Take Two for May 23, 2013

Could 'Star Trek' technology ever become reality?

Star Trek

Still from JJ Abrams' film "Star Trek Into Darkness."

Star Trek

Still from JJ Abrams' film "Star Trek Into Darkness."

Star Trek

Still from JJ Abrams' film "Star Trek Into Darkness."

Star Trek

Still from JJ Abrams' film "Star Trek Into Darkness."


Space ... the final frontier. The voyages of the starship Enterprise have been a Hollywood staple for decades. It all started in 1966 with the original television series, which has since spawned five spinoffs and 12 feature films. 

"Star Trek Into Darkness," which opened last Friday, has already reeled in more than $178 million.

It's the latest in a franchise that has captured audience attention with compelling storylines, cult catch phrases and futuristic technology. Of course, all the beaming up, phaser guns and otherworldly technology is fictional, but could some Treknology ever become a reality?

Adam Steltzner, an engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, joins the show to give us insight into how close we are to reaching "Star Trek" tech.

Interview Highlights:

What is warp speed and how possible is it?

"Warp Speed is a cousin of physics that we think we understand. Nothing in our universe can move faster than the speed of light as long as it stays in the dimensions that we're aware of. Warp Speed is sort of our way of cheating through that. The idea in 'Star Trek' is that you surround a bubble around the spacecraft that keeps it in 'sub-warp space,' and then you move that bubble through space time by warping space time and allow yourself to move faster than the speed of light. That's something that we don't understand how to do now, but in some ways it's possible to imagine us learning physics that would teach us how to wrap space time and move through space time faster than the speed of light."

How about "beaming up," known as dematerialization and rematerialization?

"That's a pretty tough one. I was hanging out with some science fiction writers yesterday, and there's even debate amongst ourselves about what's actually happening. Are we taking an image of the exact state of the human being, destroying them, and just taking the information like a fax and sending it down somewhere else and somebody rebuilds the person with that information, or are we actually taking the energy that comes from taking their matter and turning it into energy, and beaming that down?

"It is way out there, ... transporter technology. We are getting to the place where we think we can build 3-D things with 3-D printers, but the idea of being able to capture someone's self, even their thoughts, and transport through space and then rematerialize, is probably never going to happen."

How about phasers?

"Lasers as weapons are absolutely there. The 'Star Trek' phaser takes it one step beyond, in that you can change it to 'Stun' or change it to 'Destroy.' The physics of that are not well defined or understood. In 'Star Trek' lore, they use something called a Nadion particle, which is not really a real particle, but energy weapons, beam weapons, lasers as weapons, are absolutely out there today. We use them to shoot down satellites.

"The ones that we have naturally don't have a 'Stun' setting. They have a 'really, really hot' setting, and so you just burn whatever you're shooting at, and if you burn it hot enough, then you burn right through it. Which is painful and usually very bad if you're a human being."

Would NASA adopt 'Star Trek''s Prime Directive "no-interference" policy in internal development of alien civilizations?

"It actually is today, the U.N. policy. It is not enumerated as 'Star Trek''s Prime Directive, but essentially it is called 'Planetary Protection.' And when we go to a planet, we try to make the spacecraft very, very clean so that we do not take bugs from Earth and essentially pollute the environment of that planet. Now, we do that primarily for science purposes, so other science expeditions can go to that same planet and not see stuff that is the result of Earth or stuff that's a result of mutations between Earth bugs and whatever the bugs that might be there or present. The essence of it is the same; we want to allow that life ecosystem to maintain its pristine state and not be interfered with by human interaction."

How feasible is cold fusion technology?

Are you a "Star Trek" fan? What technology would you like to see become reality? Holodecks? Replicators? Transporters? Let us know in the comments below or comment on our Facebook page.


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