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Science
cananian

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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I assumed that they have some sort of antigravity technology (since shuttlecraft, etc. are not aerodynamic at all and have hardly any thrusters) so Nero's ship was hovering over SF, not in geosync orbit.

Mary pointed out the same issue with the land-based shipbuilding, but it's closer to the workers and the raw materials on the ground, and once it's built it can probably drive itself into orbit. Otherwise you'd have to send workers, tools, and materials into space as well as providing storage, housing, food, etc. on a space station.

I don't think antigravity is a sufficient wand to wave to make the atmosphere go away. Like you said: with an atmosphere, shuttlecraft should *look different* than space craft, since shuttles have to deal traverse an atmosphere and spacecraft don't. That wasn't the case here; the film seemed completely oblivious. Just turning off gravity doesn't make the atmosphere go away (well, turning off gravity on a whole *planet* would, but...)

And that spiky anchor cable looked pretty much like metal and spiky bits to me. If you want to postulate antigravity, it needs to extend to the whole anchor cable, since *things just don't drop like that from space*. Put glowing blue dots on it if there are hypothetical antigravity thrusters! It doesn't matter if you're hoving or in orbit: SanFran is rotating with the rest of the earth and you have to match that speed if you want to stay in one place. The horizontal speed you have to travel is different at different altitudes. If you "drop something" across the vertical scales shown, the differential velocity will show itself, absent some active thrust/antigravity/whatever.

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