When a NASA employee has had a hard day at the office, it’s not Khan’s name they scream from the top of their office building, or a Wesley Crusher piñata they smash. It’s the captain of the Enterprise D that’s the target of their phaser fire.
On the back of North Korea’s failed attempt to get a rocket doing what rockets are known for, the Star Tribune had a chat to former NASA associate administrator Scott Pace about the difficulties of using explosions to propel objects skyward. According to the article, getting a payload weighing just shy of 30kg requires a tonne of TNT — enough to send it hurtling into the clouds at 29,000km/h.
It then emphasises that getting all the calculations and adjustments right to make this happen is no easy task. Getting just one thing wrong can transform a miracle of man-made engineering into an extremely expensive (and potentially deadly) pyrotechnics display.
This is all fascinating, but it was Pace’s final comment that raised a few eyebrows:
“In many ways, the worst enemy of NASA is ‘Star Trek’,” Pace said. “Captain Picard says ‘engage’ and the ship moves. And people think ‘How hard can this be?'”
I don’t know about you, but I have no delusions regarding how hard it is to get a big piece of metal flying through the sky, let alone space. If anything, Star Trek (along with paper backs from the golden age of sci-fi) compelled me to learn more about the universe. I’m just hoping this is an off-hand comment from the former associate admin, rather than a sign of common thinking among those at NASA.
Image: Know Your Meme / Paramount Pictures