This week, Trekkies are in celebration of the 15th anniversary of the premier of Star Trek Voyager. Staying in the spirit, we’ve decided to bring you a very special ‘Science of Voyager’ edition of Science Friday this week. Is the Caretaker’s array really possible? Are the badlands a kind of phenomenon we might actually encounter in space? Are bio-technological space ships possible? What about holographic doctors? Answers to all these and more!
The Caretaker’s Array
The premier episode of Voyager features prominently the Caretaker and his array, a huge space station capable of sending star ships hundreds of light years across the galaxy — maybe even further. But, how does it all work? And, is there any real science behind it? In my opinion, the way it is presented is, on its face, completely fiction. The concept of faster than light travel is plausible by today’s knowledge of science. Even warp drive operates on somewhat steady ground as far as the science is concerned. But, the Caretaker’s array is said to use a displacement wave, a kind of “polarized magnetic variation” that causes the transport of space ships vast distances in mere seconds. Putting aside for the moment my bafflement at how something could generate a strong, faster-than-light traveling, directed magnetic pulse at a specific point in space-time hundreds of light years away, this type of faster-than-light travel breaks the laws of physics. Unlike warp drive, which bends space-time itself rather than propelling the spacecraft, this magnetic pulse would have to travel through space as energy and carry along a space ship as matter. Matter nor energy can move faster than light through space.
Luckily, the writers put extremely advanced aliens behind the whole thing, and they really shroud the “how it works” part in mystery. One could argue that my extremely limited knowledge of the inner workings of the array and how the displacement wave works makes it impossible for me to understand. Touche, screen writers, touche.
The Caretaker’s Array
In the premier episode, the USS Voyager and the Maquis raider Val Jean were playing a game of hide and seek in an area of interstellar turmoil known lovingly as The Badlands. In Star Trek lore, this area of space got is name from the massive amounts of dangerous plasma storms, gravitational anomalies, and the total loss of sensors that will occur should a starship decide to venture in. Scientifically, does it add up? On paper, yes. It is entirely possible for an area of space to be home to a dense network of energy and gravity phenomena that we don’t understand. My bone to pick with the Badlands is purely in the imagery. I mean, what’s with all the clouds? Do people really think space is cloudy? This goes for all nebulae as well. These things aren’t super dense. Yes, they look like pretty spirals of color from here on Earth, but up close and personal, they’re pretty vast. Editors note: It is possible that the Badlands is in an area of intense star formation, something that occurs in nebulae. This would create higher densities. Still, clouds?
What, are they in the SUN?
Bio-Neural Gel Packs
The USS Voyager was one of the first starships equipped with brand new bio-neural gel pack technology. A series of interconnected gel packs are integrated into the ships systems and reside all throughout the ship. The packs contain “neural” fibers surrounded by a blue organic goop with metallic interfaces at the top and bottom of the packs. They act as an organic computer system for the ship. This is a technology that is being studied today. We already use organisms to our advantage to break down harmful compounds and transform waste products into reusables. It is definitely plausible that this kind of tech could advance to the point where it could be used as an energy storage system. Kind of like The Matrix for amoebas.
A series of bio-nerual gel packs
The Emergency Medical Hologram (EMH)
The Emergency Medical Hologram was one of the most integrated new technology in Voyager, and it is totally plausible science. Holograms are already becoming a reality today, and several prototypes are already out there. The other aspect of the Doctor beyond his holo-imagery is, of course, his consciousness. He is arguably self-aware, making him his own new form of life. Philosophers have postulated for decades (even in previous Star Trek series) about computer programs becoming advanced enough to become essentially more that the sum of its parts and becoming something we would call, “life.” Throughout the Voyager series, the Doctor’s character becomes more and more important. We get to watch him grow, gain the respect of his peers, and eventually even leave the ship with the help of his mobile emitter. Could computing technology one day advance to the point where this sort of thing is possible? Definitely, yes.
The Doctor, our favorite EMH
Poll: Tell us your favorite VOY science and win a prize!
There were so many great scientific aspects to Voyager: fluidic space, transwarp, tons of time travel anomalies. What’s your favorite scientific tech, concept, or phenomenon from Star Trek: Voyager? Tell us on Twitter by noon today, and you could win a fantastic prize! Send a reply to @kaylai or @TrekMovie. I will be picking my favorite response(s), so be creative!
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