasible in theory as a proof of principle, and yet we don’t discover intelligent species outside of the Earth’s biosphere, then of the many solutions to the Fermi paradox, perhaps there are only two remaining. The first would be some variation on the Zoo hypothesis, and the second is that we are indeed alone on this pale blue dot called Earth. Take your pick what sort of a Universe you would rather exist in.”

    To my mind it’s not a question of taking my “pick what sort of a Universe you would rather exist in” but finding out the truth.

    To me, it’s not a question of what I hope is out there, it’s a question of what is really out there. I just want to know.

  • tom May 3, 2013, 4:09

    As for the question that you set forth at the end of the blog that you have written here, I genuinely
    don’t really care one way or another if we are actually alone in this universe. I do in fact believe
    that we really are.

    However I would like to address the issue that you brought forth concerning the warp drive; it’s really
    quite nebulous as to whether or not the speed limit of this hypothetical drive is really some type of
    multiples of the speed of light or whether or not it is the speed of light raised to some kind of power
    exponent (such as c ^ 3 power, etc.). I’m basing this hypothetical discussion on what the Wikipedia
    projects that the scale is actually set at. Presumably, now it has warp 10 as supposedly infinite velocity.

    However the thing that is really uncertain (if you will please) is that the original TV show in the 1960’s
    never really quite defines their travel distance from Earth on their five-year voyage. I took that to mean
    that their voyages were fluid enough for the TV writers to adjust storylines to whatever was the immediate
    needs of the show. However I get the distinct impression that they were sufficiently distant from home
    such that if they got into some type of difficulty mechanically speaking they would have to resolve the problem
    on their own.

  • Ronald May 3, 2013, 6:47

    Yes, Fermi’s footsteps are getting louder and with the possibility of warp drive he is outright knocking very hard on the door.
    If I had to bet, I would say that the number of potentially suitable locations (terrestrial planets in the HZ) is not the limiting factor.
    Rather the combination of abiogenesis, the higher cell (Eukaryote), higher life (multi-celled, specialized organs) and higher intelligence, and all that without being erased again by some major extinction event, would form a successive series of hurdles to take.
    As I have argued before, the answer to Fermi may be rather prozaic and stochastic: the accumulation of all these barriers may result in such a small chance, that even the number of potentially suitable planets in our MW galaxy (probably not more that a few hundred million for higher life anyway) and given several gy of time, is simply not enough for more than one, or a few at most, technological civilizations.
    We may be the first indeed, to spread our life, intelligence and civilization. What an opportunity, and what a task!

  • Michael Spencer May 3, 2013, 7:09

    Jeffries tubes, of course.

  • David Stafford May 3, 2013, 7:39

    I bought that book when it first came out in ’68 or early ’69, back when I was haunting used bookstores in San Diego for old nickel copies of Amazing and Astounding. 45 years later, and with bits and pieces of my career orbiting 3 planets, I find myself watching year 2 of 100YSS. As Spock WILL say – “Fascinating”.

  • GaryChurch May 3, 2013, 8:33

    “StarTrek is good entertainment. I’ve always enjoyed the movies.”

    Only Wrath of Khan; and it was really more of a pirate movie set in space than sci-fi. I watched it so many times I have the dialogue memorized. Finally burned out on it but I might watch it again some year and enjoy it yet again.

    The only Star Wars movie I enjoyed was Empire Strikes Back. The first one was OK but got old quick. Empire is the classic science fantasy movie- but not hard sci-fi by any stretch of the…..imagination.

    The first two star wars could be remade as hard sci-fi with revised story lines but the rest of the franchise is hopeless. I would be happy to write the beat sheets if anyone has any hollywood connections.

  • GaryChurch May 3, 2013, 8:52

    “Star Travel is possible but trying to excite people by lying to them is not going to accomplish anything.”

    I realize that was kind of blunt and I apologize Kelvin. I was in no way trying to infer you were lying about anything. Rather I was trying to make some kind of popular culture comparison and failed.

    It has to do with the Brittania rules the waves thing; being a cowboy I do not identify with that (except when I get motion sickness paragliding). I would not enjoy zero G which is why I often mention artificial gravity in my comments. But there was no centrifugal force keeping the crew of the enterprise on the deck; it was all magic. Warp drive, transporters, and all the other gimmicks have never impressed me.
    What we can really build is far more interesting.

  • william f collins May 3, 2013, 8:55

    Kelvin – insightful article ! I am one who doubts the efficacy of “warp drive” or “wormholes”. I link them to alchemy and perpetual motion machines – fantasies In any case, I find it ironic that the speed of light as de jure speed limit for interstellar travel will more likely give a counter answer to the Fermi Question. I loved the Star Trek Universe. If Warp Drive were possible , then ” Where are the Klingons, the Romulans, etc” or any other rough equivalents to these fascinating yet imaginary folks? On our own planet, we have examples of intelligent life (octopus, dolphin. elephant, Neanderthal, chimpanzee) without high technological achievement. Lastly, I am anxious to see the results of Dr Harold “Sonny” White’s research.

  • Rangel May 3, 2013, 9:07

    It’s hard to even think about it, we shouldn’t forget that our own civilization born just ‘1 minute ago’ compared to the billion of years the universe exists, it might be impossible to us at this stage try to understand what advanced aliens are thinking and why they didn’t colonize most of the galaxy, but i’ll make it clear that i strongly believe that at least dozens to hundred of them exists out there.

    Considering that we can’t see any evidence of their existence yet means that they just don’t want to show themselves or even explore/colonize the galaxy for whatever the reason is… or warp drives and these super-advanced concepts aren’t feasible at all and so it happens really slow, they might be concerned about their own safety, the capacity to control the colonies and other issues as well, making it even more slow to reach all the galaxy.

    There is more speculative reasons that they reached knowledge and technology to travel to “safer universes” or interact with another dimensions, so they aren’t here anymore.

    We used to think about it trhought human way to think and see things, this question is quite complex to just choose certain options based on human visions… let’s just do the best we can do develop and the answers will come eventually at some point.

  • David Cummings May 3, 2013, 9:41

    The Drake equation is:

    N = the number of civilizations in our galaxy with which communication might be possible (i.e. which are on our current past light cone);
    R* = the average number of star formation per year in our galaxy
    fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets
    ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets
    fℓ = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop life at some point
    fi = the fraction of the above that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations)
    fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space
    L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space

  • Ronald May 3, 2013, 9:59

    David Cummings: well said, fully agree! And I would like to add that, in science and life, it is like that for everything: no room for wishful thinking but discovery of the truth!

    Henk: I agree with you on the advantage of not having to fight for one’s place in the galactic pecking order. However, there are more options: intelligent life may be exceedingly rare, but life in general, and in particular primitive life, may still be common then.

  • Eric May 3, 2013, 11:30

    Simple solution to the Fermi Paradox if warp-drives are feasible:

    All starships get infected by tribbles, yet few have Captain Kirks and Scottys clever enough to deal with the problem. The “Great Filter” is really a matter of which civilization is lucky enough to have an all-star bridge crew, when the vast majority of civilizations are sadly populated by Red Shirts.

    In more seriousness, I’m not sure the Fermi Paradox is worse with or without warp drive. Given the time scales involved, it hardly matters if you could colonize an entire galaxy in 1 hundred, 1 thousand, 1 million or even 100 million years. The galaxy is old enough to be filled with or without warping around. Warp drives only matter for travel in human time scales.

    The Fermi Paradox is probably reflects some big error in its seemingly reasonable assumptions. My bet is that intelligence is not terribly adaptive over the long term, and is not needed and counter-productive (expensive) for robots/creatures adapted for the cold dark of space. Most aliens in space may have started out smart, but after replicating for mega- or giga years in Oort clouds, they’re probably about as chatty as lichen.

    What is there to talk about after you and your ancestors have munched on 10 billion comets?

  • James D. Stilwell May 3, 2013, 11:40

    Gary Church
    Isn’t there a proof of principle for nuclear fusion….The Europeans are trying out their best theories on harnessing this very knotty process….But it may be another 1000 years before they learn how to compress it to fit into a U-Haul truck….not to mention housing the lethal radiation….just curious….

    On another note…is the Bell Theory leading to FTL travel or is it too a lie…
    How could two bits of matter instantly communicate to each other although separated by many trillions of miles….and isn’t every bit of matter really a tiny condensation of energy….Matter is an illusion….it can be totally converted into energy….but isn’t energy simply the ability to make waves in bundles of matter…oh no….have I entered circular reasoning….

    Something very fundamental in physics is being overlooked….

  • Steve May 3, 2013, 11:46

    To the people dumping on Star Trek, I am sorry you have joyless lives. But Star Trek was not about “reality”. It was about hope, optimism, and raising expectations about the future of humanity. It doesn’t matter if FTL travel is ultimately possible, it only matters that we want to go wherever our imaginations can take us.

  • ljk May 3, 2013, 12:08

    Wed May 01, 2013 at 09:15 PM PDT

    The Philosophy Of “Star Trek”

    The first time I ever really watched an episode of “Star Trek” was on a weekend I was stuck at home sick. I was a little kid, William Shatner & Leonard Nimoy were hosting a “Star Trek” marathon, and I tuned in just as “The Devil In The Dark” came on. That episode contains almost every element that makes Trek… Trek.

    In that episode, there’s the dynamic between Kirk, Spock & McCoy, but also the episode goes a long way in differentiating Trek’s values from those of most Sci-Fi. I once read an article that compared Trek to most other science fiction franchises. In almost anything else, the Horta would be the “monster of the week” that gets killed off at the end of the story by the triumphant hero. However in “Trek” the Horta is ultimately an entity to be understood & given compassion, with Starfleet finding a way for everyone to live together.

    Among the big science fiction franchises with huge fandoms, “Star Trek” is somewhat odd compared to the others (which are usually predicated on humanity existing in varying degrees of dystopia), with Trek depicting an optimistic future in which humanity is an “enlightened,” altruistic species that has turned Earth into a quasi-utopia & leads a massive interstellar government called the United Federation of Planets.

    In 2009, the collective 6 television series & 10 films that had come before J.J. Abrams’ ‘Star Trek’ were effectively rebooted, with Abrams’ film creating an alternate timeline where things are a little different. The film enjoyed both popular & critical success, but there is a contingent of Trek fans that feels Abrams’ film is an abomination and not “real” ‘Star Trek’ in keeping with the franchise’s original underlying philosophy.

    With the release of ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ in a couple of weeks, some of those same arguments are happening again. So I thought it might be interesting to look at what that philosophy is.

    Full article here:


  • Geir Lanesskog May 3, 2013, 13:20

    There may be another solution to Fermi. What if interstellar travel suddenly becomes easy, like portrayed on Star Trek? There are about a thousand stars within fifty light-years of the Sun. Regardless of travel time, how long would it take to survey all those systems? We would pick the ones that looked most like the sun first, and work out from there, probably expanding far beyond that distance long before we finished with the closest thousand.

    There would be giant gaps in our survey maps, unvisited systems perhaps studied by some PhD project or statistical survey a thousand years later. Double the distance, multiple the number of stars by eight. The faster you can travel, the bigger the gaps inside your travel radius become. If most alien civilizations live around red dwarfs, or even white dwarfs, we’re likely to miss most of them while searching for a system just like ours.

    Aliens whose home system “proves” that life is most suited to a red dwarf system, or binary stars would pass us by for the same reason, focusing on more “interesting” systems, and even if they encountered us, at most leaving some unattended probe orbiting the Earth while going off to visit more interesting worlds.

    There are hundreds of billions of stars in the galaxy, and even a hundred thousand “warp drive” civilizations spread across the galaxy might have a sphere of a million stars to sift through.

    Maybe we’re not in a zoo, but in some neglected blank spot on a map. Just a thought.

  • ljk May 3, 2013, 13:39

    Forget for the moment that the starships in the Star Trek universe run on a fantasy propulsion system which relies on a mythical crystal called dilithium (they were originally called just lithium, but that was hardly exotic sounding enough).

    Forget for the moment that most of the intelligent species in the Star Trek universe are largely variations on human beings both in physical appearance and behavior. Even most of the ETI who do not look anything like us still have familiar and similar actions and needs. The really advanced ones like the Q are essentially the terran deities of old.

    What was most important about Star Trek was that it came from an era when space exploration was still new and exciting with lots of promise. That humanity’s future was going to be a great one thanks to technology and overall progress. That within a few centuries from the Apollo era we would not only colonize our Sol system but figure out a way to “boldly go” into the wider Milky Way galaxy in one form or another, because science and a can-do attitude would solve the issues just like when we put men on the Moon only twelve years after the first satellite was lofted into Earth orbit.

    Then a combination of dystopian SF futures, Star Wars, and J. J. Abrams came along and did their part to make Star Trek uncool to the next generations. This included sending vessels to other star systems to “explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly etc. etc. etc.” rather than to beat up the natives and conquer or destroy them and their worlds ’cause it is what is expected and looks so cool.

    This new Star Trek, I fear, is not going to inspire the current and future generations of humanity to explore the galaxy like the original series did. I know there are a host of other complex and intertwined factors in this equation, but as more folks than one might care to admit get their “education” about the world around them from the cinema and television, a Star Trek franchise that behaves more like Star Wars is not going to help the matter.

    Think I am being overdramatic? Just check out this quote by Abrams himself from the following linked article and let the implications of this stir around in your brains for a bit:

    Abrams admitted to Entertainment Weekly that he was more of Star Wars fan growing up. “All my smart friends like Star Trek,” he said, “I preferred a more visceral experience.” Abrams went on to tell EW that he took on the reboot of Star Trek in hopes of creating a film that “grabbed me the way Star Wars did.”


    Then we have the clincher when it comes to the new Star Trek and any hope of it promoting real interstellar travel: An official film poster of the new movie (subtitled “Into Darkness”, no less) showing a battered USS Enterprise billowing a long trail of smoke and debris, plunging to its apparent doom upon the homeworld Earth….


    Hey kids in the audience munching on your popcorn, you wanna fly to Alpha Centauri? Well, you’ll probably end up being attacked by some bad guys and sent to your flaming deaths. So much for exploring and progressing and growing.

    I do not have to see the new ST film to know it will be much like the 2009 one, only louder, flashier, and more action packed. There will be characters who look and act like Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, and so forth, and they will be aboard a starship named the Enterprise that has a design like the original starship, but in fact it will all be a pretense to lure fans old and new in so they can be diverted into thinking they are experiencing Star Trek as it once was (with the added bonus of lighter wallets).

    Instead they will get a reflection of the state of society now, one that kneejerk dumps on science and technology and those who still make it possible while having no trouble taking from its benefits when it suits them with their base needs.

    This is why in the year 2013, instead of a real starship going to alien solar systems or even colonies on the Moon and Mars, we have a space station endlessly circling Earth where the inhabitants spend more time repairing and maintaining their habitat than doing science and exploration – and which a lot of folks barely know about.

    I don’t know how many of this generation will be grabbed by the Star Trek of yore, when they’ve got a shiny new franchise that doesn’t make you think or worry about things too much. Perhaps scientists and technologists should put their hope and efforts into better educating the public on how exciting the real Universe is and could be, especially if they ever want to see it with their own senses some day.

  • Marc Millis May 3, 2013, 15:25

    To ljk:

    Well said.

    I really miss the fiction of showing how humanity can improve. Perhaps that societal model is more fiction than the warp drive.

  • Adam May 3, 2013, 16:28

    Marc, agreed. Would be interesting if the society of Trek was explained plausibly…

  • Chris Rose May 3, 2013, 16:28

    “The average distance between stars is around 5 light years, […]”

    Not to nitpick, but this can’t be true, can it? Perhaps what was meant was “The average nearest star is 5 light years distant”?

  • FrankH May 3, 2013, 16:30

    @James D. Stilwell – Bell’s theorem and quantum entanglement has NOTHING to do with FTL; no information is passed at FTL, just a shared probability and the outcome can only be discovered via regular light speed communications.

    If there is a way of going FTL, then (almost by definition) time travel is also possible.

    As far as other civilizations, we could very well be the first to reach our current level of intelligence in our Galaxy (somebody has to be the first) or space faring civilizations are rare or evolve into something that we wouldn’t recognize or be able to communicate with.

  • vincent teofilo May 3, 2013, 16:46

    The creation of H. White’s Warp Bubbles and E. Davis’ worm holes are still severely limited by the extraction of sufficient QVF negative energy to create these space shaping fields. As for the paradox of Fermi , the average spacing of ETI civilizations per Marcone is ~ 1000 l-yrs so scanning for RF signals is not a solution since humans are developing more efficient COM such that high power RF will be obsolete in a century. As for ETIs that have the ability to communicate with humans, they are as inclined to converse with somewhat fratricidal human society as an entomologist does with hornets or yellow jackets, the latter which I periodically have to exterminate from my landscape due to my wife’s allergic reaction to their indiscriminate attacks.

  • ljk May 3, 2013, 17:04

    Steve said on May 3, 2013 at 11:46:

    “To the people dumping on Star Trek, I am sorry you have joyless lives. But Star Trek was not about “reality”. It was about hope, optimism, and raising expectations about the future of humanity. It doesn’t matter if FTL travel is ultimately possible, it only matters that we want to go wherever our imaginations can take us.”

    And this attitude is why all Star Trek media was banned after the infamous Star Trek Wars of the 23rd Century…


    Well, as I said above, no shock here:


    Of course the new film is going to make a ton of quatloos no matter what anyone says.

  • d.m.falk May 3, 2013, 17:46

    I’d have to say, sadly, that Marc Millis’ statement, above me, is more true than I would care for– We don’t want hope, we don’t want to better ourselves, but if someone has escaped the morass and improved themselves, let’s go after them and blow them up! (ie: the new movie “Elysium”, coming out in August from Sony.)

    Star Trek gave us one solution to the Fermi Paradox, that being the “Prime Directive”, which meant no contact until there is some demonstration of an ability to go beyond their home star system. We’re not quite there yet, and even with our first furtive experiments in space warp, we may not be for a few more decades, yet.

    Commercial media, right now, is just not where one wants to look for where our imagination can take us, because they’re more interested in loud bangs and cheap laughs, with dwindling viewership and higher ticket prices.

    Instead, look to amateur efforts online, especially with the growing “prosumer” affordable-cinematography technology and software made available these days, and a growing fodder from the space sciences to mine, particularly exoplanets, just as SF writing had long been a resource for the everyperson to participate in.

    Are “they” out there? Yes. But they have come and gone. Some are still there… But not all habitable planets will have a civilisation anywhere near resembling ours right now. Besides, we’re still not yet ready. Soon, though. (But Heaven help other worlds that encounter our evangelists and other religious fanatics! :( Especially if alien civilisations are seen as “sub-human” and “heathen”… :P )

    (I have no problem with God and faith, but I do have a problem with “my way or else!”)


  • GaryChurch May 3, 2013, 18:03

    “I am sorry you have joyless lives.”

    “It doesn’t matter if FTL travel is ultimately possible”

    “Star Trek was not about “reality”. ”

    You are equating joy with the unreal and the topic of this whole thread as being meaningless.

    Hmmm. I actually do enjoy reality and I feel sorry for you.

  • David May 3, 2013, 18:52

    You can watch the daily updates of the space station on NASA TV .
    My mother just loves it Thinks its amazing but she is 90

    I will add some more background on Star Trek. Roddenberry was a western writer and made his living as a cop. ST was copied off the old western Wagon Train. He also wrote a lot of episodes for a show called Have Gun Will Travel about a do gooder gun man who traveled around and helped people out by sometimes shooting them( Capt Kirk in the 19th century)
    It was also the adult sci fi show as opposed to Lost in Space which became the kiddie one(except for the unseen pilot which has a 100 year flight plan to Alpha Centauri and the seen pilot where Dr Smith murders a security guard)
    This was the era before demos STs were great and LOS stunk. Just like Bonanza and Gunsmoke.
    By todays dystopian violent standards these are all kiddies shows .
    I cant add much to Marc and ljk
    But Kelvin I am a little older and was a little kid in the Apollo and Star Trek era . It was fun. I still have old audiotapes made from the CBS broadcasts.
    My late father told me about the excitement in his National Guard days when he was a secretary for a General. He met recruiters looking for people to work in a “Space Program”. He thought it must be fantasy.
    The forty years before Apollo were much more dramatic than the last 40 have been
    Maybe visionaries like Marc and Kelvin can give us a better next 40

  • NS May 3, 2013, 18:57

    “…no room for wishful thinking but discovery of the truth!”

    What is now proved was once only imagined. –Blake

    My copy of “The Making of Star Trek” (bought new) may still be lying around my parents’ house.

  • NS May 3, 2013, 19:09

    To ljk, “The Devil in the Dark” was also the first Star Trek episode I saw, in the original TV broadcast. I remember by mom telling me I was wasting my time; they’d just kill the monster in the end and that would be it. It was very satisfying to tell her she’d been wrong. Later on she watched it (and other episodes) and decided Star Trek was an OK show.

  • Eniac May 3, 2013, 20:39

    Geir Lanesskog:

    There are hundreds of billions of stars in the galaxy, and even a hundred thousand “warp drive” civilizations spread across the galaxy might have a sphere of a million stars to sift through.

    What you are not considering is that given so many places to settle in, a hundred thousand civilizations will soon turn into two hundred thousand, then four hundred thousand, etc. Until, not very many millenia later, there are almost as many civilizations as there are stars in the galaxy, and Ph.D. candidates will have to go look for something other than unexplored stars to study….

  • GaryChurch May 3, 2013, 22:45

    “Roddenberry was a western writer and made his living as a cop. ST was copied off the old western Wagon Train.”

    I read that it was more like a Horation Hornblower theme. Which is the comparison I was trying to make for Kelvin concerning Britannia ruling the waves and cowboys.

    The original ST series had some great space opera moments and that was what I enjoyed as a child and later on. I was all about phasers and photon torpedoes and shields up. The deeper sci-fi aspects never concerned me much. And the Enterprise is a very cool, if unrealistic, looking spaceship.

    The Doomsday Machine was my favorite episode of course.

  • Kathleen Toerpe May 3, 2013, 23:26

    Re: Marc Millis
    Perhaps, but maybe that’s because we’ve paid so much attention to recreating the Enterprise’s propulsion, phasers, tricorders, etc. that we’ve forgotten to recreate Roddenberry’s vision of a pluralistic 23rd century society. We need to get social scientists as involved in space exploration as the physical scientists otherwise the best laid plans of physicists and engineers will fall apart because of humans’ inabilities to tolerate each other.

  • A. A. Jackson May 3, 2013, 23:52

    I should keep this story in a permanent FAQ somewhere?
    Gene Roddenberry showed up in Cleveland for the 24 World Science Fiction Convention in 1966. I was there. It a special session , a surprise to us all, he showed the first pilot for Star Trek. The Cage , with Jeffery Hunter playing Captain Pike. This pilot was rejected by NBC but let Gene do a new one which won a series spot for three seasons.
    The next day I was wandering in the hallways of the Hotel. Somehow there was a wide cubby right there in the hallway and the full sized prop for the Enterprise in it. Fans came by to look at it. But I noticed Gene off to the side, he had introduced the pilot the day before. No one was talking to him, which would all change after the first season!
    So I went over, introduced myself. He was quite friendly and seemed glad to have someone to talk too. I said I noticed something interesting about the pilot. That it borrowed ideas from modern prose science fiction. He said : “You should have.”
    Turned out he had started reading Astounding during WWII in the service, and had keep up with prose SF ever since. He said that all the themes, The Federation, Warp Drive … so on… were borrowed directly for SF authors because he had noticed most SF films did not use SF prose as source material and he thought the best ideas were there.
    Later some famous and well known SF authors had their stories adapted for the show, even writers like Theodore Sturgeon and Harlan Ellison. Alas the third season was under budgeted don’t think any SF writers were used.
    The show did not always get the speculative science right, but it did, generally, treat the spirit of modern SF prose with respect.
    One device used of the show, long used by SF authors was to set stories 200 to 300 years in the future disarming any criticism of the ‘super science’. Why so many SF films have a setting a few years in the future or maybe dozens is a mystery to me , as if this kind of artifice embarrassed the makers.

  • GaryChurch May 3, 2013, 23:56

    “If there is a way of going FTL, then (almost by definition) time travel is also possible.”

    There is no way of going FTL, but getting close might be possible. And getting close is time travel into the future. That is all we get.

    Going back in time becomes a religious matter when collapsing the universe to create a doorway back to rescue the dead and escape to a higher plane of existence is contemplated.

    I am satisfied for now with just going fast enough to go to other stars- and if “fast” can only be some low percentage of the speed of light then freezing people will be sufficient for that purpose.

    We should discuss the negative effects of fantasizing about breaking “God’s speed limit” but indulging in that fantasy is all bad IMO.

  • Marshall Eubanks May 4, 2013, 2:07

    If life is common, it likely long predates the formation of the solar system. (I think that the timeline in http://arxiv.org/abs/1304.3381 may be reasonable, but do not agree with their interpretations of its implication.)

    A civilization that is (say) 6 billion years old might have members that are themselves several billion years old. A billion year old entity might not find it particularly daunting to spend 1 million years crossing the galaxy, and a delay of 50 or 100 thousand years in contacting a new civilization might serve the useful purpose of weeding out the short-lived and unstable. We just don’t know, and (barring a successful contact), I doubt we will know one way or the other with any confidence until our civilization is considerably older.

  • David Cummings May 4, 2013, 9:40

    Geir Lanesskog:

    I have to disagree with your possible explanation of the Fermi Paradox, that we are essentially lost in space in a galaxy that is so big it’s easy to stay unfound and unseen.

    By the time a civilization has star travel tech, it’s long-distance planet-finding and planet-surveillance tech will be thousands or hundreds of thousands of times better than what ours is now.

    And ours is pretty darn good and getting better pretty darn fast.

    You don’t have to go to every planet to find and observe every planet.

    If there are star travelers out there, they have networks of space telescopes that make the JWST look like a toy. And the JWST is already a pretty darn good toy.

    If someone in this galaxy is flying starships you can bet your bottom dollar they already know there is biological activity on this third rock from this yellow sun.

  • David May 4, 2013, 10:14

    Its on Encore Western
    ME TV a digital over the air Channel is running Lost in Space and Star Trek Tonight at 8 Eastern in order
    Its the remastered version looks great. LOS had the bigger budget because Irwin Allen was the known producer.
    There is a non conanaical book called Wagon Train to the Stars. I love the irony there

    Gary Church it was both . I thinking both Horatio Hornblower and a Wagon Train to the Stars were mentioned when he was trying to sell it.
    I think its all in Making of Star Trek.

    It is also funny Paul has all these great Science Stories and what thread gets all the comments!
    Don’t worry Paul I am reading them all!

  • Eniac May 4, 2013, 10:53

    If life is common, it likely long predates the formation of the solar system. (I think that the timeline in http://arxiv.org/abs/1304.3381 may be reasonable, but do not agree with their interpretations of its implication.)

    If I read the abstract correctly, they use a model of exponential growth in genetic complexity and extrapolate back to a single base pair. It has been a long time since I have seen anything so ridiculous made up to look like a legitimate scientific paper….

  • Alex Tolley May 4, 2013, 13:38

    @Marshall – that arxiv post has been so debunked by biologists that it should be considered as fatally flawed as Nasa’s “arsenic life” debacle.

    We really do need a “bad meme” repository, much like Snopes, but for bad science.

  • Brian May 4, 2013, 14:04

    Some of the most interesting musings on the Fermi Paradox I’ve ever seen were from Greg Egan in his novel Diaspora. One possibility he suggests is that once an ETI civ reaches a sufficient level of computing power they could just simulate all possible forms of life. No reason to go gallivanting around the universe when you’re not going to find anything that you couldn’t have just simulated.

    I personally feel like by the time you reach warp-drive level tech, you’ve already uploaded and either A) No longer really care about the universe outside, or B) you and your ships are just tiny computers and there’s no reason a race like us would notice you. They could be all around the solar system in ships the size of a pack of cards, each one containing dozens of uploaded personalities. We’d never know unless they chose to announce themselves.

  • A. A. Jackson May 4, 2013, 14:19

    @Marshall Eubanks
    It’s what I have been harping on for years.
    There is no physics that prevents STL travel.
    As a technological civilization we could built ‘Sail Star ships’ or Orion star ships with current technology.
    Barring an eminent known destruction of the Earth (which might happen anyway in a boiled frog manner) it’s going take a long long time before the economics for even robotic stellar flight are possible.
    (I mean real ‘directed’ stellar flight, we already have slow pokes on the way.)

    Point I want to make, is that the fastest moving science , enabled by the physical sciences, is biology , chem0-physics-biology. My conjecture is that we will reach live extension of such a magnitude in 100 years that it will so totally change the political-sociological-economic frame work of a complex technological society that we cannot predict our own future.
    (Any other advanced civilization’s philosophy about stellar flight is futile.)
    If there is ever a viable model of our complex technological society it will be non-linear and hence have a horizon of predictability.
    If I say it three times maybe it will take.
    History will not repeat itself.
    History will not repeat itself.
    History will not repeat itself.

    (That depends of us having a future history !)

  • Kelvin F. Long May 4, 2013, 19:48

    Hi Guys, thanks for the great responses to the article. Here are some replies.

    Abelard Lindsey; look into Gene Roddenberry more. He had several conversations with Arthur C.Clarke for example about the optimism of the future.

    GarryChurch; I like your cowboy story, you are probably right. Regards your comment, I didn’t actually interpret that you were referring to me, but rather Star Trek and its warp drive. Be cool. And, I agree with you, see my final point below.

    Henk; glad you appear to agree with my analysis of the Fermi solution options.

    David Cummings; you are right of course regarding “pick”, but I was playing a tease. Regarding the Drake equation, this will only give us a worst case estimate in my opinion, but only once we know all of the numbers to high accuracy.

    Tom; I don’t agree it’s nebulous. If warp drive entirely feasible, then I think this further emphasises the Fermi Paradox, but by immediately ruling out many of the other options.

    Rangel; we can “believe” what we want, but it is only what we “know” that matters. I continue to search for grounds for suspicion, certain knowledge and finally evidence, that we are not alone in this deep and dark Cosmos. As echoed by the comments from Ronald.

    Ljk and Marc Millis; points well made, I agree.

    Eniac; Yes I agree. It will not just be the stars that are colonised, but the space in between too.

    Chris Rose; I believe the average distance is around 5 light years between stars. Its an average in the galaxy.

    Geir Lanesskog; interesting scenario you paint, but I am sure that the advanced computers and telescopes of the future ages will be able to complete all of the surveys of all of these stars, without needing us to actually visit them. We will know what is there before we visit, and so we will know where to visit. I see that David Cummings makes a similar point later on, for which I agree with him.

    Kathleen Toerpe; completely agree. We need more social experiments and better analyses of our own societies and why they fail.

    A.A.Jackson; envy. That’s a very cool story. Regarding your last comment on a horizon of predictability, I agree.

    Finally, I have my own views on FTL by warp drive. I am totally fascinated by it and hence in 2007 I organised a BIS conference on it. I found no less than 19 engineering and physics issues for why warp drive is problematic. In addition, I have concerns that over selling it can lead to mixed marketing messages about the vision and technical challenges of interstellar travel. We must find an appropriate balance between inspirational optimism and the realistic bottom lines of science. We must not pretend that interstellar flight, especially human, is easy. That said, warp drive research absolutely needs to be done and funded, as with the rest of interstellar propulsion methods across the board. But one should not be pursued at the exclusion of others. Proper funding is what we need. Where is the 100YSS R&D funding that it was intended for? Missed opportunity.

    Thanks again
    Best wishes
    Kelvin F.Long

  • Danangel May 4, 2013, 20:52

    Re: Kathleen Toerpe
    “We need to get social scientists as involved in space exploration..”
    Possibly, but I think the opposite may be true: I think social scientists have mucked up our society, NASA included, so badly, that we are more concerned with political correctness than we are the science. If we were to get back to the basics of science, we could again achieve those leaps and bounds, like we did last century.

  • Danangel May 4, 2013, 21:11

    Gary Church, I read the entire Hornblower series in the 5th grade and wanted more. C.S. Forester led me to feel the ocean spray on my face and the salt breeze in my hair. I’ve read them all again and more than once, but found that they are not available in the public or school libraries these days. Sad, really.

  • ljk May 4, 2013, 22:19

    Brian said on May 4, 2013 at 14:04:

    “Some of the most interesting musings on the Fermi Paradox I’ve ever seen were from Greg Egan in his novel Diaspora. One possibility he suggests is that once an ETI civ reaches a sufficient level of computing power they could just simulate all possible forms of life. No reason to go gallivanting around the universe when you’re not going to find anything that you couldn’t have just simulated.”

    On the other hand, if we do not succeed with our technology we might devolve into something that works with the future environment of Earth but does not include the intelligence to build starships and such. I am thinking here of the 1985 novel Galapagos by Kurt Vonnegut.


  • P May 5, 2013, 5:40

    “One possibility he suggests is that once an ETI civ reaches a sufficient level of computing power they could just simulate all possible forms of life. No reason to go gallivanting around the universe when you’re not going to find anything that you couldn’t have just simulated”

    I’m not going to disagree with that, but I will point out that we live in a world where anyone, with the flick of a mouse, can access a copy of the Mona Lisa that has much higher fidelity than standing a few metres from the original in the Louvre can supply, and yet people don’t just continue to acknowledge the ‘aura’ of that original, infinite reproduction has (in a way Walter Benjamin could not imagine) increased it.

    These discussions can end in ontological cul de sacs, so I’ll end there :)


  • GaryChurch May 5, 2013, 8:07

    “Gary Church it was both . I am thinking both Horatio Hornblower and a Wagon Train to the Stars were mentioned when he was trying to sell it.
    I think its all in Making of Star Trek.”

    And I think I may have read that book about 20 years ago. I know why they came up with a transporter (save money on special effects) and the size of the passageways (to allow the camera trolley to roll), and a couple other details but I cannot quite recall where I picked that knowledge up- I must have read that book.

  • Brett Bellmore May 5, 2013, 10:05

    Brian, while I tend to lean towards the “we’re alone” conclusion, a close second is what you describe: Technological evolution towards miniaturization and efficiency in uploaded personalities. Adding that for real efficiency, you want a good heat sink, which means you probably avoid the immediate neighborhood of stars. Deep interstellar space isn’t particularly hospitable to biological life, but for computers it’s paradise.

    The problem is, this has to assume a considerable uniformity of behavior in ETs. The normal tendency of life is to expand into all available niches, not just exclusively exploit the best niche around. SOMEBODY would be occupying the space around the stars. Maybe just exporting refined energy to the deep space dwellers, but they’d be here.

    Nah, I think we’re alone. And it’s not just all our eggs in one basket, it’s all the galaxy’s eggs. We owe it to the universe to spread out, so that intelligent life will not perish when the next extinction event happens on Earth, as it inevitably will.

    Moreover, I think most of us radically overestimate the tech level necessary for this. We’re a lot closer to self-reproducing machines than many realize, I would be shocked if we don’t achieve them by the end of the century, and they will give us the universe.