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Why and how to design, build ‘Star Trek’s‘ Enterprise for real
Question of the Day
Like shooting stars, the messages might as well come from outer space. There are the people who claim to have discovered major new laws of physics, who just know how UFOs are propelled, who say they are working on artificial-gravity generators and light-speed-beating engines in their garages, projects that are always almost complete.
“I keep an email folder labeled ‘bizarre,’” said BTE Dan.
A self-proclaimed systems engineer, BTE Dan is the person behind Build the Enterprise, a website devoted to, well, building an actual, functional, space lasers ‘n all version of the USS Enterprise, the venerable pop-culture starship featured in the “Star Trek” film and television franchises.
Estimated time frame? Twenty years. Suggested cost? $1 trillion. Proposed missions? Dropping probes beneath the giant ice sheets of Jupiter’s moon Europa, or maybe blasting asteroids before they can smash into Earth, “Armageddon”-style.
And no, BTE Dan does not consider himself worthy of the bizarre folder.
“We are destined to be in space in a big way,” he said in an email interview. “And the idea of traveling around in space, and seeing places beyond Earth, is fascinating to humans. We Earthlings need something to get jazzed up about as a collective civilization, and space exploration can do that.
“We went from shooting the first man into orbit to landing men on the moon in eight years. After the Wright Brothers’ first engine-powered flight, fifteen years later the first trans-atlantic flight occurred. Big things can happen quickly given the commitment.”
Build the Enterprise was launched in May, shortly before NASA’s final space shuttle mission ended an era and left the nation’s future of manned spaceflight in doubt. The website details a surprisingly comprehensive, rooted-in-reality plan for constructing a nuclear-powered spaceship with ion engines and artificial gravity that resembles the “Star Trek” ship, could transport as many as 1,000 people to Mars in 90 days and theoretically can be built with scaled-up versions of existing technology.
The site has struck a chord with space and science-fiction enthusiasts alike, drawing about a half-million visitors in its first few weeks of existence and continuing to receive about 2,500 page views per day.
Hence the emails that go in the “bizarre” folder, and hence the desire of BTE Dan – who claims to have worked as an engineer for a Fortune 500 company for the past three decades – to remain anonymous.
“My family all knows, and they get a kick out of it and are supportive,” he said. “A few friends know about it, but I have not told anyone about it where I work.
“I work with hundreds of engineers in my day job, and I’d rather not become the Build The Enterprise guy just yet.”
From reel life to real life
In “Star Trek,” the Enterprise features powerful, energy-based deflector shields that protect the ship and its crew. A faster-than-light-speed, antimatter-powered warp drive propulsion system makes whipping around vast galactic distances as quick as driving to the corner Starbucks for a cup of coffee. A “transporter” that de- and rematerializes matter, allowing Capt. Kirk to beam down to newly discovered worlds populated by green-skinned alien babes – and engineer Scotty to beam him up on demand.
The Build the Enterprise version is a bit more mundane. Retaining the iconic look of the fictional craft – a crew-housing dinner plate attached to oversized two-prong fork engines – Dan BTE’s ship loses the warp drive (doesn’t exist), the shields (ditto) and the transporter (take a wild guess).
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About the Author
Patrick Hruby is an award-winning journalist who holds degrees from Georgetown and Northwestern. He also contributes to ESPN.com and The Atlantic Online, and his work has been featured in The Best American Sports Writing. Follow him on Twitter (@patrick_hruby) and contact him at PatrickHruby.net.
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