At some point during the fifty years it’s been in existence, Star Trek became a pop culture phenomenon, inspiring catchphrases, parodies, and even real-world scientific discoveries.
Not surprisingly, Star Trek gadgets proved to be inspirational too. Some of the technology introduced on Star Trek would come to pass in the real world: the series’ communicators inspired cell phones, PADDs became iPads, and tricorders evolved as advanced diagnostic equipment.
In honour of the series’ fiftieth anniversary, here are seven astounding Star Trek technologies. Not all of these are possible in our world (at least not yet…)
Almost a century after his final mission on the Enterprise, Spock, now a Federation Ambassador, took on a secret mission to reunite the Vulcans and Romulans. This later brought him into contact with the crew of the Enterprise-D, and Captain Jean-Luc Picard who informed Spock of the death of his father, Sarek. Spock performed a mind-meld with Picard, which gave him some insight into his father’s feelings for him, thanks to a previous telepathic bonding between Picard and Sarek.
Once it was determined that Spock would be safe with the Romulan underground, the Enterprise-D left him to continue his work.
The Vulcan process of sharing thoughts requires physical contact and intense concentration, often achieved through ritual chanting.
Ensign Pavel Chekov joined the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise as navigator while the ship was already in the midst of its first five-year mission under the command of James T. Kirk.
By the time the Enterprise had concluded its extensive refit in the early 2270s, Chekov had been promoted to lieutenant, serving as the ship’s security chief and tactical officer. He continued to serve on the Enterprise until he was promoted to commander and transferred to the U.S.S. Reliant where he came across an old enemy of his former crew in 2285, Khan Noonien Singh.
In a particularly gruesome encounter, Khan later implanted Ceti eels into Chekov’s mind to make him susceptible to suggestion, but the Reliant commander fought back against the creature’s mind-controlling powers.
The Ceti eel enters through the ear and wraps around the cerebral cortex.
The Jem’Hadar are a genetically engineered species that serve as the soldiers of the Dominion. They have been bred for combat by the Founders and believe this is their one purpose in life. They do not need food or rest and only require one substance to keep them going: the isogenic enzyme ketracel-white.
To ensure their loyalty, the Founders engineered the Jem’Hadar to lack ketracel-white. The Vorta tightly control this substance, providing it through a delivery system that injects the drug into the necks of the soldiers.
The unit is attached under the wearer’s uniform, and ketracel-white is delivered intravenously to the carotid artery, ensuring that soldiers remain addicted to the enzyme and compliant to orders.
Beginning with the first Starfleet vessel to roll off the line, every starship in the fleet has included at least one transporter capable of moving people or objects from one place to another through matter-energy conversion.
Most transports are initiated in a transporter room where a platform with multiple individual pads is located. A transporter chief oversees the process of beaming an individual from a transported pad by first scanning the target area and achieving a coordinates lock. The subject is then dematerialized into a matter stream that transfers through the pattern buffer, which acts as a failsafe in case of malfunction. The matter stream is then transmitted to the other location, where the object is rematerialized.
The weapon of choice for Starfleet since a time predating the formation of the Federation has been the directed-energy weapon that came to be known as the phaser. An acronym for PHASed Energy Rectification, this powerful weapon can be used as a sidearm or a rifle. The same technology works on a much larger scale in Starfleet weapons systems with Starfleet vessels equipped with phaser banks that are capable of inflicting severe damage on enemy ships.
The 23rd-century Phaser Type-2 (right) incorporates a removable Phaser Type-1 (left) into a more substantial and powerful weapon.
The modern development of warp drive allows starships to travel at faster-than-light speeds through a controlled matter/antimatter fusion reaction, providing a considerably more consistent form of propulsion though space. This relatively recent technology generates warp fields that form a subspace bubble surrounding a starship. That bubble distorts the local space-time continuum, enabling the starship to move at velocities that exceed the speed of light.
The “Picard maneuver”, a clever battle move, was named in honour of Jean-Luc Picard during his time as captain of the U.S.S. Stargazer. He developed the tactic in a last ditch effort to fight off an attack from an unidentified vessel.
Holographic technology has made great advances in the 24th century, creating fully immersive life-like simulations through the projection of three-dimensional visual displayers.
The physical holodeck is a large room lined with holographic projectors that create a fully immersive environment of three-dimensional backgrounds that can transform the finite space into what seems like an area with unlimited dimensions. A replicator system creates physical props that have mass and can be manipulated by the user. The illusion of movement is created as the holographic environment shifts around a person while a forcefield in the floor creates a treadmill effect for walking.
One of the earliest recorded malfunctions of a holodeck by a Starfleet crew occurred on the Enterprise-D while it was on a diplomatic mission establishing contact with a species known as the Jarada. As Captain Picard was enjoying his favourite Dixon Hill detective holonovel with a few members of senior staff, they became trapped in the simulation after a Jarada probe scanned the ship and triggered errant behaviour in the program. The simulation took on a life of its own, with the safeties shutting down so that when a crew member was shot, he was critically wounded.
Picard was forced to continue to play out the dangerous scenario until members of the crew outside the simulation were able to free him in time for an all-important greeting with the impatient – and easily offended – Jaradans.
Celebrate 50 years of Star Trek and explore one of the greatest science fiction universes ever created with The Star Trek Book. Explore every era of the Star Trek movies and TV series in detail, featuring everything from visionary technology such as communicators and warp drive, to iconic spacecraft such as the Starship Enterprise; from alien species like Vulcans and Klingons, to well-loved characters such as Captain Kirk and Spock.