Calling himself "BTE (Build the Enterprise) Dan," a US engineer has unveiled an inspiring and bold plan to go where NASA has never gone before, namely build James T. Kirk's Starship Enterprise.
Although the space ship would not have a matter transmitter, warp engines, nor photon torpedoes, it would have much of the cutting-edge technology developed during the early 21st Century. Surprisingly, much of today's hardware—including technology being developed in engineering labs like M.I.T. and others—is approaching that seen in the cult 1960s science fiction show, Star Trek. Yet the escapades of Captain Kirk and his crew take place during the 23rd Century.
Much of the technological backdrop supporting future space exploration in the 23rd Century is already being developed today. Some, like mobile phones, are already in wide use around the world.
The amazing vision of Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry is coming to fruition much faster than he suspected. Devices that drew oohs and ahs from the 1960s TV audience such as the medical tricorder, hand communicator, and manufactured food are already realities.
Recently, the show's incredible "universal translator" also became available to the general public. The new Star Trek-like device allows a person to speak to others in as many as 26 different languages.
Dan's vision is to build a full scale U.S.S. Enterprise in Earth or lunar orbit. The official project name is the "Gen1 Enterprise."
The cost of Gen1 would be amortized over two decades and run a total tab of one trillion dollars. While some may choke on that price tag, Dan argues that it's only a fraction of the commitment America made to get men to the Moon. Dan and his Enterprise advocates propose that a little over a quarter of one percent of US Gross Domestic Product (in 2012 dollars) be allocated to the space project. Currently, that works out to roughly $40 billion a year.
What would the US (and the world) get back from such a project? Other than opening up eight other worlds and hundreds of moons (that some, like Titan, are planets in themselves), the initial ship would be one of a fleet that would be built and upgraded every 33 years.
As explained on the website Build The Enterprise, “These changes to spending and taxes will not sink the republic. In fact, these will barely be noticed. It’s amazing that a program as fantastic as the building a fleet of USS Enterprise spaceships can be done with so little impact. The only obstacles to us doing it are the limitations we place on our collective imagination.”
And what Dan argues is historical fact. While some of the public criticized the Apollo program—and still criticize the space program in general—there is more than ample evidence that much of the advanced technology humans benefit from today had its origins in the manned and robotic space programs pioneered by NASA.
While some complain that the money is wasted getting rocks and taking pictures, in reality all the money is being invested on Earth and building a foundation of technology to meet the needs of a planet that sooner rather than later will need to support more than 10 billion people.
The "wasted" money has gone into technology and science that has advanced medical technology, computers, metallurgical processes, materials science, robotics, artificial intelligence, new energy systems and applications, information systems technology, exotic chemistry, and of course aeronautics. And that's only some of the things on a very expansive list.
In essence there will be a sort of warp generated by the Gen1 Enterprise project: human knowledge and technological breakthroughs will come at warp speed. Much of the 23rd Century concept of the U.S.S. Enterprise can be built today including its impulse power that would be driven by ion engines fueled by an on-board nuclear reactor. The Gen1 could even be armed with defensive "phaser" weapons using high-energy pulse lasers that would be very efficient and deadly in the near vacuum of interplanetary space.
And Dan notes on the website that “It ends up that this ship configuration is quite functional.” Beyond its functionality it would serve multiple purposes for a crew that could number in the hundreds.
The Gen1 would effectively be a mobile space station serving as an exploration, transportation, and freighter vessel. It would have shuttles aboard her and the ability to assist in colonization of worlds like the Moon and later Mars.
And like Roddenberry's fictional counterpart, the real Gen1 Enterprise would open up brave new worlds where no one has gone before…such as Mars, Titan, and others.