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San Diego Comic Fest panel discusses science of Star Trek

Joe Naiman

Special to the Village News

An April 23 San Diego Comic Fest session discussed the science of Star Trek.

The panel consisted of University of California, Santa Barbara physics professor Roger Freedman; University of California, Merced physics professor Linda Hirst; Malin Space Science Systems advanced project manager Michael Ravine, San Diego Natural History Museum herpetology collections manager Frank Santana, and Technologico de Monterrey (Mexico City campus) physics professor Juanale Tamal. The session was called “Star Trek SciTech: To Boldly Go Where No Scientists Have Gone Before” and discussed what technology concepts have already been developed and what might be needed for Star Trek science to be possible in the future.

In “Star Trek: The Next Generation” chief engineering officer Geordi La Forge was born blind but had goggles which allowed him to see. Ironically the goggles impaired the vision of actor LeVar Burton, who played La Forge. Burton also considered the goggles to be uncomfortable.

La Forge’s goggles were called VISOR; the specific name for that acronym was never indicated in the actual series but has been called Visual Instrument and Sensory Organ Replacement or Visual Instrument and Sight Organ Replacement.

In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the Argus II retinal prosthesis system. The Orion artificial vision system which replicates photoreceptors which have been damaged is currently in clinical trials. Those systems provide black and white images, but more recent technology allows for color vision.

“In the future it could be out there,” Tamal said.

“The artificial vision is actually within the realm of feasibility,” Freedman said.

Warp drive which allows a spaceship to exceed the speed of light may be more scientifically problematic. The entire United States annual electrical production is 1,500,000,000,000,000,000 joules. If all Americans forewent that electricity so that a vessel could be propelled at 0.99 percent of the speed of light, it would allow for propulsion of a mass of 30 kilograms, or approximately the size of a kayak or canoe.

Exceeding the speed of light would also affect real-time transmission of images seen on the screen of the Enterprise’s bridge. “They’ve got some advanced sensor technology and some fusion technology,” Ravine said.

Translation programs now allow Earthlings to receive written data in a different language, so the combination of speech recognition and translation may allow for oral communication in two different languages to be understood even if those two languages involve beings from different planets. “They are learning,” Santana said.

Earth rotates around its axis every 24 hours and humans sleep an average of eight hours. Other planets may have longer or shorter days, but Santana believes that those away from Earth would adapt the way Earthlings closer to the North Pole or South Pole adapt to shorter periods of daylight during winter and longer day hours during summer. “Even on Earth there are extremes,” he said.

The refraction of light may make cloaking devices a possibility. “A lot of science goes on right now in terms of electromagnetic cloaking,” Hirst said.

The light diffusion has utilized stationary devices, so a cloaking device on a moving ship would be more complex. “That would make it a little more difficult,” Hirst said.

Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was born in 1921, and the original plan was for the 2021 San Diego Comic Fest to honor the centennial of his birth. When it became apparent that many science fiction fans were at greater risk of being wiped out by the spread of coronavirus than by J.J. Abrams revising history, last year’s San Diego Comic Fest was canceled and the convention which took place April 21-24 this year belatedly honored the centennial of Roddenberry’s birth as well as the 2022 centennial of Peanuts comic strip creator Charles Schulz.

The original Star Trek series was aired on NBC from 1966 to 1969. An animated series aired in 1973 and 1974, and the first Star Trek movie was released in 1979. "Star Trek: The Next Generation" ran from 1987 to 1994; Roddenberry passed away in 1991.


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