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Old March 6 2013, 02:31 PM   #3
Re: How far has Starfleet explored

And in "The Alternative Factor" already, Starfleet could basically immediately report that the space-time hiccup at Kirk's location was felt "on every quadrant of the galaxy and far beyond".

How far has 24th century technology carried us?
Referring to the above, perhaps 23rd or even 22nd century technology already did the trick, by taking us to folks who already have contacts to other galaxies? That sounds like the most positive aspect of Star Trek imaginable: that while you can explore in good faith and with good intentions, you don't need to - you can also simply be nice to others and get what you want that way.

Do we have probes in other galaxies (although they are millions of lightyears away so maybe improbable)?
When Kirk probed out of the galaxy in "Where No Man", he seemed to consider it impossible that another Earth vessel could have done this before him - or at least 200 years before him. Then again, VOY "Friendship One" shows that in mere 150 or so years (and possibly much less), an Earth probe without a crew spanned half the galaxy already. So primitive probes launched then could be surveying the dwarf galaxies around Milky Way already in Picard's time - and slightly more advanced probes, the result of early cooperation and synergy between the member cultures of the UFP, could have overtaken them and be at least halfway to Andromeda already.

How far have we mapped out?
Individual sorties have probably spanned great distances. But those don't create much of a map yet: they only create a thin thread of known space between the A and B of that incredible journey. And the longer the journey, the less likely that the thread is anything but an uninteresting beeline from A to B (and back).

Since technology is so advanced, has Starfleet done away with deep space probes and just uses starships?
A modern probe is referred to in TNG "Tin Man" as having been the prime means of obtaining information from deep space. In the episode, a crewed starship could be sent to do a closer study in a matter of days - but apparently it would not have been logistically possible to spare a starship for the original mission of going to a random place and seeing whether there's anything interesting there.

Probably most of exploration in the TNG era is still conducted with probes, and crews only follow if there's something of interest there. Back in TOS, there might have been the additional step of establishing automated supply depots for staged missions (Delta Vega in "Where No Man) if the need to send a crew arose - much as with old-time polar exploration or mountaineering.

In hard numbers, TNG quoted either 11% (season 1, "Where No One") or 19% (season 2, "The Dauphin") of the galaxy as having been explored. This is unlikely to mean "seen through a telescope", because even our current telescopes of limited penetrating power can basically see something like 50% of the Milky Way already. Whether it means "visited by probes" or "visited by people associated with the UFP", we don't know. The percentages could be attained by going just a few thousand lightyears into deep space in multiple directions, though, so starship visits (not just by the glamorous few explorer vessels, but by the sum total of all sorts of transports, smugglers, fugitives and whatnot) just might account for it all.

Even the sudden jump from 11% to almost double that might be "real", consisting of some well-informed culture suddenly making contact with the Federation and sharing its information. Would any of the contacts made by our TNG heroes after "Where No One" count? The Ferengi seem well-traveled, but getting the information out of them would be expensive. The Jarada might be bigger players than we think. Or perhaps the Tkon Sentinel revealed something useful in the aftermath of "The Last Outpost". Them, or the Aldeans. (My money is on the Tkon; the Iconians would also be a possibility if not for the fact that "Contagion" only comes after "The Dauphin".)

I've always wondered if light speed isn't possible, then we're essentially stuck on Earth and the Solar System for the very forseeable future.
This shouldn't stop us from going places. It just stops us from ever coming back. But that has never stopped exploration and expansion here on Earth. Most migrations were irreversible, most voyages of settlement never involved sailing back. There's time for mankind to expand to the entire Milky Way a million times over at one-hundredth lightspeed - much like there has been time for Man to settle the entire globe at essentially crawling pace, at most ten kilometers a year by current guesstimates.

Timo Saloniemi
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