Q: BTE-Dan, do you really think it’s technically possible to build the USS Enterprise over the next two decades?
A: Yes. It’s within our technological reach to build a full-sized Enterprise with 1g artificial gravity. This Gen1 Enterprise can go on missions to key points of interest in our solar system, like Mars and Venus. It will be the biggest ship of any kind ever built by humans, and it will be larger than the tallest building in the world. It’s possible to build the Enterprise, and it would be a monumental achievement for us humans who inhabit the planet earth.
Q: How would building the Enterprise alter our manned space program?
A: The USS Enterprise from Star Trek is a cultural icon, and we should latch part of the US space program on to this icon and build from there. We need a far grander vision of what we should be doing to get humans up into space and how we might gain a permanent foothold there. If we aren’t going to get a sustainable presence up there, then we should stop spending money for putting humans into space and instead focus on robotic missions like sending more advanced rovers to Mars, Venus, and elsewhere. If we are going to ask taxpayers to pay billions of dollars for projects to put Americans into space, it should be for an idea that they can relate to and be inspired by. The general form and characteristics of the spaceship should be inspirational – and building the first generation of USS Enterprise would surely be inspirational.
Q: Well the ship is inspired by the Star Trek Enterprise, but it’s not the same. Please explain why it’s different.
A: It’s different because the technologies we have to work with in the first half of the 21st century are much different than the technologies that will exist in the 23rd century when Star Trek is set. We can only dream of what technologies may exist by then. So we can stay as true to the themes of the Enterprise ship as is possible given our technological limitations. We have to re-configure interior sections of the ship quite a bit. But it will still be a magnificently impressive ship. When completed, and given the missions that it will be capable of doing, it will be as inspirational as putting astronauts on the moon in 1969.
Q: You seem pretty excited about this.
A: You are right. This is super cool.
Q: What if someone can prove that building the Gen1 Enterprise is beyond our technological reach?
A: If someone can convince me that it is not technically possible (ignoring political and funding issues), then I will state on the BuildTheEnterprise site that I have been found to be wrong. In that case, building the first Enterprise will have to wait for, say, another half century. But I don’t think that anyone will be able to convince me it can’t be done. My position is that we can – and should – immediately start working on it. There is a forum on the BuildTheEnterprise site where anyone who wants to try to prove that the ship can’t be built over the next twenty years is welcome to state their case.
But also, even if it can’t be built over the next twenty years, that should not stop the program from starting. If NASA dives into the R & D for the ship and they in time learn that it will take say 25 years instead of 20 years – then it takes 25 years. Thus the Gen1 ship can still be built; it’s just a matter of time and determination to see it through.
Q: But you don’t even work at NASA – or in the space industry. So why should we believe you?
A: All of my reasoning is contained on the BuildTheEnterprise site. Mainly I have tried to show feasibility by scaling up technologies that have already had quite a bit of research done on them. Where possible I show the calculations for scaling things up to show feasibility. For example, you can scale up the masses of the systems in proposed missions to Mars such as for a mission using an ion propulsion engine. So you scale everything up, like the on-board nuclear reactor to power the engines, and so on, and you can arrive at a ship the size of the Enterprise.
Of course everything will not scale up linearly. Some technologies when scaled up may make things actually easier due to improved economies of scale. Others may be more challenging to scale up, and a non-linear quality may work against you. But hey, developing the Enterprise is supposed to be challenging.
Q: Does your background and experience as an engineer help you with all of this?
A: I think that my training and thirty years of experience as an engineer have been valuable when working on the ideas at the BuildTheEnterprise website.
Q: Alright, now for the big issue. Do you think that the funding could ever be put in place for this? I mean the public just doesn’t seem all that interested in space stuff. And the country is broke.
A: Our federal spending levels and revenue levels are out of balance because we have promised so much for entitlement programs. It’s true that we should not add a large new program of any kind unless we directly find the money to pay for it. So at BuildTheEnterprise I propose three options. First, we could cut spending across a large number of federal programs that are classified as discretionary spending. This would exclude cuts to Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and major social programs. Second, we could simply raise the income tax rates slightly. Or thirdly we could do a combination of cutting spending on many discretionary spending items and also raise taxes slightly. Since we only need about $50 billion per year to fund the Enterprise program – out of a $3.6 trillion federal budget – it is well within reason that such a program could be funded given enough enthusiasm within the slice of the public who cares about space exploration. Of course this enthusiasm would have to at some point spill over to some influential national political leaders, such as a president or presidential candidate. And there would need to be enthusiasm in Congress.
If we want to define the greatness of our civilization mostly based on how we make transfer payments to each other through social programs, well, that sure doesn’t seem too inspiring. We need some other things to get jazzed up by as a civilization – something with a much bigger sweep – something to fire our imaginations. And we need something to inspire more young people to want to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics – the STEM subjects. We need a worthy successor to the Apollo space program – and the Enterprise program can be just that.
Just look how many young people were inspired to study engineering by the character Scotty from Star Trek. Well, I bet a lot of young people would be inspired if we actually built the first generation of Scotty’s ship.
Q: Live long and prosper.
A: Likewise. Thank you.
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