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Go Back   The Trek BBS > Star Trek TV Series > Star Trek - Original Series

Star Trek - Original Series The one that started it all...

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Old March 2 2013, 06:17 PM   #1
Metryq
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"Ion" sounds technical

"Spock's Brain" is probably the most MST3K worthy episode in TOS. So nit-picking it is gratuitous. However, I ran across a passage in THE STARFLIGHT HANDBOOK (Eugene Mallove & Gregory Matloff, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1989) that seemed relevant.

During the opening tease, Scotty is gushing over an ion-propelled ship. "They could teach us a thing or two!" Meanwhile the Enterprise flashes between the stars at multiples of the speed of light. I guess "ion" sounded technical to the writer.

Pioneers in optimizing fusion-rocket trajectories include G. M. Anderson and Conley Powell. Although their work specifically addressed fusion rocketry, their analyses could, in fact, be applied to fission and antimatter rockets and even high performance nuclear-electric propulsion. Anderson, then a professor at the USAF Institute of Technology, published his optimization analyses in several papers between 1968 and 1974. Although he focused on fusion rockets, he also extended his calculations to antimatter, fission, and electric propulsion.

Using the calculus of variations, Anderson derived relativistically correct results for a flight time limited to 40 years and a mass ratio limited to 10,000. He discovered that of all the rockets considered—antimatter photon rockets (Ve = c), ideal nuclear-fusion rockets (Ve = 0.0893 c), ideal nuclear-fission rockets (Ve = 0.0388 c), and conservative ion rockets (Ve = 0.000316 c)—only the ion rocket is inherently not capable of carrying out the mission.

—chapter 10, pg. 157
Later in the episode, Scotty again remarks on "ion power"—

SCOTT: Captain, that power we picked up above, we're getting closer.
KIRK: A lot of it?
SCOTT: Enough to push this planet out of orbit.
KIRK: What source?
SCOTT: Either a nuclear pile a hundred miles across or
KIRK: Or what?
SCOTT: Ion power.
Ooh! Do it again!

In a similar vein, in the BUCK ROGERS episode "Buck's Duel to the Death," our hero must confront a gangster called the Traybor who uses electricity as a secret weapon—casting bolts like Zeus. Apparently, no one in the 25th century uses olde fashioned electricity anymore, so it's up to Buck to deal with this problem...

Again, we have a writer who is unfamiliar with any physics. Electrical charge is one of the most fundamental aspects of all matter. So even if New Chicago is powered by an antimatter plant, electricity (and ions!) still comes into the picture somewhere.
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Old March 2 2013, 07:48 PM   #2
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Re: "Ion" sounds technical

According to the de Forest Research memo from June 13, 1968, ion propulsion was an improvement over the script's original (and, apparently, nonsense) term, "neutron conversion propulsion."

(The memo does mention that "High velocity ion propulsion would be revolutionary")
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Old March 2 2013, 08:06 PM   #3
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Re: "Ion" sounds technical

Harvey wrote: View Post
The memo does mention that "High velocity ion propulsion would be revolutionary"
And in Goddard's notebooks as early as 1906.
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Old March 2 2013, 08:50 PM   #4
blssdwlf
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Re: "Ion" sounds technical

Don't forget in "The Menagerie" that an Ion Engine Powered shuttlecraft kept pace with the Enterprise at warp speed until the shuttle ran out of gas. Perhaps their definition of "ion power" is not the same as ours?
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Old March 2 2013, 09:35 PM   #5
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Re: "Ion" sounds technical

"Ion power" sounds sciencey. Like "parsec."
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Old March 2 2013, 09:41 PM   #6
publiusr
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Re: "Ion" sounds technical

Another possible explanation might be that what was being discussed was not a Hall effect thruster.

To be impressive to the TOS era, perhaps it is I.O.N.

Inertia-O-something...something
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Old March 2 2013, 09:58 PM   #7
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Re: "Ion" sounds technical

I vote for "ion" to be a acronym.


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Old March 2 2013, 10:05 PM   #8
scotpens
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Re: "Ion" sounds technical

T'Girl wrote: View Post
I vote for "ion" to be a acronym.

Like TIE?

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Old March 3 2013, 02:22 AM   #9
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Re: "Ion" sounds technical

In the STAR WARS movies (at least the original trilogy) no one calls the Imperial fighters "twin ion engine" fighters. They say "T.I.E. fighters," which lets them off the hook. It is only in the "making of" and fan books that "twin ion engine" comes out. Science fiction can get away with any techno-babble, so long as it does not misuse established terminology—such as having an FTL starship engineer gush over a very slow, low thrust engine, or repeatedly use the term "galaxy" in place of "solar system," as in LOST IN SPACE. (Or having Uhura pick up AM broadcasts from orbit in "A Piece of the Action.")

Attempting to rationalize "ion" as an acronym in the case of "Spock's Brain" is attempting to hold back the tide with a fork. The episode is a complete train wreck—perhaps a funny train wreck, depending on one's sense of humor.

"The Doomsday Machine" used a non-committal bit of techno-babble by giving the DM a "total conversion drive." And "Obsession" gave The Creature gravity propulsion. (Tom van Flandern's Meta Model, partly derived from LeSage's corpuscular gravity, puts gravity on the order of 20 billion times faster than light.) One should really be wondering why an entity of that sort has a taste for hemoglobin...

The point is, an ion engine is not some aspect of the universe that may be wrongly interpreted by contemporary physics. It is an established bit of engineering. Having sci-fi characters punch a hole through an armored steel wall with hand-thrown tennis balls would be equally ridiculous.
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Old March 3 2013, 10:14 PM   #10
publiusr
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Re: "Ion" sounds technical

Yeah--but it's just trying to work with the material.
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Old March 4 2013, 10:52 AM   #11
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Re: "Ion" sounds technical

"Spock's Brain" is given at least the feeling of credibility and substance by its Fred Steiner score. You just have to ignore certain problematic aspects of the episode and roll with it, the way you'd ignore the guys performing Japanese puppet theater and focus on the puppets. That's how you get your money's worth.
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Old March 4 2013, 11:47 AM   #12
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Re: "Ion" sounds technical

ZapBrannigan wrote: View Post
ignore the guys performing Japanese puppet theater and focus on the puppets.
But at least it's understood that those are puppets. Science-less science fiction would confuse the viewers into thinking they were watching LOST IN SPACE.

Again, STAR TREK features many things beyond known physics, but there is usually some foundation for believing in the exotic technology. For example, concepts accepted by mainstream physics include tachyons, hyperspace and wormholes, all of which might explain the Enterprise's FTL "warp drive."

However, ion propulsion is a known quantity. Would anyone still accept it if Scotty had been gushing over a starship powered by water wheels? (Or a brewery, as in JJ TREK.) The writers could make it sound technical by saying "hydro power." I suppose if someone could reach relativistic speeds with water wheels, then Scotty would be right to say, "They could teach us a thing or two."
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Old March 4 2013, 05:04 PM   #13
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Re: "Ion" sounds technical

Metryq wrote: View Post
In the STAR WARS movies (at least the original trilogy) no one calls the Imperial fighters "twin ion engine" fighters. They say "T.I.E. fighters," which lets them off the hook.
True. OTOH they had "turbo-lasers," a hybrid of two things that sounded pretty high-tech in the '70s, not so much today.
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Old March 4 2013, 05:59 PM   #14
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Re: "Ion" sounds technical

J.T.B. wrote: View Post
True. OTOH they had "turbo-lasers," a hybrid of two things that sounded pretty high-tech in the '70s, not so much today.
I thought turbo lasers were a Classic Galactica thing, in the Vipers. Was it said in Star Wars too?
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Old March 4 2013, 06:15 PM   #15
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Re: "Ion" sounds technical

Metryq wrote: View Post
"Spock's Brain" is probably the most MST3K worthy episode in TOS. So nit-picking it is gratuitous.
..at least we were treated to TOS' only ice covered planet! Very cool/interesting stuff!

Then there's the reference to Stratos as "cloud city" in "The Cloud Minders."

Hmmm....cloud cites (with orange-hued skies to boot!) and ice planets in the same season....sounds VERY familiar...

George Lucas must have watched a lot of season 3 and recalled that when writing The Empire Strikes Back!
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