Our trip through Trek terminology continues. For this installment I want to get through all the “S” categories. You know, shields, the saucer section, subspace, the works. By the time this installment is done you’ll swear Superman flew by to tell you S is his favorite letter. Like this:
See, it does stand for S. Man Of Steel and Supergirl lied to you. Would Sesame Street lie about the letter “S”? I think not. Star Trek also starts with S so let’s get back on topic before I pad out this lame intro even more!
Our first section takes a look at the saucer section. This was a new feature and none of the ships since, even the ones set in this time period, ever had one. The guide notes that is has the living areas and the main bridge. It doesn’t mention that the saucer takes off to protect the civilians and Riker’s trombone though it does mention that the saucer doesn’t have warp drive. I remember an episode where they had to send away the saucer while in warp (if memory serves it was the first episode) and it was never tried before. I guess being tossed out of LIGHTSPEED on a dime isn’t such a big deal.
The battle module contains the engineering section, the main cargo bay, and the two nacelles containing the warp drive engines.
I wonder if the saucer section has its own engineering section for the impulse drive? Also, the ship has two engines? I always assumed starships had one engine a piece. So learned something new there.
The battle section has impulse engines as well as warp drive capability; it also has its own bridge, to which the ship’s command officers evacuate in time of battle. The saucer section is detached and the battle module is ready for action.
Here’s an interesting bit of history about the battle bridge from the Memory Alpha wiki:
The addition of the battle bridge to the Galaxy-class layout was at the urging of concept artist Andrew Probert, while he was planning the saucer separation of the class. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion 3rd ed., p. 9) “Originally, the producers did not want a battle bridge; that was essentially my concept,” explained Probert. (Star Trek: The Official Fan Club Magazine issue 60, p. 4)
The battle bridge underwent a few changes in the three times it was used in the series because it doubled as bridges for other starships. This may be why it appears to be a more traditional bridge. It could double for other bridges because only the Galaxy-class ships have that nice, relaxed bridge. It’s too bad the layout didn’t get used for more ships. Sure, having it for a warship like Sisko’s Defiant didn’t make sense but considering Voyager was intended for longer explorations it would have been a good thing to not look like a military ship, especially in a time when they were trying to get away from a military feel, Dominion War aside.
From there it goes to sensors but if you’ve ever seen a sci-fi show, not just Trek, that should go without explanation. Not really any revelations there. From there we go on to the shields. Last time we talked about how force fields had been mastered and how they work. Shields come from said mastery. The guide says to imagine them as “a great invisible bubble of energy”. There is more to it than that though.
The Enterprise is able to put up several concentric shields (or bubbles) at a time. Whenever the vessel takes a direct hit, the outermost shield is damaged or disabled…When the last shield is gone, the ship is totally vulnerable.
I just cut out the dialog example. Shields are a bit confusing based on how they work sometimes in sci-fi. For example the rear shield is down but does that mean the other five sides of the ship are protected? This makes it sound more like how I would expect to work, that one force field, or according to this a series of force fields, surround the ship and take damage faster than the ship can restore the integrity of the shield. And yet the show would sometimes discuss area shields being down, which I would think is less of a bubble and more of a pushback in a surrounding force. So what happens when an area shield system goes down? Something to ponder when creating shields for your own spacecraft and bases, writers.
Under normal conditions, we will always have “navigational shields” operative. These are deflector shields which sweep out far ahead of the vessel’s path through space, deflecting from the ship’s course everything from stray hydrogen atoms (which could cause considerable damage at warp speeds) to full size meteorites and asteroids and other space debris. These shields are all automatically controlled by the ship’s computer.
I have to give the franchise that inspired so much real scientific advancements in technology despite not doing any heavy research that I know of credit. That they thought of that is actually pretty cool. The next paragraph even considers a loss of power when the shields are increased but if that ever really came into play it did so subtly.
After that comes shuttlecraft but there really isn’t any new revelation here. They’re parked in the saucer section, although I would assume there’s at least one in the battle section for emergencies or at least a docking area for a returning shuttlecraft when the saucer section it out being safe. Starbases can be on planets or in space, not really any new revelations there either. Then we get to the Starfleet section. Hopefully there will be something of interest there. Let’s see. Starfleet operates under the United Federation Of Planets, it’s not a military group despite how often it acts in that role given there is no otherwise observable military when outside forces invade Starfleet territories and UFP member worlds like Earth. Nope, it’s totally about science and exploration.
In practice it means that our armaments and militarism have been de-emphasized over the previous series and very much de-emphasized over the movies. We will not be saluting.
I don’t remember salutes in any Star Trek show not taking place in the mirror universe. Also, spell check insists “de-emphasized” is not a word. De-emphasized is, with a capital “D” or sometimes capital “DE” according to Firefox, so that’s confusing.
We may hear the word “sir”, but is extended as the same kind of courtesy used by junior and senior officers on civilian airliners. It is traditional, however, to use ship’s ranks on the bridge, an acknowledgement of the naval heritage of Starfleet.
I think it’s a bit more than tradition. You won’t hear Ensign Soontobedemoted (I think it’s an Indian name) calling Captain Picard “Jean-Luc” or even just “Picard” in the mess hall. We end our trip through the letter S with a look at subspace radio. This is how starships and starbases communicate with each other over such large distances. Apparently cell signals are lousy in space.
Ordinary radio waves travel at the speed of light. This is too slow for our purposes.
We have to go right to…a joke you’d only get if you watched Spaceballs. So rather than take years to get a message out let’s do it the easy way: bend the fabric of reality. Oddly I don’t hear…who is that scientist who used to have that science show where he theorized how to make actual science fiction tools and warp drive and stuff actually happen? No, I don’t mean the guy from Because Science. Anyway, I don’t remember an episode about communicating vast differences by bending reality and I’ve seen episodes about bending space just to get to another planet.
Fortunately we have subspace radio which operates through another dimension of space. Subspace radio waves allow us near-instantaneous contact with Starbases when we are within a few dozen light years. Beyond that, subspace messages take several hours or days.
So, one light-year is 9 trillion kilometers or roughly 6 trillion miles, although apparently the metric system wins in the 24th century for whatever reason, we’ll go with the 9 trillion kilometers. The distance from Mercury to Pluto (a “dwarf planet” is still a planet so Pluto counts…because I’m old dang-it!) is around 5 billion kilometers so I guess it’s possible that the Enterprise could communicate with Earth “near-instantaneously” as we see in some episodes depending on where they are.
For the most part, subspace contact with the nearest starbase is advisory. A starship Captain has the authority to implement Starfleet policy for himself, his crew, and his ship, as he deems appropriate. Only in matters of highest importance will Starfleet overrule a Captain’s judgement.
Which makes a certain amount of sense. He’s there and Starfleet isn’t so all they can do is advise most of the time. Next time we’ll complete this section of the technobabble (we still have more terminology to go over though), so join me next time to learn how tractor beams work. Unless you’re a teenage supergenius in which case you probably already made one, right Wes?