May 9th, 2009


I liked the new Star Trek movie, but I wish they'd paid some attention to physics. When the main technical substance is named "red matter," you know the science consultant isn't on call. C'mon, name it Rubidium Dilanthumide or something -- technobabble's not hard if you're trying at all.

But it was the orbital mechanics that really annoyed me. You can't, y'know, just drop a spiky anchor straight down to earth from orbit. Nor can you "fall" out of the belly of a space plane: you're already falling. That's what being in orbit is. And there's this thing called an atmosphere? You ever heard about it? Air resistance? Friction? It makes things hot. And winds! C'mon, at least give your unanchored space tether thingy some sort of guidance rockets along it's length to keep it going "straight down". It would make it cooler. Your heroes rocketing down, enveloped in huge plasma fireballs, dodging the giant blasts from the cable's guidance jets... It would be science-tastic.

Also, Starfleet: the bottom of a gravity well is not a great place to build an Enterprise. How exactly did you get that thing up into orbit? Without setting the corn fields on fire, I mean. Maybe another long spiky anchor chain lowered from space? And some hamsters in a wheel to crank it up?

And while I'm ranting about atmospheric physics: although I liked Spock's ship's dramatic swoop down into the atmosphere as a popcorn-munching crowd pleaser, from an orbital mechanics standpoint? Not so much. There's all this atmosphere in the way, and that's a space ship. And you thrust backwards to go "down" from orbit. And the scale's all wrong w.r.t. the length of the "drill cable" and the distance to orbit and the color of the sky and amount of atmosphere... but I can probably stop now.

Dear JJ Abrams: please hire someone who knows something about space for your sequel. I can deal with conventions like "explosions in space still make sounds" because it's more fun that way and "artificial gravity onboard all ships" because it makes the filming affordable-- but I expect at least a token attempt to make orbital space something other than a really dark room high up.

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