Science Saturday: Treknology for a Modern Starship Enterprise

What might a modern day Enterpsie look like? This week we take a look at some up and coming technologies that draw some intriguing parallels to 23rd century Star Trek. The line up: Google’s Knowledge Graph as the Enterprise computer; New military translation tech as the ship’s UT; Antimatter engines to fuel the Enterprise; Pulsar navigational charts for use in Stellar Cartography; Asteroid mining and hazard mitigation; and quantum teleportation for use in the ship’s communications array.


Google’s Knowledge Graph One Step Toward Trek-Like Computer System
Google recently unveiled the Knowledge Graph, a new tool implemented into the Google search engine that promises to provide highly relevant and in-depth search results. How will Google achieve this? By turning their search engine into a knowledge engine. The Knowledge Graph knows that words have meaning beyond simple search queries that actually apply to real-world things, which are part of a web of knowledge. Watch the video below for a demo of what this tech can do.

Real, Usable Star Trek-like Universal Translator
Many companies have been attempting to develop Trek-inspired UT devices for the past few decades. The military has an obvious interest in this technology, which would allow soldiers to communicate with locals anywhere in the world without the need for translators. Well, this defense-driven UT technology is basically a reality, says’s Allison Barnie. Raytheon’s BNN TransTalk is a portable two-way translation device that promises to automatically translate speech between English and several languages including Arabic, Pashto, and Farsi.


Antimatter Engines Could Power Future Spacecraft
A new paper has proposed a conceptual design for an antimatter propulsion system that could be created with today’s technology and would generate speeds of more than 2/3 the speed of light. Matter/Antimatter reactions are a great way to fuel a rocket, as they produce 10 million times more energy than a conventional chemical engine. Unfortunately, antimatter is exceedingly difficult to hold on to, and scientists can only study the stuff by creating it in particle accelerators like CERN.

Read the scientific journal article and the story at Discovery News to learn more. Plus, watch the video below to learn about how antimatter is created at CERN.

Pulsar Stars Could Guide Spacecraft to Within An Accuracy of 5km
GPS works great for getting us from one place to another here on terra firma, but how do we expect to be able to navigate through interstellar space? Star Trek (and pretty much every space-based Sci-fi show) gets this one right: star charts. Well, scientists now believe that pulsars, dense burnt-out stars that exist all over the universe, could be key to helping us navigate the cosmos. Pulsars rotate extremely rapidly. As they do, they send x-rays out into space at rates so stable that they rival atomic clocks. Prof Werner Becker from the Max-Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics explained to the BBC that if a spacecraft carried the means to detect the pulses, it could compare their arrival times with those predicted at a reference location. This would enable the craft to determine its position to an accuracy of just five kilometres anywhere in the galaxy.

Read more at the BBC. And, thanks to Marcelo for the tip!

Pulsars could be extremely useful to Stellar Cartographers aboard the Enterprise

Astronauts Learning How to Explore and/or Destroy an Asteroid
The Enterprise crew will need to be trained in gathering scientific and ore samples from asteroids. And, here on Earth, we just might need to know how to destroy an asteroid should it threaten to collide with our planet. NASA and ESA have started a training program to teach astronauts to land on, explore, sample, and even destroy an asteroid should the need arise. As the knowledge of potentially hazardous asteroids in our solar system increases, the need for how to deal with a potential threat becomes more and more apparent. According to The Telegraph, NASA will soon announce its plans to send a robotic mission to sample an asteroid by 2016, followed by a manned asteroid mission by the late 2020s.

Read more at The Telegraph.

NASA plans to send a man to an asteroid by late 2020s

Chinese Set New Quantum Teleportation Record of 60 Miles
Researchers in China have successfully teleported a photon over a distance of 60 miles, 6 times farther than their previous record set in 2010. Now, quantum teleportation is not really the same thing as transportation on Star Trek, but it is a breakthrough for new kinds of information exchange and communication. Quantum entanglement, which Einstein famously called “spooky action at a distance”, is the process of “entangling” two objects (in this case, photons, or light particles). When two particles become entangled, they act exactly alike even though they may be very far away. It’s like taking one photon at location A, duplicating it, and making it appear at location B. Experts say that this technology will lead to satellite-based quantum cryptography, an ultra secure method to transmit information around the globe. Send an encrypted subspace message to the Admiral, Priority One.

Read more at TIME, and read the scientific journal article.

Space Cat doesn’t understand quantum teleportation

Photo of the Week: Psychedelic stars & cities as seen from the space station
Astronaut Don Petit took several photos from the ISS and made this beautiful composite image. Thanks to the Bad Astronomer for posting this on his blog!

Do yourself a favor and click to see the large version

Science Bytes
Not enough science for you? Here’s a warp-speed look at some more science tid-bits that are worth a peek.


Sort by:   newest | oldest

I want my starship NOW!!!!!!

SpaceCat! get him in the new movie!

As long as the cat doesn’t follow Shrodinger’s model…. ;-)

As for the matter/anti-matter engine? Even creating a few anti-matter particles (and possibly trapping them) would not get you nearly sufficient quantities for rocket application. But studying anti-particles themselves is still a fascinating way of unraveling the early days of the universe….

And while I agree that a manned mission to an asteroid would be certainly worthwhile (not to mention vital to humanity’s future safety), it ALWAYS seems like this mission (as well as a flight to Mars) are forever 10-20 years away. Even when I was a kid, it was always ‘only 20 years away’ (and this was in the 1970s). Now, I’m starting to feel as though manned asteroid/Mars missions are the carrots NASA forever dangles in front of the mule….

With even unmanned robotic missions cut to zero (save for the Curiosity rover and the 2018 Webb telescope), how can we hope to get humans to an asteroid in 20 years or so when the space sciences budget for NASA is virtually on life-support?

At least the private sector (with Space X’s Falcon/Dragon) assisting in low earth orbit activities is a promising start as it (potentially) frees up some of NASA’s funds from the fairly routine, but expensive, task of ferrying crew/cargo to and from ISS. This morning’s launch abort is just a glitch. They’re trying again this Tuesday. Hope it succeeds…. ;-)

Google’s always up to something interesting. The knowledge graph seems interesting. It’s kindof like they’re making their search engine more, what, sentient?

It will have a sense of instinct or ability to make educated guesses about what’s relevant to the search and what isn’t. Also to anticipate valuable information in connected in some what that the user may not have foreseen. Sounds good. Hopefully the Knowledge Graph will make the search experience just a little more fluid.

EDIT: …valuable information connected in some way that the user may not have foreseen.

Commodore Mike of the Terran Empire

Hey. I wonder if Porthose will be along side Space Cat. Would be great for the next TrekMovie. Lol.

Kayla, you do a great job at making this stuff interesting and understandable, which isn’t always easy. Good writing.

Guys, why no article about It’s been all over: HuffPost, MSNBC, Yahoo, CNN, etc…

i posted it did not show up for some reason

I am digging me some space cat.

I hope we see space cat around here from time to time.

It would be cool if, when he showed up, cool new (perhaps exclusive?) TrekMovie news was right around the corner.

When the universal translator can translate from “wife” to “sense,” I’ll buy one.

8 Reign — That was posted… last weekend.

Still think Scotty will power the Enterprise by rubbing argyle socks across the carpetting in Budgineering. Just my pet theory.


Thanks, Kayla!! Like many of us, my weekend is not complete without my geek fix.

Hopefully if they ever made a ship like Enterprise, Jaguar wouldn’t be the manufacturer, because it would be in the shop all the time for repairs.

I hope the call the first interstellar vessel, the Starship Skoda!

Considering how often my computer crashes, it needs to progress quite a bit before turning it loose on a ship traveling at near light speeds. One glitch and the crew is instantly wall splatter…..

The pulsar thing is astoundingly old; pulsars were depicted on the Pioneer 10 and 11 plaques in 1972, and we referenced pulsars in the TNG tech manual. We also included Federation timebase beacons, so ships that got a bit screwed up with relativistic travel could re-kajigger themselves time-wise. Of course, the timebase beacons worked by subspace radio, so it’s a little outside the realm of what’s possible in the real world. :)



Those timebase beacons will come in handy if and when an astronaut gets trapped in a temporal causality loop and bumps into Captain Kelsey Grammer.

Hate it when that happens… and happens… and happens… ;)

This opinion will be controversial, no doubt. I’d like to see the USA Team up with the Chinese to put a land on Mars and begin a permanent base in 2025. With their cash and our contractors and know how, this could definitely be done in 12 to 13 years.

# 17

Partly agree on that.

We could definitely send human beings to Mars in 10-20 yrs. But I’m not sure about a permanent base soon after, however. There’s still a lot we need to know about Mars’ surface radiation (something the new Curiosity rover is supposed to find out about). And until we learn to ‘live off the land’ (see Bob Zubrin’s book, “The Case for Mars”), resupplies would be dodgy at best. Buzz Aldrin also made a great case in Popular Mechanics magazine about a proposed ‘cycler’ spacecraft that would continuously shuttle back and forth between Earth and Mars orbit; carrying new travelers and supplies with each run.

The technology to go to Mars is there. It’s been available a long time. We just need the money, the partnerships (I think offsetting the costs with China, Russia and the ESA would be ideal) and most importantly, the WILL. But it always seems to be ’20 years away’, ever since I was a kid…

Should Global Positioning System be renamed to Terrestrial Positioning System so that we can have the acronym GPS for Galactic Positioning System?

Also, could quantum pairs be used for FTL communication. Or is there a delay between the transfer?

The Watson system from IBM makes a lot better sense for a Library Computer. It is designed to answer common language questions and was purpose built for this sort of thing.


I’m all for teaming up with other countries to go to Mars, but the question is: would the Chinese government go along with it? Their attitude of late doesn’t seem to suggest a “kum-ba-ya” way of going forward but rather one of competition.

#6: You did mean Porthos, didn’t you?

# 21 Vultan~

It’d be nice, but China’s in ‘competitive mode’ right now. We’d have a better shot with the Russians and the ESA. Assuming we ever get around to actually mounting such a mission…


#8 Reign1701A,

Such an article was posted here a week or so ago.

The response here wasn’t exactly postitive, which is ironic consider the content of THIS article.