View Single Post
Old January 7 2013, 05:09 PM   #1
Robert Comsol
Robert Comsol's Avatar
Location: shore leave in La Baule, France
TOS Enterprise - function of warp nacelles' caps?

Being relatively new to the Trek BBS I don’t know if this issue has already been discussed in-depth.

I’m in need of some feedback to help me to determine what the TOS Enterprise’s matter-antimatter reactor number 3 (the one in the engineering hull suggested in “That Which Survives” which I assume gave birth to the one-warp-core-only concept later featured in TMP and the subsequent TV series) might have looked like to represent it accurately in the TOS Enterprise deck plan project I embarked upon:

Since I ever first saw TOS I’d always wondered what function the rotating lights at the front of the two warp engines might actually have.

Back in 1988 I made an unannounced phone call to Walter Matt Jefferies, but apparently caught him unprepared and didn’t get the clear answer I had hoped for (it wasn’t until later that I learned that as the production designer his foremost task was to make it look impressive and not necessarily have all the answers regarding the “in-universe” functions of all the ship’s components).

While I was doing research during the "Constitution Class debate" I came across various remarks and design intentions of Matt Jefferies concerning the warp engines / pods / nacelles.

He felt the warp engines to be volatile and hazardous in nature and therefore designed them in such a fashion that these kept some safety distance from the other ship’s components.
In addition, based on his aviatic WWII experience, he felt that the warp engines could be replaced / exchanged once worn out (which I believe happened between “Where No Man Has Gone Before” and “The Corbomite Maneuver”, and I also think that different warp engine appearances could be a major design characteristic that originally distinguished the 16th Federation Cruiser design series from the 17th... With the original TOS Aurora in “The Way to Eden” we witnessed a familiar, yet different warp engine design:

Kirk’s comments in “The Apple” (“Discard the warp drive nacelles if you have to, and crack out of there with the main section, but get that ship out of there!”) and “The Savage Curtain” (“Scotty, inform Starfleet Command. Disengage nacelles, Jettison if possible.”) apparently support Jefferies’ original warp engine removal / replacement concept.

Of course, none of this provides any clues to the actual function of the rotating lights behind the warp nacelles’ bow caps (other than to make these look cool and impressive, of course).

Theory # 1: rotating lights behind nacelles’ caps are part of the ship’s deflection system

A look at the evolution of the VFX model of the USS Enterprise shows that the original “pilot” Enterprise (i.e. “The Cage” and “Where No Man Has Gone Before”) featured crimson red and unlit nacelle caps with a spike pretty identical to the one of the main sensor at the bow of the engineering hull.

These could have been additional sensors to triangulate with the main sensor which then became obsolete once technological advances enabled the main sensor to perform this function without the extra support of two additional sensors (compare to the TOS Aurora from “The Way to Eden”, two sensor dishes at the front of the nacelles substituting the lack of a main sensor!).

The Making of Star Trek clearly identifies the bow of the engineering hull to hold the ship’s main sensor-deflector and the TOS version of “The Paradise Syndrome” visualized one strong deflection beam against the moon-sized asteroid emanating from a (yet) unseen location (according to TOS-R the main sensor-deflector).

Does this mean there is no more need for the nacelles’ caps to provide additional deflection? The TMP Enterprise’s new main sensor deflector featured an illuminating effect that went from red (high temperature) to blue (very high temperature), indicating a link between the deflection performance and a visual lighting effect.
Furthermore, in one of the Jefferies interviews I came across, he explicitly described the ship’s deflectors to grind obstacles in the flight path to non-hazardous dust particles / space matter.

Apparently, the “counter-clockwise” spinning lights of the nacelles’ caps could appear to perform such grinding effect and according to Jefferies’ “identification by association” motto (published in the Star Trek posterbook interview conducted by Doug Drexler in the 1970’s) could indicate that the nacelles’ caps add deflection power to the main deflector (put simply: they no longer support the main-sensor deflector with scanning but deflection power).

However, if we assume the USS Constellation from “The Doomsday-Machine” to share the same design as the Enterprise, this doesn’t seem credible considering the episode's dialogue:

Washburn: “We made a complete check on structural and control damage, sir. As far as we can tell, something crashed through the deflectors and knocked out the generators. Somehow the antimatter in the warp drive pods has been deactivated.”

The original VFX footage clearly reveals that the warp nacelles’ caps have imploded or exploded – they have gone:

(this is only one of many original film cells the “bird of the galaxy” is sharing with us. Great vault of rare TOS photos, check it out!)

There is probably a difference between knocking out the (shield) generators or obliterating these. The damage report rather suggests the shield generators of the Constellation to have just been rendered inoperative by the alien planet killer but not completely destroyed.

Theory # 2: rotating lights behind nacelles’ caps are matter-antimatter reactors

According to multiple TOS dialogues the TOS Enterprise appears to have three matter-antimatter reactors of which two are located in the warp nacelles which also contain antimatter pods (apparently the TMP Enterprise was a technological revolution reducing three of these reactors to merely one “warp core”).

However, if the nacelles’ caps of the Constellation were matter-antimatter reactors why didn’t Washburn report their destruction in his structural damage report or had the exterior visuals already confirmed their destruction abundantly?

Alternately, this was no longer necessary, as without antimatter there’d be no further use for any matter-antimatter reactor aboard the ship, intact or destroyed.
“Deactivation” – in the context of antimatter – possibly suggests that the antimatter particle charge and quantum spin had been reversed by the “exotic” planet killer back into normal matter (fuel for the impulse engines, at least? ).

Theory # 3: rotating lights behind nacelles’ caps are antimatter generators

Personally, I don’t subscribe to that theory, because and according to Scotty you “can’t change the laws of physics”, and in this particular case I don’t believe it’s sufficient to simply refer to the infamous Heisenberg comensators (“How do they work?” “Very well!”). The energy yield of antimatter is only the same as you put into it (i.e. to reverse particle charge and quantum spin).

I believe the stem of the orbital mushrooms (“Spacedock”) seen in the movies and TNG to consist of hundreds of fusion reactors, working day and night to produce miniscule particles of antimatter to refuel the ships arriving in spacedock, but to picture this kind of antimatter generation technology aboard a starship is at least beyond my imagination.

Of course, the context of “The Doomsday-Machine” will allow that explanation: First, the planet killer targeted the Constellation’s antimatter generators to destroy these, next he rendered the remaining antimatter aboard the vessel inert to deprive the Constellation of her fighting capabilities.

Theory # 4: rotating lights behind nacelles’ caps are an essential element of the warp drive

Put in its original context and first time viewing of the 1960’s one should first remember that one decade before Star Trek first aired, “Forbidden Planet” had been – in a manner of speaking – the “2001-A Space Odyssey” for the science fiction generation of the 1950’s. There are many accusations of Star Trek plagiarism at the expense of “Forbidden Planet” but I’d like to think that Gene Roddenberry rather wanted to convey to science fiction (convention) audiences, well aware of “Forbidden Planet”, that Star Trek was going to be a similar approach to gather interest and support.

United Planets Cruiser C-57 D featured a rotating, red glowing hub at the bottom of its saucer shape, not too dissimilar from the TOS Enterprise’s warp nacelles’ caps. It remains a little inconclusive whether that hub’s main function was to propel C-57 D through normal and hyperspace or simply to generate the energy necessary to do so (because the hub continues to rotate during planetary landing until touchdown on Altair IV).

Similar to the deflector visual effect the later Enterprise starships also featured (lateral) visual effects at the warp nacelles, so it seems this theory can’t just be dismissed, yet.

However, “The Doomsday-Machine” suggests otherwise: Right from the very beginning the bridge crew of the Enterprise (and Scotty?!) gets an unobstructed, clear visual of the Constellation’s exterior shape and condition, yet Scotty’s first intent aboard the Constellation is “to have a look at those engines” and he then reports “the warp drive is a hopeless pile of junk. The impulse engines are not too badly off. We ought to be able to do something with them.”

If the warp nacelles’ caps were an essential part of the Constellation’s warp drive, Scotty should have noticed that it’s a hopeless pile of junk the first time a visual of the ship became available.

Thus, the warp drive can apparently work, even if those caps are missing, but Scotty’s further examination revealed that the warp drive components had suffered severe damage.

Theory # 5: rotating lights behind nacelles’ caps are “Bussard” ramscoops to attract / collect free-floating hydrogen particles from space as fuel reactant for the matter-antimatter reactors

I deliberately put this theory in last place. While I assume this is the most popular one, I unfortunately feel this is the least likely one (i.e. for the TOS Enterprise).

The major reason against the Bussard ramscoop theory, IMHO, are clearly the two starship designs suceeding the TOS Enterprise, i.e. the TMP Enterprise and the USS Excelsior.

None of these two designs feature any visual effect at the front of the warp nacelles. According to the official TMP Enterprise blueprints the front of the Enterprise nacelles’ is a space matter / energy “sink” (rather sounds passive than active), the front of the Excelsior nacelles is a casing that appears impermeable.

Add to this, that Matt Jefferies intended the TOS Enterprise to have as little protruding external elements as possible (tainting his creation with weathering effects is therefore an expression of disrespect and/or ignorance - in my strictly personal and biased opinion), but strangely enough included these four rings behind the nacelle cap element, which do protrude forward:

I think it’s fair to say that the allignment of these rings is compatible with the concept of a space matter / energy sink and the TMP Enterprise instantly appears like a natural evolution (thanks to the opportunity of just having one warp core within the engineering hull, freeing space at the front of the warp nacelles).

In summary I believe Theory # 2 is the most likely one, but I may have overlooked another option and could be wrong. Feedback much appreciated.

"The first duty of every Starfleet officer is to the truth" Jean-Luc Picard
"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them."
Albert Einstein
Robert Comsol is offline   Reply With Quote