Great science fiction takes real science concepts and stretches them past their limits. Time and time again, we’ve seen that scenario reversed, where real life scientific pursuits are first conjured up in the minds of sci-fi writers (cell phones, anyone?). Trek tech inspiring real products is nothing new. This month, designs for a faster-than-light ship, a handheld tricorder-like device (yes, another one), and even talk of creating real food replicators has all popped up in the news. Plus, Trek is making its presence known in low Earth orbit thanks to a Trekkie astronaut. Hit the jump for more.
Trek-inspired FTL Ship: The IXS Enterprise
There’s no question that the design for this faster-than-light capable ship, dubbed the IXS Enterprise by its creator, is inspired by Star Trek. NASA engineer and physicist Harold White has been hinting for years at his work on a “groundbreaking” idea that could allow us to achieve travel faster than the speed of light. Now, he’s teamed up with designer Mark Rademaker to create this CGI mockup of what such a ship could look like.
The technology used to reach FTL speeds hinges on the same idea that powers the USS Enterprise in Star Trek, and in doing so, it still obeys Einstein’s galactic speed limit. Our modern understanding of physics says that nothing with mass can travel faster than the speed of light, but it doesn’t say that space itself can’t travel as fast as it pleases (in fact, it is thought that the universe is expanding faster than the speed of light). So, a warp drive like that planned for the imaginary IXS Enterprise would warp space around the ship instead of brute force propelling the ship from one place to another. This means that the travel distance (and therefore necessary speed) is effectively reduced from the perspective of the ship.
But, don’t get your hopes too high on this one, folks. While the design is gorgeous and we wish we could ride to Alpha Centauri tomorrow, the IXS Enterprise’s main goal is to encourage kids to take on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) careers.
“We wanted to have a decent image of a theory conforming Warp ship to motivate young people to pursue a STEM career,” Rademaker said in an e-mail interview to the Washington Post. “It does have some Sci-Fi features that might never transfer to a possible final design, unless we really want to.”
At this point, the warp ship is no more real than Gene Roddenberry’s NCC-1701. And, while that might not make the splashiest headline, this humble writer who was inspired into a science career in part due to Trek would like to think that this is a far nobler goal.
Check out Mark Rademaker’s flickr page for some high resolution images of this truly sexy ship.
White explains his warp ship in this one hour lecture
Another Real Life Tricorder (But, this time you can buy one!)
You’ve read this headline before, “Company Develops Real Life Tricorder!“. And, yes, this is another one of those stories – with an important caveat. You can actually buy this one! Consumer Physics, Inc. has created a pocket-sized molecular scanner and symbiotic smart phone app for actual consumer use. The SCiO, available for pre-order at a measly $299, is a handheld spectrometer scanner that can give you chemical information about your food, your clothes, just about anything around you. The device uses existing technology – spectrometers of many different flavors are laboratory work horses in many fields, but typically run in the millions of dollars and require a specialized technician to operate. What Consumer Physics has achieved is a scaling back of this technology to the point where the device itself is affordable to the average consumer and the information it displays can be understood by someone without a PhD. Of course, your average $5 million instrument over at your local university likely wins out for accuracy and precision, but if you’re simply curious about the calories in your food, you probably don’t need the kind of data that would pass peer-reviewed scientific muster.
The SCiO has already been successfully funded on Kickstarter, blowing past its goal of $200,000 at an astounding $2,762,571. Check out their video below.
Nestlé wants to make Star Trek replicators
Nestlé, the largest food and beverage company in the world, have decided to tackle vitamin and mineral deficiency by dreaming up Star Trek-style replicators that would scan a user, determine the nutrients that person needs most, and whip up a dish to serve their dietary needs best.
Their research division, the Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences (NIHS), has created a program (ironically) called “Iron Man” in the hopes of developing this technology. The replicator itself is at least several decades away, NIHS admits, but the field of nutrigenomics, the study of how food affects the expression of genes, could be the first step toward tailoring diets to individuals.
Personally, I’d use a replicator to make endless appletinis and ice cream sundaes, so the nutrition part of this story may be lost on me…
Things get geeky in low Earth orbit thanks to a Trekkie astronaut
Steven Swanson, current commander of the International Space Station, is bringing geeky back (can we make this phrase a thing?). Trekkie, Browncoat, and all around sci-fi fan, Swanson has been strutting his favorite fandoms in the form of T-shirts and DVDs.
Swanson instagram’d this photo with the caption, “Blood, sweat, but hopefully no tears.” – Swanny #nasa #iss #exp39 #international #space #station #blood #sweat #tears #medical
Swanson even had a Trekkie design for the Expedition 40 mission patch! As GEEK Magazine explains:
Collaborating with his daughter, computer science major and one time graphic designer Caroline, Swanson designed a badge that to him represented both the impact that science fiction has had on actual science as well as space exploration. The pair zeroed in on a symbol of the Klingon race. For those not familiar with Star Trek, the Klingons are arguably the most badass of the races we meet in the Trek universe.
Unfortunately, NASA ultimately vetoed the design fearing it was too much of an advertisement for Star Trek (and, I suppose, government organizations need to tread lightly in this kind of legal territory).
“He mentioned Star Trek and the influence that television and movies about space travel have had on him and the youth of American, or the world even,” Swanson’s wife Mary told collectSpace,” and how [the patch] was paying homage to how that has stirred the imaginations of thousands of people and made them want to maybe become astronauts, or at least work in the space program.”
Join Kayla’s Trek to Vandenberg Air Force Base for OCO-2 Satellite Launch
Last but not least I wanted to bring your attention to my upcoming trip down to Vandenberg Air Force Base in Lompoc, CA. I feel so honored to have been invited to attend a @NASASocial event to tour the base, meet the scientists behind the Orbiting Carbon Observatory 2 (OCO-2) spacecraft, and even watch the newest Earth-observing satellite blast off during a 2:56am launch aboard a Delta II rocket.
This awesome video explains just what OCO-2 will be doing up there
Of course, my trip would be lonely without you TrekMoviers, so I’m taking you along with me (like it or not). You can follow my adventure on my twitter account, @kaylai (and probably some tweets on the official @TrekMovie account, too). Plus, I’ll write up a post detailing my trip when I return. I’m hitting the road to Lompoc in a few short hours, so tweet at me or leave a comment here to tell me what you’d like to know about the mission, the scientists, the base, or anything you’re curious about! You can also follow the mission at @IamOCO2, and watch for hashtags #OCO2, #EarthRightNow, and #NASASocial.