The spaceships (and one of its commanders) aren’t the only things Star Trek got right about NASA and the International Space Station. They predicted several of the technologies currently in use on the ISS as well. One way to look at it – our International Space Station is breaking in early prototypes of the gadgets that Star Fleet Command will install in its ships when 2265 AD rolls around.
One of the most memorable technologies in the Star Trek universe is the wall-size viewscreen located on the bridge of the USS Enterprise. It allows command officers to gain 3-D surveillance of the space surrounding their ship, provide ship-to-ship communications, and call up and view data from the ship’s computer. Earlier this year the ISS got its own version.
The 65-inch ISS Viewscreen was developed by Screen Innovations Company of Austin, Texas in cooperation with NASA, and shipped to the space station on a SpaceX Dragon cargo ship. SI’s engineers developed a new screen material that made the viewscreen portable, quick to set up and take down, and able to adjust its contrast while the lights are on.
ISS Astronaut Scott Kelly Tweeted, “Movie night in micro #Gravity aboard ISS on our new HD projector, which we use for conferences, tech software, etc.,” He and his crewmates immediately put the ISS Viewscreen to work by watching the movie “Gravity” one Saturday night.
Many Star Trek Federation spacecraft, including USS Enterprise, USS Voyager and Space Station Deep Space 9, have extensive hydroponics laboratories and gardens on board to provide fresh vegetables and fruit to the crew members and passengers.
On ISS NASA is testing a microgravity space garden that could supply the lighting and nutrients needed to support a variety of plant species. The idea is to provide the crew on a long space voyage both fresh food and the pleasant ambiance of decorative plants. (Or maybe only as long as the budget holds out – does anybody remember Bruce Dern in the 1972 film “Silent Running”?)
An iconic image from Star Trek: The Next Generation is Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise ordering his Earl Grey Tea “hot” from the food replicator in his ready room, and then having it materialize, heated to his specification. The replicator, also called the food synthesizer in the Original Series, reportedly produced food by rearranging subatomic particles to form molecules, arranged them into proteins, amino acids and so on, and then reconstituted them into foodstuffs and drinks.
And guess what? There is a serious study currently underway by the Nestle Company to produce a working food replicator. And elsewhere, some early experiments are being done to produce a 3-D protein-based printer. I’ll talk more about those in a later blog, but the International Space Station has taken a first, albeit crude, step toward food on-demand in space.
Espresso coffee got plenty of press and TV coverage earlier this year when the first ever espresso coffee maker made for use in space was delivered to the International Space Station. Built by Argotec and Lavazza, Italian engineering companies, and officially called “Isspresso”, it was popularly described as a Keurig cup-like machine. But its design is much more complicated than that. The engineers had to account for the unique behavior of fluids in weightlessness, which, as you can imagine, are very different from those on Earth. Isspresso is not exactly a replicator, but its a not a bad perc until the USS Enterprise comes along.
Star Trek’s Dr. Leonard McCoy used his medical tricorder to quickly and non-invasively diagnose medical conditions in human and humanoid alien species. It was a hand-held device with a detachable scanner that provided detailed analysis of the status of all vital organs. It also contained reference data on all the non-human races that were known to the Federation.
On the ISS a study led by the Japanese Space Center is testing the Onboard Diagnostic Kit, a non-invasive health-monitoring system that, like Dr. McCoy’s medical tricorder, measures, stores, and analyzes an astronaut’s medical data and transmits it real-time to earth-based doctors for diagnosis. The device also has application for remote medical diagnosis of hospitalized patients on Earth. This is one Star Trek prediction that is right on the money, and its already here.
In the next blog I’ll cover a Star Trek technology that is in some ways remarkably prophetic and in others already out of date – the computers onboard the USS Enterprise versus those in use on the International Space Station. Stay tuned!
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Images: NASA, Star Trek © 2015 CBS Studios Inc