Why The Enterprise (Probably) Can’t Have Good Artificial Gravity
I’ve loved Star Trek ever since I was little. It inspired my love for both space technology and ethics in one fell swoop. However, sometimes I just start to question the stability of the universe — and most recently, the build of the ships. Now, admittedly, I accept that this is a fictitious universe, but sometimes I wonder how they have any ground to stand on.
On the International Space Station, astronauts are constantly affected by microgravity, a state at which there is very little gravity acting on them. On Earth, gravity not only keeps us from floating aimlessly around, but it has several effects on internal parts of our bodies.
- Our muscles, which counteract gravity, keep our posture. In a world where we aren’t affected by gravity, our muscles aren’t working and thereby atrophy. In space, astronauts do strenuous physical exercise to stay in shape, but often upon returning to Earth, they’re unable to walk or move properly due to the amount of muscle strength lost.
- Blood moves down because of gravity, too. We don’t think of this as much, but blood mostly pools down at the feet on Earth with a lower amount of blood in our faces. However, astronauts don’t have the same constant pull on them all the time, so their legs get less blood than usual and their faces more, puffing up their faces and thinning out their legs. After 2–3 days in space, the body can lose 22% of its blood volume, meaning the heart doesn’t have to work as hard.
- Bone density decreases significantly after a while. The same way muscles don’t move as much when they’re not used, bones have a similar schtick. When nothing’s pulling them down and they have less of a need to work, then they become progressively weaker.
So what does all this have to do with the Enterprise?
Well, as of right now, there’s a lot of emerging technology in the space field, not very much of which discusses applications for artificial gravity. However, there are a couple of big ways people think artificial gravity could potentially work out. On the Enterprise, they obviously have some source of artificial gravity because everyone is walking around like it’s an office building or something. In the Star Trek universe, this is called “gravity plating” — but could we really just have something pull us down? Or is there more to it than just pulling someone down?
The biggest question I had after realizing this was what exactly gave Starfleet officers the ability to roam about the ship (and, let’s face it, various alien worlds) without any obvious detrimental effects to their health and still keep the ship relatively in order. In the world right now, there are three main ways people can imagine artificial gravity working out.
- There’s something on the space vessel itself. Having gravity “generated” by some force within the space vessel is a very possible option for having good artificial gravity.
- Having a space suit specially designed for reacting to the microgravity. Admittedly, wearing a space suit all the time would likely become a little annoying, but using it might not be a bad countenance to the harmful effects of microgravity.
- An outside force that affects the space vessel. Here, instead of having the device on board, it would either be outside the vessel or do something, like spin the vessel around.
On the starship Enterprise, no one has big space suits, and the uniforms they wear likely aren’t controlling the pull of gravity on their bodies. Additionally, the Enterprise isn’t spinning in circles, meaning that if the Enterprise did have feasible artificial gravity, it would be in a device put physically on the ship.
Artificial Gravity On The Ship
So we have their definition of ‘gravity plating’, something which we don’t exactly have the scientific explanation for… yet — we’ll look into it later. However, in the current day, there are a few things scientists are contemplating to achieve that artificial gravity to benefit spacefarers.
In a design recently created, the “Turbolift” is a chamber which would exist in space for astronauts. It falls down 9.8 meters in one direction before turning 180 degrees and repeating the journey. It continues to do this, the time it spends in freefall keeping the astronauts safely experiencing safe gravity. Essentially, this is Linear Acceleration, a technique which keeps everything travelling fast enough in one direction.
It’s like spinning a bucket around you with water in it. When you spin it fast enough, the water doesn’t fall out, not even if you spin it upside down. It’s the same for the space craft: if it moves fast enough, it can pin the astronauts to one wall, making it so they will essentially have enough gravity.
The other most interesting idea for artificial gravity is applying a magnetic field to the craft to increase the pull of gravity. Diamagnetism is the application of a very strong, magnetic force, one which would (unfortunately) have to be maintained with very expensive cryogenics to keep them super conductive. Sadly, this isn’t looking very promising, especially since scientists haven’t even been able to track what happens to living beings.
So far, it isn’t looking very promising for the Enterprise in terms of how well it would be able to sustain human life. In the current day, however, scientists are looking into different approaches, some of which have been used ever since the Apollo mission and the release of the International Space Station.
Exercising In Space Instead Of Gravity
So, because humans are so curious and always look for other solutions, we’ve got one. Just because we couldn’t figure out how exactly to integrate the technology into the space craft or the astronaut doesn’t mean we’re out of luck: welcome to gravity simulations while exercising.
There aren’t too many in use, but they’re our best hope at the moment for artificial gravity that won’t kill the astronauts and will actually support them. It comes in a couple different forms.
- Bungee cords used by Russian cosmonauts while running on the treadmill. These cords kept them relatively stationary as they ran, helping them gain back muscles and bone density even during their extended trips in space.
- Lower Body Negative Pressure. This is a technique which applies negative pressure to the lower body to bring some of the feeling and effects of gravity back to the astronauts. It’s made with a simple vacuum and a treadmill, allowing astronauts to be pulled toward the bottom of the spacecraft as they run. If you’re still interested in the study, check out the link below for a more in-depth on the process.
To sum up, there’s a lot that’s being done right now for artificial gravity, but in terms of looking at the Enterprise, it’s not too likely that it’s gravity plating is that effective. Even right now, with all the current advancements, we’re not that far along, not as far as we’d like to be. However, you never know — maybe in the 24th century we will have figured it out!
Thank you for reading this story! I hope you enjoyed it, and possibly learned something! If you’d like to talk more about current applications of Artificial Gravity, email me at email@example.com or find me on LinkedIn at Amelia Settembre!