Star Trek Inspired: Space Shuttle Enterprise

The cast of Star Trek stand next to Space Shuttle Enterprise in 1976 (NASA)
The cast of Star Trek stand next to Space Shuttle Enterprise in 1976 (NASA)

Space Shuttle Enterprise was the first ever shuttle to be constructed. It never made it into space, it was used purely for atmospheric test flights, but Enterprise was a significant craft. Originally NASA planned to designate the shuttle Constitution, but after a a sustained write-in campaign, NASA changed its name in honour of the Starship Enterprise from the original series of Star Trek. In 1976, the USS Enterprise (NCC-1701) was being captained by Captain Kirk (played by William Shatner), and some of the original series actors were at the roll-out ceremony in Palmdale manufacturing facility in California.

Enterprise in Free Flight after separation from 747 in 1977 (NASA)
Enterprise in Free Flight after separation from 747 in 1977 (NASA)

In the picture above, from left to right: Dr. James D. Fletcher, NASA Administrator, DeForest Kelley (Dr. “Bones” McCoy), George Takei (Mr. Sulu), James Doohan (Chief Engineer Montgomery “Scotty” Scott), Nichelle Nichols (Lt. Uhura), Leonard Nimoy (Mr. Spock), Gene Roddenberry (producer and creator of Star Trek), and Walter Koenig (Ensign Pavel Chekov).

A wonderful scene capturing the beginning of 32 years of shuttle operations. This is an especially poignant image as Star Trek creator Gene Rodenberry and two of the original Star Trek cast, DeForest Kelley and James Doohan have since passed away.

Source: NASA

The Next Great “Bad Science” Conspiracy: Project Lucifer

The Lucifer Project
The Lucifer Project: Using the Cassini probe to detonate like a nuclear weapon inside the atmosphere of Saturn… oh dear, here we go again… (NASA/US Dept. of Defence)

Here comes another doomsday scenario, this time from the friendly gas giant Saturn. The story goes like this: NASA is working with secret organizations (such as the Illuminati or the Freemasons) to fulfil their dreams of “playing God” and creating a second Sun in the Solar System. This plan has many aims, but primarily they want to use the Cassini probe to trigger a catastrophic chain reaction inside Saturn so nuclear fusion is possible, generating a mini-Sun. This has been tried before, when the Galileo probe was dropped into the atmosphere of Jupiter in 2003 (but it obviously failed at first attempt). Cassini is carrying about 33 kg of plutonium, making it the ultimate cruise missile aimed at Saturn, atmospheric pressures eventually kick-starting a nuclear explosion in two years time.

Whilst this makes for interesting reading, yet again, the science is deeply flawed. We can expect this doomsday scenario (and yes, it is predicting the end of the world) to gain some strength before the Cassini mission is terminated in 2010…. only this time the Devil (Lucifer) is involved…

In the first part of this mini-series on the Universe Today, I look into the science behind a doomsday scenario known as The Lucifer Project (or simply Project Lucifer). I have heard of variations on this theme for many years, and at first it sounds possible, but then simple logic dictates that turning Jupiter or Saturn into a Sun is rather more sci-fi than sci-fact. In fact, the transformation of Jupiter into a second Sun is not a new idea. In the novel and movie 2010: Odyssey Two (notice the correlation with the date?) created by the late, great Arthur C. Clarke, Jupiter is the focus of the mysterious storyline. Black monoliths breed inside the gas giant’s atmosphere, at first creating a big black spot (again, notice the similarity with the 2003 black spot observation?), increasing its density and mass to a point where nuclear fusion can be sustained. The movie finishes with various views of the new binary solar system. A great movie.

A scene from the movie 2010 where a black spot appears on Jupiter
A scene from the movie 2010 where a black spot appears on Jupiter

So, it would seem, Project Lucifer is loosely based on Arthur C. Clarke’s novel (minus Galileo creating a nuclear chain reaction). Obviously, the 2003 Galileo collision with Jupiter had no lasting effect on the planet, conspiracy theorists are now looking at the 2010 Cassini collision with Saturn for their story. Therefore, last night I wrote Project Lucifer: Will Cassini Turn Saturn into a Second Sun? (Part 1) to address some of the technical reasons why a Cassini re-entry into Saturn’s atmosphere (or Galileo’s re-entry into Jupiter in 2003 for that matter) cannot miraculously pull all the tiny pieces of plutonium (non-weapon grade by the way) together to form a crude nuclear weapon. In the next part, I’ll look into the physics behind a star and look at why gas giants such as Jupiter and Saturn are called “failed stars”…

Could Warp Drive Become a Reality?

The physics behind the warp drive (Richard Obousy and Gerald Cleaver)
The physics behind the warp drive (Richard Obousy and Gerald Cleaver)

In science fiction, the “warp drive” helps Captain Kirk, Jean-Luc Picard, Commander Janeway and Benjamin Sisko potter around space with ease. Without warp speed, TV episodes of Star Trek would stretch into months and seasons would last decades. Alas, even science fiction succumbs to the laws of relativity: Nothing, not even light (or a Klingon) can travel faster than the speed of light. As I researched for a recent Universe Today article, the space between the stars is prohibitively large, even the nearest star is over 4 light years away (Proxima Centauri), so how could it be possible for USS Enterprise to flit from one star system to the next without putting a dent in Einstein’s theory of relativity? The answer comes if we realise that although light speed is a physical limit on how fast things can travel through space-time, there is no limit on how fast space-time can travel if it is warped. Suddenly we have a theoretically possible means of travelling between the stars by altering the fabric of the Universe in a warp “bubble”…
Continue reading “Could Warp Drive Become a Reality?”

Bad Move Buzz, Science Fiction DOES NOT Make Space Boring

Buzz Aldrin
Buzz Aldrin

I don’t suppose he can get it right all the time. Recently, Buzz Aldrin, second man on the Moon and huge space development advocate, has been very vocal with his views about NASA and the agency’s position in the space exploration pecking order. Good man, the world needs more people like him willing to encourage a more positive attitude toward space. But today, I read that the NASA legend has dropped a clanger. Fair play, he’s entitled to his views, but for once (and hopefully the only time) I will say “Buzz, you are totally, and unequivocally wrong.” So what did he say? Science fiction makes space science reality look boring.
Continue reading “Bad Move Buzz, Science Fiction DOES NOT Make Space Boring”