Build the Enterprise

One day soon, man is going to be able to harness incredible energy – maybe even the atom. Energy that could ultimately hurl men to other worlds in some sort of spaceship. And the men that reach out into space will find ways to feed the hungry millions of the world, and to cure their diseases. They’ll be able to find a way to give each man hope and a common future. And those are the days worth living for.

–Edith Keeler, Star Trek, “The City on the Edge of Forever”

It’s no secret that art imitates life imitates art. In the worlds of science fiction, what might be tomorrow is the stuff being dreamed up today, and it’s usually inspired by the future tech that somebody grew up reading about or seeing in a movie or on TV. Star Trek has become almost cliched when it comes to translating tech from the screen to reality. For all the things Star Trek has given us, there has always been one glaring item on this fanboy’s wish list.

The Enterprise herself.

According to the stories, the Enterprise won’t be built for over 200 years. Besting Scotty’s reputation as a miracle worker, however, the curator of the Build the Enterprise website claims he can do it in 20.

Under the screen name of BTE Dan, the curator claims the “Gen1″ Enterprise could get to Mars in 90 days, to the moon in 3, and could run planet-hopping missions for dropping off masses of robotic probes. The BTE site launched just this week, detailing nearly every aspect of the project, from conceptual designs, ship specs, and even a funding schedule. With apologies to J.J. Abrams, this Enterprise would be built the way it was done originally – in space. When complete, Enterprise will boast a rotating 1G gravity section inside the saucer, and it would be similar in size and appearance to the iconic starship’s look from the early theatrical films.

BTE Dan claims his design is “quite functional,” moving a few parts around for better performance with today’s technology. As he explains, this Enterprise is designed to be a spaceship, a space station, and a space port, capable of supporting a thousand people on board at once, either as crew or as visitors.

As everyone knows, warp drive hasn’t been invented yet. BTE Dan tells us the ship will utilize an ion propulsion engine powered by a 1.5GW nuclear reactor that will allow it to travel at constant acceleration. Three additional reactors would create the electricity needed for ship’s operations.

What, no phasers? Enterprise isn’t expected to see combat. The ship’s laser will be used for cutting through the ice crusts of Europa to enable probes access to the ocean below.

BTE Dan correctly points out that “the only obstacles to us doing it are the limitations we place on our collective imagination.” The funding proposals to Congress and NASA suggest that a program designed to build a fleet of Enterprise ships – one built every 33 years with far more advanced technology than the previous one – would have relatively little impact on changes to government spending.

The website includes a blog, a forum, and a Q&A section. BTE Dan responded to the question, “What if someone can prove that building the Gen1 Enterprise is beyond our technological reach?” His answer: “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.”

I couldn’t agree more. Considering how tired and hopeless things have been looking in the field of space exploration lately, and considering all of the advances that program has given us in the past, it’s about time we injected the system with a little dose of optimism. That it comes in one of the most inspiring packages ever conceived is a wonderfully geeky bonus.